Make it stop: Abstinence-only education

Bad news for those of us who think sex ed should include discussions of actual sex.

Published June 2, 2008 9:20PM (EDT)

In Tom Perrotta's novel "The Abstinence Teacher," released last fall, Ruth Ramsey, a health teacher who believes "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power," is asked by one of her students why anyone would engage in oral sex, which, as far as the student is concerned, is akin to kissing a toilet seat. After uttering three little words -- "some people like it" -- Ramsey goes on to differentiate between toilet seats and body parts, then concludes with an inventory of the possible diseases that can and cannot be transmitted through oral sex, and the means to prevent them. Then comes the lawsuit.

I thought of the fictional Ms. Ramsey this morning when I opened my in box to discover that a teacher in Herriman, Utah, according to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, is under investigation for discussing "topics unrelated to the core curriculum -- including homosexual sex, oral sex and masturbation" -- in defiance of state law. Call us firebrands, but we were under the impression that sex education should include discussions of, well, sex. The students of the teacher -- whose name is not given, perhaps to save her from the scarlet C for candor -- would seem to agree, as the discussion arose directly in response to questions from her students. (In protest, some of them made signs that read, "We were the ones asking her questions.") A local congressional representative has promised to introduce legislation to enforce criminal penalties on teachers who violate the law -- and create a public registry of offenders.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the National Abstinence Education Association has launched a $1 million campaign to encourage parents to lobby their legislators for abstinence-only education programs. The campaign Web site offers the familiar scare tactics and a friendly reminder that grandparents, too, can be enlisted in the campaign to protect children from sexual knowledge. Because when your sex-ed teacher is too scared of facing criminal charges for addressing your questions on gay sex and masturbation, you can always ask Grandma.

By Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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