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Sex Education Should Be Taught In School

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If you discovered your child had taken up cigarette smoking, how would you respond? Would you simply accept it as typical teenage behavior and supply him with the safest brand of cigarettes available--those lowest in tar and nicotine--or would you respond in a manner that would relate to your child that smoking can cause serious diseases and even death? What if you found out your newly licensed teenage child was drinking alcohol? Would you check that off as "just stuff that teenagers do" and supply him with the safest car possible . . . just in case he decides to drive home from a party drunk?

Although these scenarios may sound silly at first, they employ much of the same logic that many parents and schools use when it comes to issues involving teenagers and sex. How many times have you heard the adage: "Kids are going to have sex; it's better that they are protected and practice safe sex." Safe sex? What does that mean? In today's society, it is an unfortunate truth that safe sex has become somewhat of an oxymoron. Sex in the 1990s can be debilitating and even deadly. Further, sexually active teenagers face serious emotional issues as well. The fact remains, however, that no matter what method one uses to "protect" oneself, nothing--aside from abstinence--can assuredly prevent one from catching sexually transmitted diseases or from becoming pregnant.

As the status of sex has changed throughout the past century, so has sex education in schools. Before the turn of the twentieth century, education involving sex and human sexuality was limited to "social hygiene."(n1) Such education included information about venereal diseases, physical growth, and human reproduction.(n2) It was not until 1912, when the International Congress of Hygiene recommended a broader study of the topic, that the term "sex education" was adopted.(n3)

In the 1920s, sex education programs were generally created in order to combat the increasing social problem of teenage pregnancy.(n4) Nonetheless, parents maintained a liberty interest to direct the upbringing of their children;(n5) thus the reach of such sex education programs was sufficiently limited.

Today, the study of human sexuality encompasses much more than ever could have been anticipated in the early 1900s. Examples of these modern, more progressive sex education programs are readily apparent throughout the country. One example of these more controversial programs is the sex education program entitled Hot, Sexy, and Safer, presented by Suzi Landolphi(n6) and her colleagues(n7) at over 1,000 school campuses.(n8) The controversy surrounding the Landolphi's Hot, Sexy and Safer programs is evidenced in Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Prods.(n9) A similar program in New York involved explicit informational materials that were distributed to children in the New York Public School System.(n10)

These programs represent an expanded view of sex education that has been the basis of great controversy. Many parents do not condone their child having sex and do not want their child to participate in a sex education program that accepts sex as normal, acceptable teenage behavior. Furthermore, many religious groups, most notably the Catholic Church, have expressed disapproval towards the expanding nature of sex education curricula.(n11) Ultimately, the controversy is twofold. First, controversy arises over the role of parents and schools in the upbringing of children. Second, opponents to these expanding sex education curricula--citing recent statistics--argue that such programs are ineffective in achieving their goals of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies.

Part II of this comment begins by examining the role of parents in the upbringing of their children, and discusses many of the court cases that have defined this role. This section will examine the balancing of interests and rights of parents, children, and the State (i.e., the school). Part III examines the effectiveness of these bolder sex education programs in schools throughout the past several decades. This section also includes information and statistics regarding sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy rates throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Condom distribution in schools and the push for abstinence-based curricula will also be examined. Ultimately, this section will identify the most common goals of sex education curricula and examine whether sex education has been successful in reaching these goals. Finally, Part IV proposes a model sex education curriculum for public schools. The proposed model takes into account the interest of parents, children, and schools. This section provides information pertaining to parental concerns regarding sex education, including parental challenges to sex education curricula.

II. BALANCING THE INTERESTS OF PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND THE STATE

What is in the best interest of parents, children, and schools regarding offering sex education in schools? This question has proven to be quite controversial. Although

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