As public education moves into the decade of the seventies, it is plagued by one of the worst dilemmas of recent years-the seemingly insoluble question of SEX EDUCATION. Many ask, do we need it? Who is really responsible for it? Is it working? Just what is the story anyway?
THE BATTLE over sex education in the public schools exploded dramatically into nationwide prominence in the late sixties, and it is still rumbling. No education issue in perhaps the last thirty or forty years has stirred so much raw hostility, division, and controversy among educators and laymen alike. Rarely has a school program attracted so much lightning. Even the great flap over progressive education in the thirties and early forties or the indignation over why Johnny couldn't read in the fifties pale into insignificance by comparison. That was kid stuff. No, this has been a different kind of struggle. Unlike those earlier conflicts, the issue of sex education is literally loaded with emotional dynamite. The moral and ethical overtones run powerful and deep. Therefore, it was no surprise when opinions became so rigidly polarized that there was hardly room for dialogue. The public, it seemed, had chosen up sides. In some instances, communication so totally broke down as a result of accusations, vilification, and hostility that some school boards and PTA groups literally ceased to function. Teachers, school board members and school superintendents were frequently fired or forced to resign. Whole towns were ideologically torn apart.
But strangely, in spite of the recent ranting and raving - in spite of all the polemics - in spite of all the dust, smoke and flak, nationwide polls now show that better than 70% of adults queried approve of schools giving courses in sex education! Apparently there is no longer strong, concerted resistance across the country to school sex education programs in general. As a matter of fact, in certain instances, educators are in the unique situation of having to defend such programs against the over-expectations of those who view them as a means of controlling delinquency. And yet, even with this improving climate of approval, this expansion of sex education curricula, delinquent sex among our youngsters continues to mount. Why? What is happening to us?
The Sexual Revolution
It goes without saying that the past decade has witnessed a plunge in public morality unparalleled in modern times. Frequently today, writers compare our times with the degenerate and declining last days of ancient Rome. And, the comparison is a good one. Marriages are being dissolved almost as fast as they are contracted, especially among teen-agers. No less than 54% of all American teen-age marriages end in divorce. That's a failure rate three times higher than for couples who are at least 20 years old. Infidelity is no longer scandalous but commonplace - accepted, yes, even recommended by a growing number of marriage authorities. Illegitimate births in the U.S. have now risen above 300,000 a year. And, some 244,000 of these are borne by mothers between the ages of 15 and 24. Probably a conservative estimate of the number of abortions in the U.S. each year would be one million – and going up. Increasingly, colleges and universities are allowing totally open dormitory privileges and providing students with contraceptives. At the same time, in California it is reported that one of every two teen-age girls going to the altar for marriage is already pregnant. As a result, the California State Senate recently approved and sent to the Assembly a bill to allow teen-age girls to obtain contraceptive devices and birth control pills from doctors without parental consent. The author of that bill, Senator Anthony Beilenson, conceded that, "We can't affect the incidence of premarital sex, no matter what we do here in Sacramento. "However," he continued hopefully, "we can decrease the number of illegitimate births - if we give doctors more authority" (Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1971). What a tragic admission. Apparently the thinking is, if you can't legislate morality, then at least put a "band-aid" on the consequences of sexual promiscuity by authorizing the wholesale distribution of contraceptives! Incredible! Venereal disease is now officially reported as out of control. The situation is being called "pandemic" - or epidemic on a national scale. Nationwide, new cases are occurring at the rate of 5,500 a day or one every 16 seconds around the clock! And in the face of this disaster, we are finding that our wonder drugs of a decade or two ago are losing their potency in treating new and ever more virulent strains of venereal bacteria. There can be no doubt that we are living in a sexual revolution. We are living in an era of moral decline so rapid and so vast as to be best described as collapse. The specter of a disease ridden, bedroom-hopping, sexually hedonistic society may not be pleasant to contemplate, yet in brutal fact that is where we seem to be headed. But of course, all of this wretchedness is rated X, so our children are unaware of it. They don't see or hear it or learn to pattern their behavior from it - or do they?
