New Guide Calls for Broad Approach to Sex Education

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Children should be taught from an early age that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of life, the first detailed set of national recommendations for school-based sex education concludes.

The guidelines, which were developed by the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States along with a panel of 18 other health and education exports, stress that sex education should focus on the psychological, cultural, and behavioral aspects of sex, as well as the scientific facts.

"These guidelines are based on the assumption that sexuality education is not simply about sexual reproduction and anatomy," said Debra W. Haffner, the executive director of SIECUS, a group based in New York City.

The guidelines, which include detailed information for students in grades K- 12 on such sensitive issues as premarital sex, masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion, come on the heels of several national polls showing that more than 90 percent of parents want schools to discuss sex education. However, SIECUS Says, only 22 states require sex education and fewer than 10 percent of schoolchildren receive "comprehensive sexuality education."

"Parents know they are not covering this information in their homes and want it discussed in the schools," Ms. Haffner Said.

Ms. Haffner said each community should decide how it can incorporate the guidelines into its existing school sex-education program. Although the guidelines do not recommend that sex education be taught a minimum number of hours per week or semester, Ms. Haffner said she believes that such instruction should have the same prominence in the curriculum as more traditional subject areas, such as mathematics.

A comprehensive study released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute two years ago found that most sex'education programs emphasize abstinence as the best way for students to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The study also found that 8 out of 10 sex-education teachers surveyed said they needed more technical assistance in order to teach the subject properly. (See Education Week, May 10, 1989.)

The guidelines, which have been endorsed by the National Education Association, lay out an instructional map for students in four different age ranges on six different topics: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture.

According to the recommendations, children in early elementary school should learn the names of the reproductive organs, that masturbation should be done in a private place, that they should turn to their families for love and support, and that people .have different values and life styles that should be respected.

At the late elementary-school level, children should learn about different sexual orientations, basic biological information about sexual reproduction, how puberty will affect their bodies, and that sexual intercourse is not for children, the guidelines say.

Students in middle or junior high school should learn that people do not choose their sexual orientation, that people their age are "usually not mature enough for a sexual relationship that includes intercourse," and that some teenagers choose not to date, which is all right.

Students in this age group should also learn about different methods of contraception and about the law regarding an adolescent's access to abortion in their state, the guidelines recommend.

In senior high school, students should be told that most people enjoy giving and receiving pleasure, that sexual intercourse is not a way to achieve adulthood, and that many sexual activities can be performed without fear of getting AIDS, the recommendations state.

Guidelines Criticized

Charmaine Crouse Yoest, a policy analyst for the Family Research Council, a conservative, Washington-based group, said she has problems with the guidelines because they do not say that sexual activity should be limited to married people.

"In order to have healthy sexuality, teenagers need to be taught that sexual intercourse needs to be within a marriage," she said.

'My biggest concern is that there are a lot of teenage girls out there that are devastated after a 'long term' relationship of three months," she said. "To teach [them] that mutual masturbation is better than intercourse is a questionable enterprise, from an emotional point of view."

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 12

Published in Print: October 23, 1991, as New Guide Calls for Broad Approach to Sex Education
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