A few months ago, Presidential candidate Barack Obama created quite a stir when he suggested that aspects of sex education had a place in the kindergarten classroom. Conservatives went wild, claiming this idea reflected Obama’s weak morals and that sex education was damaging for young children.
Liberals pointed out that Obama’s idea was not to teach five-year-olds the equivalent of a college level human sexuality class, but rather to address issues like the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch.
The debate about sex education is a particularly American one. In a lot of other Western countries this class doesn’t raise any eyebrows. In fact, in some parts of Europe, sex ed has been a mandatory part of elementary school education since the1950s!
So why do a lot of Americans react so negatively to something many others take for granted?
In an interview about sex education with the Washington Post, the Swiss head of a research group on adolescent medicine gave one possible answer. "The main difference is that in the States sexual activity is considered a risk. Here we consider it a pleasure," he explained.
Another reason is that people fear that talking about sex with young children will traumatize them, or that it will encourage them to try it out for themselves.
But research doesn’t back up this notion, and studies have found that far from harming children, those who get age-appropriate sex education have sex later and are safer when they do. This result is apparent in Western Europewhere there are much lower teen pregnancy and STDs than are found in the States.
But as the reaction to Obama’s comments showed, there is still a wide range of ideas about when sex ed should begin: Some feel it should be provided in kindergarten, and others think the material is inappropriate even for high school seniors.
Though a lot of people have offered their opinions on this matter, one voice that hasn’t been heard a lot during this debate is that of youth. I’m curious, when do you think sex ed should begin?