De facto Sex Education
Let's not kid ourselves. A few years ago some might have argued with great emotion against sex education, but today, that argument seems ridiculous and empty. No matter what your religious persuasion, moral convictions, or ideals, there really is no choice any longer. As Clark E. Vincent, Director of the Behavioral Science Center at Wake Forest College observed. "Such a choice no longer exists. Youth is literally inundated with information, ideas and attitudes about sex via television, movies, newspapers, paperback books, magazines and members of their own age group ... it is pointless to continue debating whether or not youth should receive sex education. They are!" (Journal of the American College Health Association, May 1967, p. 49). Yes, whether we like it or not, we live in an age of de facto sex education - day in and day out! It's in full swing all around us via the mass media and increasingly in the deteriorating moral standards of society. It grinds on relentlessly. The daily torrent of sex-oriented advertising, reading matter, and entertainment to which our children and youth are exposed is having a powerful educational impact - an impact far greater than most of us realize or care to admit. And there is literally no way of escaping it short of retreating to a remote cave somewhere. It is impossible to isolate youngsters from society's preoccupation with sex. No, the question is no longer whether we should have sex education; we can't avoid it. The real question today is how best to neutralize the sex propaganda of society. What we desperately need is a counter sex education program, if you please - a program which will insure the balance, morality, and wholesomeness of our children's concepts of sex and sexuality. Of one thing we can be absolutely certain. To leave today's youth with warped, perverted, libertine and irresponsible attitudes toward sex is to guarantee the destruction of the family unit for future generations. And, that in turn means consigning our nations to oblivion. But the public has been led to expect that sex education in the schools would give youth the knowledge, the essential facts with which to make wise decisions regarding sexual behavior. That hasn't happened, has it? Then what has gone wrong? After better than six years of sex education classes in thousands of schools across the nation, conditions ought to be better, but they are worse than ever before. Why?
School Sex Education Ineffective
Could it be that the schools have limitations in this field after all? Maybe it's time to admit that the schools are unable to do an effective job of changing attitudes toward sex. Maybe it's time we realized what we should have known all along, that responsible sexual behavior does not result from lectures, textbooks, training films, and freewheeling adolescent discussion groups (our emphasis throughout). No, these programs have been laboring under two utterly false assumptions: first, the belief that possession of sex facts will change sex attitudes; and second, the idea that youngsters basically form their life-long outlook regarding sexuality during their school years. The dismal results have clearly proven these assumptions wrong and school sex education programs ineffective.
Sex Information Not Enough
Mere knowledge about human anatomy, reproductive processes and venereal disease will not guarantee responsible sexual behavior. Even most advocates of sex education have never dared to make such a claim. Yet parents have generally expected it. On the contrary, one authority recently remarked, "... the basic determinants of sexual permissiveness are not controlled by contraceptives or venereal disease information, but by much more fundamental values. Young people who refrain from premarital intercourse are not going to be encouraged to do so merely because they have safety information. On the other hand, those who do want to indulge will, whether they have safety information or not" (California Teacher's Association Journal, January 1969, pp. 9-10). No, sex facts catalogued and separated from the rest of life have little impact on attitudes. Sex in its fullest meaning just cannot be understood through a school curriculum as one understands the facts of arithmetic or physics. Sex, after all, is what people are, not merely an activity they engage in. And, the concept of sexuality should properly encompass the total person, the total quality of maleness or femaleness, not simply genital development, sex drives, and techniques. In the final analysis, sex information taught apart from sound moral values cannot be expected to instill wholesome sexual attitudes in young persons. While knowledge about sex is no doubt essential, it is effective only as it overlays an earlier foundation of right character. The very concept of "wholesome sexual attitudes" is based upon right moral standards and values, not merely "head knowledge." But the sad fact is that the public schools have only "head knowledge" to teach. They are totally unable to teach right and absolute moral values. Why? First, because they are generally excused by law from the responsibility of propagating moral values; and second, because the educational establishment itself has embraced the philosophy of moral relativism, which recognizes no absolute standards.
