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social sciences

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Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Sex Education  
 
page: 1  2  

One abstinence-only curriculum, called "Sex Respect," teaches that one of the best ways to avoid AIDS is to "avoid homosexual behavior." Virginity Pledges, another common technique used by several abstinence-only curricula, encourage students to promise not to have sex until they enter a "biblically based marriage." The one common theme of all the abstinence-only curricula is that they place ideology above information.

Moreover, recent studies show that while abstinence-only programs may delay the onset of sexual activity in some young people, they are not effective in preventing premarital sex and actually lead to a decrease in condom use and other contraception. Young people who make virginity pledges are statistically just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not.

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The United States government's attempt to pacify the demands of the religious right has had international consequences. George W. Bush's Administration has withdrawn from international treaties on population development, contraception, and HIV/AIDS prevention, and insisted that developing countries adopt abstinence-only sex education as a condition of receiving U.S. taxpayer assistance.

Despite (or perhaps because of) these policies, the U.S. has much higher rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases than other industrialized nations. A 2001 comparative study of the U.S., Canada, Sweden, France, and Great Britain found that the U.S. has the highest rates of adolescent childbearing, abortion, and STDs.

Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and France provide their young people with accurate sexuality information as a matter of rights. A study conducted in 1999 found that in these nations no attempt is made to stop adolescents from having sex. Instead, educators and policymakers respect adolescents' independence and privacy, and thereby encourage responsible choices. Not coincidentally, these countries have significantly lower rates of STDs and teen pregnancy than the U.S.

Sex Education and the GLBTQ Community

The discussion of homosexuality in comprehensive sexuality education plans has frequently polarized communities. In Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education in the U.S., author Janice Irvine shows how the backlash against open, honest sex education is suffused with anti-gay bigotry and prejudice. "As a metaphor for the menace of sexual deviance, the issue of school discussion of homosexuality seemed to carry enormous cultural power for conservative Christian activists."

Gay people are consistently used as scapegoats in the Christian Right's opposition to comprehensive sexuality education. Irvine writes that "conversion anxiety" (fear that one's children will become gay), fueled by widespread acceptance of gay people as a reviled social category, motivates parents to "protect" their children from explicit talk about sexuality.

One curriculum drafted for New York public schools in the early 1990s came under fire for allegedly being "homosexual/lesbian propaganda," and for "teaching to first-graders." Despite widespread public support, objections to the curriculum's mention of homosexuality led to its rejection, even though the curriculum by no means made any overt endorsement of homosexuality.

Because of the fierce opposition of conservative Christians, basic discussion of sexual orientation in public schools across the country remains rare.

Unfortunately, the effects of this silence on the glbtq community are devastating. In schools, glbtq youth are almost universally harassed and discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientations or gender nonconformity. They are about twice as likely to be threatened physically, skip or drop out of school, and four times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual schoolmates. Many school districts fail to provide protection from harassment; and abstinence-only curricula consistently ignore or openly denigrate glbtq youth.

Despite these dismal circumstances, glbtq people and their allies have had some success building support for comprehensive sexuality education in school and in helping alleviate the discrimination and harassment suffered by glbtq students. In 1990, when the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) was founded, there were only two gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the entire nation's school system. Since then, that number has exploded to over 2500. While the existence of these organizations does not compensate for the absence of comprehensive sex education programs in school districts, they help support glbtq youth and protect them from harassment.

Indeed, tolerance for gay people and support for comprehensive sex education are both increasing. Surveys show that 79% of parents want their children to learn about sexual orientation in school. And 67% of parents believe children should be taught that gay people are just like other people. In the battle for comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education, the fight is difficult, primarily because of the organization and political clout of the New Right; but the struggle continues.

Nathaniel Wright

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   Related Entries
  
social sciences >> Overview:  Adolescence

The ordinary sexual uncertainty and confusion confronted by all adolescents is compounded in glbtq adolescents by fears of being stigmatized and often by internalized homophobia.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization in the United States dedicated to creating safe school environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay-Straight Alliances

Gay-straight alliances are youth-led, school- or community-based groups designed to assist glbtq students, children from glbtq families, and heterosexual students who want to be allies of their glbtq peers.

social sciences >> Overview:  New Right

The New Right, which emerged during the last two decades of the twentieth century, combines evangelical Christian morality with a political agenda in opposition to glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Student Organizations

In a little more than thirty years, the number of glbtq student organizations has grown from a handful found at large universities to several thousand spread throughout the country to nearly all college campuses.

social sciences >> Overview:  Teachers

Historically, glbtq teachers have faced all manner of social pressures, including open hostiliy and expectations that they hide their sexuality; now, however, teacher groups and individuals are working to improve the climate for glbtq teachers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Issues in Education

Transgender people are becoming increasingly visible at secondary and post-secondary schools; if institutions are to be welcoming to people of all genders, issues of discrimination and equal access to facilities and health care need to be addressed.

social sciences >> Suicide

In addition to the general risk factors for suicide, such as depression and substance abuse, glbtq people also face stressors such as discrimination and harassment, which put them at an increased risk for suicidal behavior.


    Bibliography
   

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network: www.glsen.org.

Irvine, Janice M. Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Haims, Lawrence J. Sex Education and the Public Schools. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1973.

Klein, Susan S., ed. Sex Equity and Sexuality Education. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.

Kilander, H. Frederick. Sex Education in the Schools. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States: www.siecus.org.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Wright, Nathaniel  
    Entry Title: Sex Education  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated June 8, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/sex1_education.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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