Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education can glean good news from Charles M. Blow’s New York Times op-ed piece, “Americans Move to the Middle.”
According to Blow, our opinions on what is “morally acceptable” are increasingly shifting toward the middle. He cites Gallup poll research gathered over the past eight years that shows that the majority of Americans think it is morally acceptable to get divorced, engage in premarital sex and have babies outside of marriage. And almost half believe that same-sex relationships are acceptable.
Although Blow doesn’t mention how Americans feel about sex education in schools, research shows that many are moving toward the middle—and beyond—on this issue as well. In fact, the majority of Americans support comprehensive sexuality education. They support programs that instruct young people about the benefits of abstinence and contraception.
With a new president and Congress arriving in January, we may have a real chance to change directions on sexuality education in public schools. President-elect Obama, although speaking out for the ideal of abstinence until marriage, has said that he believes young people need complete and non-ideological information about sexual health. Many of the newly elected members of Congress have already spoken out against abstinence only until marriage (AOUM) programs.
Yet many politicians still lag behind the public on this issue because they fear their careers will come to a grinding halt if they vote against AOUM programs. This is why Bill Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS and a leader in the fight against federal support of AOUM, has had to work so hard to persuade members of Congress to vote against additional funding for AOUM. As more states reject these funds (25 so far), it sends a clear message to politicians that the majority of Americans want young people to learn all the facts and skills they need to make healthy and responsible decisions about sex.
I am not saying that we should take support for comprehensive sexuality education for granted. The eloquent plea, “Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty,” applies to our work as it does to most social issues. As parents, educators and advocates, we need to keep our eyes on our local programs. We need to attend school board meetings and ask about what is being taught in the classroom. We need to find out what the curriculum covers and at what ages topics are introduced. We should make it clear that, in addition to abstinence, we want contraception, abortion, same-sex relationships and premarital sex discussed, so that all aspects of sexual health issues are explored.
Like the advocates who support math, science and social studies curricula do, we should work continuously to strengthen and improve our subject. It is the next stage of our battle for comprehensive sex education.
Thankfully, we can now go into these meetings armed with newly found confidence, because the middle in America isn’t mushy anymore. We are part of it, and it is part of us.