Sunday, April 26, 2009

NC Sex-Ed and the Religious Right

NC House Bill 88 is designed to give parents the opportunity to choose what type of public school sex education their children receive. It will not eliminate the abstinence-only track, it will simply add another track focused more on promoting risk management and healthy, safe behaviors.

Not surprisingly, lobbies of the far right are outraged by the concept that parents should be able to choose this. But let’s be honest, according to a poll on, 75% of Americans had premarital sex by age 20 and 95% had rounded the bases out of wedlock by age 40. While the NC Family Policy Council, a group with a predominantly White Evangelical Protestant membership who uses affiliated pastors as its prime method of gaining grassroots support, attempts to provide a statistical and secular reasoning for its vehement opposition to the bill, the fact is that they see recognizing the prevalence of premarital sex as an acceptant of sin. While I am fairly conservative on most issues, I also tend to be reasonable, and to me the idea of promoting a policy that is bad for our children so that a few religious folks can have a clean conscience about their promotion (or lack thereof) of sin seems selfish at best.

Now, a word on abstinence-only sex-ed from a former NC public school kid. In elementary school, we learned about the necessary body parts in a unit on “Human Growth and Development” that parents could opt their children out of. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and, given the fact that they didn’t tell us what to do with the parts we now knew so much about, pretty pointless for the kids with no prior knowledge. To this day, I have literally never been told by the Wake Count Public School System the necessary procedures for producing a child. Somehow, my parents knew (I assume there is a correlation between this knowledge and the fact that I even exist) and they were kind enough fill me in.

Fast-forward to 8th grade. We had a unit on STDs and the merits of remaining abstinent until marriage. This enlightening day of science class was conducted by our more or less incompetent guidance counselor. After she told us about “the slifalifalus,” “ghonnarear,” and “the HIV/AIDS,” we were reminded to stay “abstinence” until marriage. The STD education that was designed to serve me for the rest of my life came from a woman who could not conjugate the verb ‘abstain.’ I really wish I was making this up and I am infuriated by the fact that her salary is paid by hard-earned tax dollars.

The reality of this is that my fellow students and I were pathetically underserved by NC public school policies, which is probably why there were 5 pregnant girls in my high school and countless others who had dropped out to take care of their kids. At our football games, our record-setting 19 year-old running back would be cheered on by his two children.

The NC Family Policy Council, in continuing to support an abstinence-only program that obviously doesn’t address the needs of our students, is simply ignorant. While I can appreciate their desire to obey the religious and traditional ideal of abstinence until marriage, this policy stands in contradiction to serious issues of public health and education. In their policy briefing, they point out that NC schools have a zero-tolerance policy toward tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and firearms, and argue that premarital sex should be on that list. Let’s examine the distinction between the aforementioned vices. Tobacco is unhealthy no matter how you use it, drugs and alcohol are illegal for the relevant underage population, and the issue of firearms is pretty self-explanatory. Sex is not necessarily unhealthy and is (in most situations) perfectly legal.

The only valid point that the NC Family Policy Council makes is that 7th grade is too early for children involved in the safe-sex track to be educated on contraceptive options and their respective uses. Ultimately, North Carolina needs to put an end to religiously motivated policy decisions and instead actually focus on what is best for our children, even at a slightly increased cost. House Bill 88 leaves the issue up to the parents so that they can choose whichever style they feel is appropriate. This education will make kids safer and smarter, not destroy the sanctity of marriage because, as studies show, 95% of us already manage to do that on our own.

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