This House would make sex education mandatory in schools

Sex education has been taught in schools in a range of countries around the world for nearly a century in various forms[1] it has become a fixture in schools in most Western countries. The specifics of the education program vary between countries, but they all generally deal with the basics of reproduction, physiological development, sexual health, practice, and safety. In recent decades many countries, such as Germany since 1992 and Sweden as far back as 1956, have made sex education a mandatory part of schooling, a policy that has been met with extensive criticism, particularly from religious groups. Their criticism is that sex education is permissive toward young people’s sexual relationships and thus morally corrosive.

Opposition also derives from an objection to an extension of the state’s involvement into the family and questions of sexuality.[2] In developing countries sex education schemes have developed in part at least to attempt to stem the  HIV/AIDS epidemic,

Although some religious groups have opposed these developments. In western nations however

sex education is not always mandatory, in  England and Wales for example parents can refuse to let their children take part in some although not in all lessons which provide information about sex and reproduction.[3] Proponents of mandatory sex education highlight the benefits it provides in delaying the age of first intercourse, preventing sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy and in providing useful information for life regarding sexuality and sexual expression. Opponents contend that sex education encourage early sexual relationships and the risks which attend that and  should be the purview of parents, and that forcing it to be provided in schools undermines trust in the education system and harms the individuals’ relationship with the state and society.

[1] Carter, Birds, Bees, and Venereal Disease: Toward an Intellectual History of Sex Education, 2001. Mort, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830, 1987

[2] Irvine, Talk about sex: the battles over sex education in the United States, 2004

[3] DfE 1994 The Education Act (no 2) London: HMSO. Section 241

 

Title 
Sex education provides “Immunization” against sexually transmitted diseases and prevents unwanted pregnancy
Point 

It was said at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that the only vaccination against the virus was knowledge. Knowledge about what is out there is essential to guarding the self. There are a several of ways in which this knowledge is essential; finding out about the risks of sex is just one, having accurate information about the pleasures as well as the risks is another.[1] Knowledge also prevents misinformation.

Young people must be informed about sex, how it works and what the risks associated with it are, and how to access the risks and the pleasures. When sex is not talked about and kept behind closed doors, young people are forced often to grope around in the dark, so to speak. This can result in unwanted pregnancies, and even STDs, some of which can be permanent, a threat to fertility or even life threatening.  IT leaves young people confused.[2] The state thus owes an obligation to its citizens to prepare them adequately for their interactions in society, including those of a sexual nature.

A mandatory sex education regime serves as a defence against misinformation about sex. Religious organizations, most notably in the United States, promote abstinence by lying about the effectiveness of contraception and about the transmission of STDs.[3] When such activity is not countered by a scientific explanation of sex and sexual practices a culture of ignorance develops that can have serious negative social and health effects on those who are misinformed. An example of the benefits of sex education is highlighted in the case of the United States. In primarily liberal states where sex education is mandatory, young people are statistically more likely to be sexually active. At the same time in states where sex education is banned or deliberately misleading, teen pregnancy rates are much higher.[4] Clearly the trade-off between high promiscuity rates on the one hand and much higher rates of teen pregnancy and STDs on the other stands in the favour of sex education.

Young people live now in a society which is very sexualised[5] it has been described as a carnal jungle. Adults need to offer guidance about negotiating a way through the messages about sex which proliferate in the mass media and consumer culture.[6] Underlying this discussion is controversy about what sex education should be. Sex education has become a shorthand term for the broader subject of personal relationships , sexual health and education about sexuality[7]  it is clear that views about what sex education should be and what it should contain has changed significantly over time.[8]

High quality sex education should not only contain factual information about the physiological issues of sexual development and reproduction. It should also offer safe spaces for young people to consider the social and emotional aspects of sexuality and the social and peer pressures that arise in youth cultures.

[1] Sex Education Forum, Teaching about contraception, 1997

[2] Trudell, Doing Sex Education, 1993

[3] Mombiot, Joy of Sex Education, 2004

[4] NPR et al, Sex Education in America, 2004

[5] Roberts, Too young to unwrap a condom, 2998

[6] Sachs et al, How adolescents see the media, 1991. Moore and Rosenthal, Sex roles, 1990. Jackson, Childhood Sexuality, 1982.

