An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘sex education’

Healthy Visions for Teens

To see an innovative, private program that builds self-esteem in teens while teaching basic values and providing honest information about drugs, alcohol, and sex—check out this segment of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: 

Was That Me?

Skimming through some old journals recently, I came across an entry documenting—even bragging about—the fact that I had made phone calls advocating a political candidate who supported laws allowing landlords to discriminate against homosexuals. (This was in Washington State where candidates with alternate views existed). I also attended a school board meeting to oppose the new sex education program.

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that I’ve changed my views about these and many other issues over the years. Over 30 years have passed with many new experiences and new information gleaned since that time. It would be surprising—even depressing—if my mind had not changed on a few matters.

Why wouldn’t I change my mind about homosexuality when I learned it has a genetic component and is not necessarily contagious? I also learned that the gentle cousin who played dolls with me instead of cowboys with my brother died of AIDS, and that a good friend’s daughter is Lesbian. Knowing a real gay and Lesbian altered my belief that child abuse is a prime factor in homosexual tendencies.

Naturally, I changed my mind about sex ed after raising my own kids and learning firsthand how awkward it is for the most well-meaning, most-enlightened parents to talk to their own children about sex. (I admit I was never most-enlightened parent, but I did qualify as well-meaning). Unfortunately, my well-meaning advice came to, “Don’t do it,” and I closed my enlightened eyes to reality that didn’t match my wistful thinking.

As the saying goes, “Only a fool won’t change her mind when faced with new evidence.” In real life learning isn’t a smooth incline with no bumps, dips, and digressions. Of course, I no longer see either homosexuality or sex education as great evils to combat, but I do see myself in the young woman who made phone calls and attended meetings on those issues. Currently, my focus is on clean air and government ethics. Although my issues have changed, my core beliefs in working for a stronger, better community have not.

Yes, that was me supporting discrimination and opposing sex ed years ago. I’m still the same person, and I need to see people on opposing sides of my current issues with the same tolerance I have for my younger self. Maybe someday they’ll be as wise as I am now.

Safe Sex, Inmates, and Me

I was teaching high school completion classes at Utah State Prison when the AIDS epidemic struck. Several inmates were HIV positive and all were concerned about transmission of the disease. Aaron, a student, was locked down for several days because he severely beat a new cellmate who claimed to be HIV positive. The logic of beating and bloodying a possibly HIV infected man probably explains the kind of thinking that brought Aaron to prison. Possibly the cellmate only said he was HIV positive to prevent Aaron from raping him. I didn’t know everything that went on back in the cells.

Inmates were full of information about AIDS, most of it wrong. After lunch one day, information flew that an HIV positive culinary worker had cut his finger while making the salad and his blood had contaminated the food. I called the state health department and learned the HIV virus doesn’t live long outside the human body except in laboratory conditions. We were not likely at risk.

My principal decided to make a one-quarter credit class in AIDS information mandatory for South Park Academy graduates. She dumped the job on me although my expertise was limited to a health education class at BYU 25 years earlier. During my four years at the prison I had learned more about deviant sex practices than I ever wanted to know, but I was hardly qualified to teach safe sex to inmates.  My own teenagers still razzed me about teaching them the facts of life with pictures of a cat’s reproductive system.

I needed to keep my job, so I contacted the state health department for information and put together a curriculum. I found the information about how a virus attacks body cells quite fascinating. I had no problem explaining how the virus enters the bloodstream via dirty needles, but I wasn’t keen on giving detailed instruction on how anal intercourse facilitates the spread of the virus. Fortunately, I found a film designed to teach prison populations about the risks of AIDS. I turned on the TV, switched off the lights, and sat in merciful darkness while the film gave my students the straight pitch—no scientific terms for body parts to muddy the waters.

Home School Daze

A neighbor across the street boasted about home schooling her children, but it looked more like no-schooling to me. The boys spent most of every day shooting hoops. The girls carried a baby on their hips on the rare occasions they ventured outside. Not all home schooling is that bad. As a junior high English teacher, I encountered many home schooled kids whose parents enrolled them in public school in 9th grade for high school credits. Unfortunately, most of the home schooled kids I taught were years behind the other kids in their age group. But I did meet a couple of exceptions—kids with skills and knowledge way above grade level.

