In light of the historic fact that Senator Barack Obama will soon become our 44th president, I thought I would review what he has said to date about some aspects of sexuality and sex education. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he will necessarily act on his beliefs (the personal often does not become the political and the political often changes the personal), but his thoughts might point in interesting directions.
I started by reviewing Obama’s words from the third and final debate. If you’re like me, while watching presidential debates you always hope the moderator will ask the candidates directly about their views on sexuality education in public school classrooms. So far, no one ever has.
However, moderator Bob Schieffer did move in the right direction when he asked Senators Obama and McCain whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. This led to a back-and-forth discussion which touched on nominations to the Supreme Court, late-term abortion and life-saving treatments for children of botched abortions.
Obama eventually turned the discussion toward our issue: how to find common ground between those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life. He stated, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity.”
Next, I turned to the chapter on family in Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Again he noted his concerns about teen pregnancy saying, “it is at the heart of inner city poverty.” Although he didn’t mention school programs, he said we should support community-based programs that have a proven track record in preventing teen pregnancies by encouraging both abstinence and by promoting the proper use of contraception.
The most telling comment about sexuality in the chapter is similar to the one made about its sacred quality. Obama said, “I want to encourage young people to show more reverence toward sex and intimacy and I applaud parents, congregations and community programs that transmit this message.”
Because the words “sacred” and “reverence” may have a religious connotation for some, I asked a minister and an educator how to teach about them in a public school setting. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, said “My public school message is usually based around the CUHMP criteria: consensual, unexploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected…and that a moral, ethical sexual relationship meets all five of these, and is also characterized by time, communication and shared values.”
My friend Evelyn Shalom, a health and sexuality educator with 25 years experience in a public school setting, added, “I tell them that obviously people make all kinds of choices, and I will respect whatever choices they make as long as they are well-thought out and include considering consequences of pregnancy and STIs. However, I ask them to think about how different sexual expression might be with someone whom you loved, truly cared about, felt safe with and were committed to.”
I think our next president would approve of Debra’s and Evelyn’s words and hope teachers everywhere might incorporate them, or similar language, into their sex education classes. Let us know here at Answer what words you use, or might use in the future to meet the president-elect’s challenge.