[7] Mayock et al, Relationships and Sexual Education in the Context of Social, Personal and Health Education, 2007, P.20

[8] Reiss, What are the aims of school sex education, 1990

Counterpoint 

Sex education is not necessary to protect children from disease and unwanted pregnancy. Young people can be informed of the dangers of sex without sex education. Besides, if enough people are versed extensively in sex education they should provide sufficient herd immunity that the minority who object on ethical grounds can abstain from sex education without negatively effecting the overall amount of safe sexual practices in a society.

Title 
A safe framework for understanding sexuality and sexual identity are essential to human existence
Point 

Sex and sexual identity is fundamental part of human life. Sexual desire, for both procreation and recreation, forms one of the core human drives that shapes behaviour.[1] Young people want to explore their own, and one another’s, bodies from quite an early age, long before they would be likely to settle down and get married. Sex for almost everyone in Western countries is not something exclusive to marriage, and most people have multiple sexual partners in their lifetimes. In order to face this reality, young people must be armed with the knowledge of what sexual intercourse entails and the pleasures and the risks inherent in it.[2] Sexual identity itself can be very confusing, especially for young homosexual or transgender people who may not understand their sexuality. A safe, objective environment in which the objective physical facts and the emotional aspects of sexual involvement and activity is provided is  essential to facilitate young people to come to grips with sexual identity  as it is essential for full development as a person.

[1] Weeks, Sexual Politics and Society, 1981. Mort, Dangerous Sexualities, 1987

[2] Blake, Teenage Sex, 2003

Counterpoint 

Sexual identity is confusing in any situation. It becomes even more confusing when one is exposed to sex education and the broad spectrum of sexual preference and practice before one is emotionally equipped to understand and appreciate it. Understanding one’s sexual identity is an exploration that must be pursued at one’s own pace, not at the rate mandated from the state or school. Children mature physically and emotionally at very different rates and mandatory sex education which offers the information and the emotional guidance at the same rate to everyone is not well tailored to the different development rates.[1]

[1] Measor et al, Young People’s Views on Sex Education, 2000

Title 
Parents cannot be guaranteed to provide a suitable amount of sex education
Point 

Parents have a great deal of responsibility in raising children, but they are unsuited to teaching about sexuality as the resulting education will not be consistent, be biased and in some cases may not be carried out at all. Parents tend to view their children as less sexualized; they want them to be innocent. Thus it is often the case that parents seek to shield their children from the realities of sex, and themselves from the young person’s developing sexuality maintaining their innocence through enforced ignorance. This tends to be particularly harmful to young women, as culturally boys are often expected to be more sexually active than girls, and such activity is usually considered appropriate for boys, while not so for girls. A double standard undoubtedly continues to exist.[1]  It is in the interest of the state, however, to produce well-rounded individuals who can interact with society effectively on all levels, including the sexual level. When parents do not provide adequate sex education, it is the state that is forced to pick up the tab to pay for STD treatment and teen mothers. People dropping out of school due to pregnancy, and individuals who are unable to work due to debilitating venereal disease impose a steep cost on society. It is thus the state’s duty to provide what parents often cannot for the sake of society as a whole.[2]

Leaving sex education in the hands of parents has the further negative impact of normalizing incorrect or bigoted views regarding sexuality. Homophobic families, for example, will not be able to provide the necessary information to homosexual children, who will suffer not only from lack of education, but also from a lack of sexual self-worth.[3] Mandatory sex education can right the wrongs of such misinformation and bias.

[1] Lees, Sugar and Spice, 1993

[2] Ciardullo, Moving towards a new paradigm, 2007

[3] Galliano, Sex Education Will Help Gay Children, 2009

Counterpoint 

Parents know their children better than anyone. They know what s/he is like, and in what environment s/he will grow up and often live. The state is not infallible and its decisions are not purely objective. When children are not adequately mature for sex education, parents must have the ability to make the decision on their behalf to withhold information that could be potentially damaging to their future development. As to homophobic or bigoted families, such views are considered to be socially acceptable insofar as people have the right to express such views. This does not, however, give parents license to abuse their children if they have alternative sexual preferences. Sex education is not necessary to ensure against abuse, that is the purview of law enforcement.

Title 
Even religious and conservative communities will benefit from mandatory sex education
Point 

sexual activity and lewd behavior, as religious groups fear, because everything in life is already sexualized. One need only watch a typical perfume ad on television to know that sexuality inculcates popular culture already. Sex education would not lift the scales from the eyes of children entirely; they already have some idea of what is going on. The danger is when they know something about sex, but not enough to be safe. That is why mandatory sex education is essential to people’s wellbeing.

