Even in liberal, cosmopolitan New York City, sex education is controversial—at least in the media.
Last week, the New York Post published a breathless article about the city’s new comprehensive sex ed curriculum, which will be rolled out this spring for middle and high-school students. According to the Post, some unspecified number of “parents” are feeling “furor” at the following “bawdy” homework assignments:
· High-school students go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.
· Teens research a route from school to a clinic that provides birth control and STD tests, and write down its confidentiality policy.
· Kids ages 11 and 12 sort “risk cards” to rate the safety of various activities, including “intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,” mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.
Regarding this last assignment, an October 18 New York Times op-ed by two authors affiliated with the hard right American Principles Project borrowed the “parental rights” rhetoric of the Tea Party to claim that teaching seventh-graders that kissing and petting are less risky than oral sex or vaginal intercourse violates parents’ right to control what their children hear about “sensitive issues of morality.” Although the city plans to allow parents to opt their children out of lessons on how to use contraception, parents should be able to remove their kids from any part of the sex ed curriculum they choose, the authors argued.
The research consensus on sex ed is clear: the vast majority of abstinence-only programs, which tend to portray all premarital sexual activity as sinful and unhealthy, have no record of delaying sexual intercourse. The one abstinence program that does successfully delay sexual initiation has little in common with its peers; instead of portraying sex in a negative light, it focuses on teaching kids about sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and herpes. Meanwhile, students who receive comprehensive sex ed, which includes lessons on how to obtain and use contraception, are more likely to use protection when they do have sex, and less likely to become pregnant.