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The Answer Blog

Sexuality Education

Sex and the (Male) Politician

August 27, 2008

It’s safe to say that thousands of bloggers, members of the media and regular folks on the street have already weighed in on the affair former presidential candidate John Edwards had while his wife Elizabeth was recovering from breast cancer in 2006. You’re probably thinking, “Everything worth saying about this revelation has already been said.” However, I wonder how many parents have talked to their teenagers about it? And how many sexuality education teachers will be brave enough to bring up the subject when school resumes in September?

When I became involved in implementing sex education policy in the public schools in the late-1970’s, one of the arguments my opponents tossed at me concerned values. At public meetings they would ask, “How can you have such programs without teaching values?” It took me awhile to understand the broader meaning which I think was, “How can you have such programs without teaching our values? How can you teach about sexuality without specifically telling young people that intercourse before marriage is wrong, abortion is killing an unborn child, and homosexuality is an abomination before God?”

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Young, Hot and Bothered

August 21, 2008

A recent segment on NBC’s The Today Show focused on what parents could do to help combat teens’ boredom and keep them out of trouble during summer vacation. Judith Sachs, editorial director of ParentingTeensNetwork, appeared on the show to discuss “cures” for the problem. Volunteering, traveling with family, learning a new language and forming a book club were among the activities she suggested teens get involved in.

Studies have shown that teens with too much free time in the summer are more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes than those who are engaged in structured activities. Surprisingly, sexual activity was not mentioned during the segment.

As I watched the show, I reflected back on a conversation I had many years ago with a Newark, N.J., school nurse. I had just started studying the dynamics of teen pregnancy and the nurse shared with me how she saw more pregnancies in September than in any other month. Some sociologists refer to this as the “summer effect.”

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Selling Bodies

July 31, 2008

I never fully grasped the extent to which advertisers use sexual imagery to sell products and services until I stumbled upon a Macy’s ad a couple weeks ago. The advertisement promoted a “Hot Summer Sale” and featured a beautiful model in a skimpy bikini sitting on a rock in a pool of blue-green water. A quarter of her bare breasts were visible.

Even more riveting about this image was the way the water lapped at the edges of the model’s bikini bottom. I actually wondered if I was seeing her pubic hair. Her left arm draped across her body while her hand seemingly touched the exposed pubic hair.

The image left little doubt in my mind that the advertising agency was using the promise of sex and a woman’s scantily clad body to lure customers into Macy’s for the storewide sale.

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The “N” Word

July 24, 2008

Most people around the world—a lot of children, too, no doubt—know by now what the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said about what he wanted to do to two important, private body parts that belong to Senator Barack Obama.

The Times ran a recent column on the reasons why the paper did not use Jackson’s “n” word (for “nuts”) when first reporting the story. I was concerned with the column’s quote from a Washington state reader, who said that the paper is edited by “prudish kindergarten teachers.”

I beg to differ; most early childhood teachers are not prudish. The kindergarten and early childhood teachers I have trained are very familiar with young children’s body parts, particularly those that have to do with “peeing” and “pooping.” Many have to answer such questions as: Did her penis fall off? Will mine? What hole does poop come out of?

Not only are these teachers not prudish about body parts, many are comfortable talking about birth and babies. Kids in the early grades want to know: How did I get out of Mommy’s tummy? How do Mommy and Daddy make a baby?

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A National Health Literacy Test

July 18, 2008

I recently learned of a study that found that $300 to $400 million dollars could be saved each year if terminally ill patients stayed in their homes rather than in hospitals during their last weeks.

The saving of $300 to $400 million dollars a year grabbed me, because I have an idea that would save untold millions of dollars in health care costs and make us a healthier nation if we, as educators, got behind it. It is to require that all high school students take and pass a nationally standardized health and sexuality education achievement test in order to graduate.

Such a requirement would elevate the health and sexuality education field, and take it off the perimeter of education policy and practice, where it currently resides. It would give sexual health the same level of importance as other subjects that require standardized tests, such as reading, math, science and writing.

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‘No’ Means ‘No’

July 16, 2008

I sat by a pool recently, watching a father frolic in the water with his two children, a boy around five and a girl around seven years old. The father, smiling broadly, would pick up each child in turn, raise him or her high in the air above his head and then let go, letting the child hit the surface, making a big splash.

For a while, both children squealed with glee, until the little girl landed, seemingly painfully, in the water. When her father reached out again, to repeat the activity, she called out, “No, please no!” But her father, still smiling, pulled her out of the water anyway, while her screams got even louder.

“No, no, no! Please, Daddy!” she called.

He whirled her over his head.

As her body hit the water, I heard her mother and several women nearby call out in alarm: “No means no!” He smiled back and said, “Oh, but she really wanted it.”

These are often the words that young women (and men) recount when reporting date rape or other sexual assault. Teen girls who’ve been assaulted often say, “But I said ‘no,’” and the teen or adult men who’ve assaulted them often retort, “But she really wanted it.”

The poolside tableau convinced me that we’d better start educating young people—particularly young men—much earlier about the true meaning of “no.” And by earlier, I mean when they are children.

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