The research evidence from across the world is clear that sex education holds back the age of first intercourse and most certainly does not foster early promiscuity.[3] The abstinence programmes that have been developed in the united states in particular have been spectacularly unsuccessful in reducing rates of sexual exploration and STD and unwanted pregnancy rates.[4] Research has made it clear which kinds of sex education are most effective.[5]

[1] Reiss and Mabud, Sex education and Religion, 1998

[2] Blake, Teenage Sex, 2003

[3] Boethius, Swedish sex education and its results, 1984. Swedish National Board of Education, Sex Education in Swedish Schools, 1986.

[4] Oakley et al, Sexual health education interventions for young people, 1995

[5] Kirby et al, School Based Programmes to reduce sexual risk taking behaviour, 1992

Counterpoint 

Sex education does not benefit conservative communities as sex education is not simply a provider of information. Rather, it entails at best an acknowledgement that kids will have sex regardless of what they are told, and at worst a positive endorsement of sexual activity. It is a shameful abrogation of responsibility on the part of adults to essentially allow children to make bad decisions. Sex education encourages students to make a choice, meaning more will make the wrong one.[1] Teaching children about sex will necessarily make them more prone to experimentation, and will likely cause them to view their peers in school in a sexualized context, leading to less focus in the classroom on study, and more on sex. Conservative and religious households have every reason to fear such developments.

[1] Pogany, Sex Smart, 1998

Title 
Parents should have the final choice in sex education for their children
Point 

Parents are the ones who are responsible for their children and they know what is best for their own. Parents are the people who best know their children; they live with them, feed them, understand them, and know how and when is best to broach the topic of sex with their children. Parents are in a very real way the shapers of children’s psyche and development, so their input on a central moral and physical issue such as this must be respected. It is a myth that somehow parents lacks the capacity to deal with an issue like sex. Rather, they are the best suited to it. The fact is that children generally listen to their parents, or at least consider seriously what they are told by them. Furthermore, parents are more capable than teachers, in light of their intimate relationship with their children, to discuss the emotional aspects of sex and relationships, topics that would become jokes in the classroom and the subject of ribald humour.[1] It is better to leave sex education in the hands of parents who can apply the delicate touch.

[1] Pogany, Sex Smart, 1998. Measor et al. Young People’s Views on Sex Education, 2000. Woodcock et al., All these contraceptives, videos and that…, 1992. Kehily and Nayak, Lads and Laughter, 1997.

Counterpoint 

Parents do not always know best, particularly when it comes to sex education. Parents cannot be trusted to instruct children effectively in sex education because they themselves are often uneducated in the matter and have personal biases regarding the subject.[1] Often they will not understand the finer points of contraception and STDs, things that have each changed substantially in the past few decades, with things like the morning after pill becoming readily available in many countries, and diseases like Chlamydia much more prevalent in populations than they were in past generations.[2] Parents’ ignorance may thus misinform children to their detriment. The parent may not understand their child best preventing their children from ever developing a meaningful understanding of their sexuality. Such is the problem for gay children raised in homes that say being gay is sinful and unnatural.[3] With the only authority figure on the subject he knows telling him he is defective, a gay child is left to suffer and wallow in self-loathing.

[1] Farrell, My mother said…, 1978. Frankham, Not under my roof, 1992. Measor et al, Young People’s Views on Sex Education, 2000.

[2] Blake, Teenage Sex, 2003

[3] Galliano, Sex Education Will Help Gay Children, 2009

Title 
Sex education damages the education system
Point 

Sex education damages the education system by confusing the children and by alienating some parents. When children receive mixed signals from home and at school they can suffer real confusion. When parents tell their children that the teacher is wrong about sex, it causes the student to raise his mental defences toward the school thereafter and become less engaged in the process of education.[1] Children will be told by their parents, and will thus come to believe, that the school is promoting a liberal view that is fundamentally contrary to their own. For example, a Muslim girl will find schooling a horrific and alienating experience if she is forced to attend a sex education class that conflicts with her faith as this will be clashing with what she has been taught at home. This will alienate the parents of these children who hold the view that discussion of sex in such a framework is morally repugnant. 

