For immigrants, is sex education a particularly touchy subject?

Or do all Americans, regardless of where they came from, need to address their issues with sex ed?


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Catherine Price
May 8, 2007 10:28PM (UTC)

In her column in this week's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Susan Paynter asserts that when we talk about sex education in America, we often forget to talk about a group that occasionally finds the subject of sex ed a bit, er, touchy: recent immigrants.

Paynter tells the story of two families from Iran, both struggling to figure out what stance to take about their children's sex education. Gov. Chris Gregoire recently signed into law the Healthy Youth Act, requiring that, as Paynter puts it, "if schools teach sex ed, it must be fully informational, including contraception." (Would that our federal government endorsed a similar policy.) Sure, parents have the option of making their kids "opt out" of sex ed, but families like the ones she describes don't want to completely dismiss the idea -- they're just trying to figure out how to adjust from a culture where talking about sex is taboo to one where sex is everywhere.

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Someireh Amirfaiz, originally from Iran, is one of the people Paynter profiles. Amirfaiz has started working for a group called the Refugee Women's Alliance that, among other things, provides parent education. There, Amirfaiz talks to parents who have recently immigrated to America and tries to counsel them as they deal with the challenges not just of becoming Americans but of becoming American parents.

I think the program sounds great, and I applaud its efforts. But it does occur to me that while, sure, there are lots of immigrants who have difficulty adjusting to America's sexual culture, there are lots of American-born citizens who also have difficulty adjusting to America's sexual culture. And even that statement assumes that there is such a thing as a unified sexual culture of America -- which, when you think about it, doesn't really exist. We've got a sexualized culture certainly. But we hardly agree on how to deal with sex. In fact, if no one else were to ever immigrate to America again, I'd bet you that we'd still have a very difficult time deciding how to educate our kids about sexuality.

What's my point here? That while I applaud Paynter for giving some credit to the recent immigrants who are struggling to adjust their parenting styles, I think we should be careful not to suggest that such immigrants are somehow "backward" in their views toward sex. If we're defining "backward" as "being hesitant to endorse sexual education and/or refusing to talk about contraception" (which I guess I am -- and yes, I admit that I'm biased), then there needs to be RWA-type support -- on the subject of sex ed -- for all American parents, not just recent immigrants.

Still, kudos to the RWA for helping parents -- and their families -- adjust to their new home.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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