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Let’s Talk About Sex: Education in America

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There are moments in the day when you just have to scratch your head and wonder what people are thinking. A perfect example is a woman in Lewiston, Maine, who walked into two public libraries and checked out an acclaimed sex education book.

No big deal, right? People check books out from the library every day. Well, not everyone checks out the same book from multiple libraries and then sends money to each library to cover the costs of each book, saying they are not going to return it. The woman, JoAn Karkos, said she was "horrified" by the graphic nature of acclaimed sex education book It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health.

I can't attest to what's in the book since I haven't read it, but sex education is always going to be a touchy (no pun intended) subject. There are going to be those who say that as far as sex education goes, it’s abstinence only or nothing at all. There are going to be those (like me) who think the more information provided about sex will make our younger people smarter, which could lead to better decisions regarding sexual partners and when to start having sex. There are going to those who say handing out condoms will start an orgy, and those (like me) who say condoms will reduce the number of sexually transmitted diseases in our younger population.

In my time in public schools in Michigan, the most my high school went into sex education was a week's worth of videos about birth, sexually transmitted infections, and how I shouldn't have sex until I'm married. In the district I was a part of, it seemed that whenever the community cried foul about sex education getting too "graphic," the school district folded like a cheap card table and gave in to the more conservative voices instead of opening the forum to public discussion about the benefits of an open and honest education when it comes to sex.

In college, I had a couple of very good sex education courses that were graphic to the nth degree and it made the students squirm to listen to an old man talk about erections and orgasms. Sure, it was a "liberal" course at a "liberal" college, where we had group discussions after the classroom session let out, but it was the one class in college I remember more than the rest.

In the group sessions, we talked about our fears and how we felt about sex and relationships. These were some of the most intimate conversations I've had with anyone. We could be as open and frank as we wanted. Nobody was going to judge us for anything we shared, and nobody was going to censor us.

What Karkos did borders on censorship.

In a letter addressed to one of the libraries, Karkos wrote, “I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents. I will not be returning the books," she said, according to ABC affiliate WMTW. With the letter, she included $20.95 to cover the cost of the book.

Amoral, abnormal contents in a book that was written and illustrated to educate the masses? Are we in America this conservative about our bodies, and what we do with them, that cartoon-like drawings and frank discussions about how our bodies change is considered amoral? Are we that voyeuristic to want to pry into the lives of citizens and tell them what they can and can't do with their body?

When are we as a country going to wake up and realize that knowledge is power, and that the more information we give our young adults the more well-rounded they're going to be when they reach adulthood? Why do we view sex as something dirty when it's brought up in the public domain?

That's why we need to overhaul the chapter of public education that makes it inappropriate for public schools to teach a realistic version of sex education. If parents want to keep their children out of the discussion, they're more than welcome to excuse their child from the lessons without penalty.

One thing's for sure: we've got to stop our collective thinking that sex is dirty, and look at it as if it is a natural part of life, because — wait for it — it is a natural part of life. Karkos should return the books, pay for whatever late fines she accumulated, and let the issue rest. As for the rest of us, we need to start a new conversation about how we are sexual beings. This will make some very uncomfortable, but it will benefit many more in the long run.

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About S. Manley

  • Jonathan Scanlan

    It’s not just a question of whether a discussion is had or a concensus reached, but whether needs are being met. And those needs will change.

    Young people are rarely consulted about what they would like to know, and said discussions often frame adults as all-knowing sages who must decide how much truth their young can know and at what age.

    If instead of setting curriculum we open up forums for feedback and consultation. Then society will be better able to serve the needs of todays young people.

  • Alec

    Good post. I guess that I am going to have to order the book, as well as send a letter to the library in Lewiston, Maine.

    I am appalled that Ms Karkos believes that she has any right, obligation, or duty to establish herself as the town censor. I don’t give a rat’s ass about what horrifies her. It ain’t her business. On the other hand, I revere libraries (or as Ray Bradbury once called them, “the people’s university”), that if I ever won the lottery, I would donate a healthy chunk of the winnings to my local library.

    Along with this, I want libraries to stock controversial, subversive, even transgressive materials. This is what they exist for.

    And having books about sex available at the library may even be superior in some ways, than public school sex education courses, which sometimes limit themselves to discussions of bodies, sexual plumbing, and diseases, but rarely intelligently talk about values and the real issues that people face (and not just teens) as they deal with their sex lives.

    By the way, a few years back, the local PBS affiliate did a program about high school kids who took a bunch of cameras and produced their own program about sex and sexuality. One of the most devastating clips was of a girl who filmed her mother as she asked fairly basic questions about sex and the human body. The mother hesitated, stammered and was generally too ashamed to answer even basic questions. Then the teen turned the camera on herself and noted, “It was especially frustrating to see that my mother could not easily respond to my questions because she is a nurse.”

  • Sandpiper

    This is what our government is funding and deeming necessary for “sex education” in Massachusetts for children as young as 11 and 12. Is it on its way to Maine? I would say yes.

  • I’m curious. Exactly what is supposed to happen if 11- and 12-year old children find out what fisting is?

  • What I’m curious about – what is the advantage?

  • irene wagner

    Evolutionists, creationists, homosexuals with an agenda, Victorians with an agenda, take it somewhere else, all right? A team of teachers has seven hours to cover, in often overcrowded classrooms, reading, writing, mathematics, history, art, music, physical education, science, geography. And the US academic standing relative to other developed nations isn’t exactly stellar.

    Before a kid gets to junior high, he needs to know how to work with people who don’t look, think, or pray like him. How about making sure that’s happening in PRACTICE in gym, recess, chemistry lab, reading partner time, lunch?

    No more Creationism vs. Evolution debates! “Some people think God created everything. Some people don’t. Now that THAT’S out of the way, please turn to page one of your science textbooks, and lets get down to business.”

    Sex ed. Handled the same way. Just the facts. What kids need to know is how unbelievably likely it is that they’ll start a baby if they spend time horizontally with someone they care about–and sorry, folks, that’s with or without a condom. Hey, Mr. Fisting Curriculum Writer, could you include a few powerpoint panels depicting in graphic detail the realities of the oft-used back up birth control method, abortion?

    Ah. Didn’t think so.