[1] Pogany, Sex Smart, 1998

Counterpoint 

A disagreement over sex education will not alienate someone, whether child or parent, from the entire education system. Students can differentiate between contentious aspects of education like sex education and the general education over which parents, teachers, and state do not disagree. Both parents and teachers will be able to explain the reasons for the difference in teaching in cases where the student is taught different things at home and in school. Saying that just because one issue is contentious all of education is ruined is merely alarmist.

Title 
Sexual development is a process of gradual discovery and cannot be effectively taught in a classroom
Point 

Having a one size fits all sex education system cannot effectively deal differences within classes. Sexual experience is a gradual process and cannot be meaningfully taught in the structured environment of the classroom. People must discover much about their own sexuality, through experimentation and self-exploration. By trying to impose a strict curriculum that explains sexual processes and practices along set guidelines, much of the opportunity for self-discovery is lost. Furthermore, when people are forced to conform to the set sex education program, they cannot move at their own pace. This is particularly harmful to people who are physically or emotionally less mature than their fellow students and who would be better served if they were allowed to pursue sexual knowledge at their own pace. When other students are involved in the classroom, there is necessarily a degree of peer pressure, which places a further strain on the later bloomers of the class to conform and experiment sexually before they are ready.[1]  Another example is the case of gay and gender dimorphic students who will be left isolated within the class, even singled out as different, in a way that may not be conducive toward the promotion of understanding and acceptance. Teachers cannot cater their lessons to every single student, and thus students with less conventional sexual preferences and identities are left without meaningful engagement in the classroom.

[1] Pogany, Sex Smart, 1998

Counterpoint 

While certainly there should always be room for self-exploration in sexuality, a set mandatory curriculum is essential to understanding the basics of sex and offering opportunity to consider the emotional and social aspects of it in the cultures of young people.[1] It is unfortunate that some students may feel unprepared to undergo sex education, but the value of the information outweighs any potential discomfort. Certainly there is nothing so scarring about the nature of sex that someone who is a bit immature cannot handle with some effort. We need also to have some confidence in the abilities and sensitivities of our teaching professionals to be able to respond with effective sensitivity to the different needs of their students in the classroom situation. This means that we need properly trained teachers to be delivering sex education and teachers themselves have asked for this to be the case.

The research evidence does make it clear that young people are at varying stages of maturity when they are at the same chronological age. Young men may lag behind young women and act with considerable immaturity in sex education lessons.[2] The effective answer to this may be to offer single sex lessons in sex education rather than removing the opportunity for sex education from all young people.

[1] Thomson, Unholy Alliances, 1993

[2] Measor et al. Young People’s Views on Sex Education, 2000

Title 
The state has had no historical role in sex education to no ill effect, so should it develop one now.
Point 

Sexuality should not be within the purview of the state. The state maintains order and security and provides essential services. Sex education does not fall within its responsibility. Sexuality is for many people deeply personal and should be respected as such; young people should be allowed to explore their sexuality independently and with the guidance of family, not under the watching eye of the state.[1] Sex education programs reduce sexuality to biology and fail to adequately address the emotional elements of sexuality in a way that is not seen as a joke by often-immature students. Inevitably teachers’ personal opinions on sexuality will bleed into their teaching, as will that of the state officials that set the teaching standards for the subject. In this way there is always a normative judgment in sex education that will be seen as the state mandating certain sexual behaviour and practice. This fundamentally attacks the rights of individuals to develop their mode of sexual expression independent of the nanny state’s instruction and can irrevocably harm peoples’ sexual identity.

[1] Lord, Condom Nation, 2009

Counterpoint 

This argument is based on a particular view of the state and its role in society.it is a view of the state which is particularly innocent of and which fails to acknowledge the range of cultural messages relating to society and sexuality[1] which are broadcast hegemonically although not entirely openly by the state.[2] The state does have a role in sex education. It has taken an ever more holistic view of young citizens, and this is reflected in schools whose remit stretches not just to the academic education of students, but to the preparation of young people for the full spectrum of activities and responsibilities they will face in adult life. Sexual interaction is a fundamental part of that life. Schools have evolved far beyond the provision of skill in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and this should be reflected in such programs as sex education. The state does not in mandating sex education make any normative judgment regarding sexual practices, but rather provides the necessary information and the space to consider the emotional and social issues involved to make informed choices about sex.

[1] Plummer, Sexual Cultures, Communities, Values and Intimacy, 1996

[2] Foucault, Studies in governmentality, 1979. Throughgood, Sex Education as Social Control, 1992

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