My current neighbor, whose back yard borders ours, does an excellent job of home schooling. In nice weather, we hear some of the lessons. For most subjects, this neighbor uses the state curriculum guide, but on one topic her kids receive advanced instruction.

The other day I answered the doorbell to find Rachel and Regina, her six and eight-year-old daughters, asking: “Can Pita play?”

Our dog, Pita, fills in for the girls when their human friends are unavailable. I took the kids to the backyard and supervised—to make sure 60-pound Pita didn’t knock my little friends down in a burst of doggy affection.

 Pita rolled on her back for a belly-rub, and Rachel asked, “Is Pita a girl dog?”

“Yes.”

“Has she ever had puppies?”

“No, she’s been spayed.”

“What’s spayed?”

I earned ten points for handling that one carefully: “She’s been to the veterinarian and been fixed so she can’t have puppies.”

“Can she still have sex?”  A 20-point question.

My two-point answer: “I don’t know.”

“Has she ever had sex?”

Home schooling is what the parent makes it. Clearly my neighbor soars far above the state guide for teaching sex ed.

Sex Education–Not My Job

Sex Education—Not My Job
Sex education is back in the news in Utah as the legislature grapples with the problem of rising rates of teen STD and pregnancy and a health curriculum that while technically allowing teachers to mention condoms puts them in legal limbo if they do so.
Forty years ago when sex ed was being introduced into American schools, I sided with the view that teaching children about reproduction was a parents’ sacred duty which the schools had no business usurping. My own mother had certainly been open with me about my baby brother growing in her stomach when I was eight. Unfortunately, she did not live long enough for me to ask her how the baby got into her stomach. I never thought to ask girl friends about the process. What would they know? Some of them still believed in Santa Claus for crying out loud.
So, I posed the question to my grandmother who was born in 1888 and probably believed the stork story until her marriage and first pregnancy. She tried the “plant the seed” phrase and I asked how. Her eyes refused to meet mine. She started, stopped, then stammered, “Haven’t you seen dogs jumping onto other dogs backs?” I hadn’t. Finally, poor Grandma blurted out that the father sticks his peter inside the mother’s weewee. With a gasp of horror, I bolted into my bedroom and slammed the door shut. I sat on the side of my bed staring at the regal photo of Queen Elizabeth II in coronation finery taped on my wall. People must want babies really bad to do that. Later I remembered hearing women talk about being surprised to find they were pregnant and wondered if there was some other way. Nobody could do what Grandma said and not remember.
But I was not Grandma. With my college education and the wisdom of being a parent for almost a year, I voted against our district incorporating sex ed into the health curriculum. Forty years and five kids later, I say let the schools do it. They couldn’t possibly make a bigger mess of it than I did!
When the time came to talk about the birds and the bees, what sounded so easy when the kids were babies turned out to be as complex as creating dinner from a Julia Child cookbook. Pet rabbits gave our older kids a visual on rodent reproduction. Since they asked no questions, I assumed they transferred that information to humans. But we ate the rabbits before the younger kids noticed bunny bliss.
One day I noticed my younger daughters pretending their dolls kissed their husbands and babies popped from their stomachs. They needed instruction. Our children’s encyclopedia did not have a section on human reproduction, but it did have a full color section on cats. The girls nodded solemnly as I showed them the pictures and diagrams of a cat’s reproductive system and the journey of the sperm to meet the egg, then went back to the game of the dolls kissing their husbands and babies popping from their stomachs.
My instruction worsened as the kids entered adolescence. A friend said she gave her kids a talk about sex before their first date. She presented a scenario about a date placing a hand on their inner thigh and asked what they would do. I admired her effort, but somehow I never found a way to work the topic of a hand on the thigh into a conversation with any of my kids.
Call me a prude, but discussing my children’s potential sex lives had the same chilling effect on me as imagining my own parents’ sex life. I’m afraid my parental advice boiled down to something like, “Don’t do it until you’re married.” George was no help. He promised to talk to our sons, but never did. “They’ll figure it out” was his attitude. And I guess they will. So far two of them have given us grandchildren.

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