Character Training - The Missing Ingredient
The missing KEY to right and successful sex education is character training! Without a foundation of sound character, all the sex information in the world will not produce the self-discipline needed for responsible sexual behavior. Character must come first! That is the basic reason for the ineffectiveness of school sex education. To provide youths with sex knowledge before they have the character to rightly apply that information is putting the cart before the horse. Somehow man continually falls into the same trap. His knowledge outstrips his character development and disaster is the result. Gunpowder, dynamite nuclear fission, all have potential for good, but man has not had the character to rightly use them. Just so with sex education today. But that essential, indispensable, crucial foundation of sound character cannot be built in the schools, as we have seen. No, it must begin in the security, love and concern of a happy family relationship - even before birth! An American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement underscored the vital importance of such a relationship by pointing out that, "The process of assisting the child to grow to sexual and emotional maturity begins with the interpersonal adjustment of his parents before he is born and must continue by sensitive, instructional parental example throughout the early and critical formative years" (Pediatrics, September 1968, p.535). That early parental example, not a program of sex lectures and films ten, twelve, or fifteen years later, is the beginning of responsible character and sound sex education. The tragic thing is that we have known this truth for a long, long time. Back in 1934, Leonard Blumgart admonished, "It cannot be stated too often that the child's efforts to control his drives are guided by the behavior of the people he loves and respects. It is fairly well agreed," be concluded, "that the first five years of life are the determining years in the formation of character … "(Sex Education: Facts and Attitudes, Child Study Association of America, 1934, p. 32). Where did we get off the track? Why have parents allowed themselves to be conned into believing the schools could provide a substitute? Clearly, parents must reassert a major influence over the character training and sex education of their children if we are to avert national moral disaster.
Where to Start
For starters, we need to stop blaming youth for the moral decadence of our society. Children didn't make it the way it is - adults did! Although their behavior may at times be bewildering and bizarre, our youngsters are the victims, not the guilty. They are the learners, not the teachers. Every major force that has chipped away at the foundational mores of the nation in recent years has been directed by adults. Our churches have radically liberalized their views regarding premarital sex, divorce, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. In many cases almost to the point of license. Abortion laws are being liberalized throughout the world. Laws forbidding homosexual acts between consenting adults have been stricken down in England and in two U. S. states. It was medical science that "liberated" women with the pill while analyzing, cataloging and publishing for all to read the most intimate accounts of human sexual behavior. And the mass entertainment industry has almost rapaciously bent its colossal influence to the detailing and glorifying of every sordid, perverted and disgusting human relationship ever conceived. These are the tremendous forces that are responsible for undermining our national morals and influencing our youth. And remember, they are controlled by the older generation. So let's start by being honest about the problem and realize that one of the most effective ways to help our youngsters is to begin by cleaning ourselves up as adults!
What Parents Can Do
Let's begin way back at the beginning. Clear back, as the song says, at the "white lace and promises." Each of us as parents needs to reassess our own marriage relationship. Let's be completely honest with ourselves. Do you really understand the meaning of marriage? Is there a deep, abiding sense of love, respect, and outgoing concern flowing between you? Are you able to really communicate your own intimate feelings, doubts, expectations, and needs with one another? Is your own attitude toward sex based upon mature, accurate, and wholesome knowledge? Do each of you deeply understand and accept the tremendous responsibility you have undertaken as parents? Unless you can truthfully answer an unequivocal "yes" to all of these questions, you need to do some homework. Indeed, most of us need a refresher course and a good way to start is by requesting the free Ambassador College publications entitled The Plain Truth About Child Rearing, Modern Dating, and The Missing Dimension in Sex. You will find these booklets uncomplicated, straightforward, and like nothing you have ever read before. They contain information and answers unavailable anywhere else. After you have studied these thoroughly together, you will be ready to apply the following practical sex education principles: 1. Early childhood is the time when humans are the most educable and when parents have almost complete control of the environment. It is the time when a child receives an indelible impression of what sex is all about. The way a father lives, the way he treats his wife and children, the way he conducts himself with others, these relationships form the child's impressions of "masculinity." Likewise, the mother's life style becomes the model of "femininity." And remember, at no other stage of life are these early impressions likely to be significantly altered. By age five, the pattern of social behavior for each child is pretty much established. Your adult model is crucial. 2. There IS no choice between providing or not providing sex education, only the alternative of HOW and WHAT your child will learn. You need to recognize that the vast majority of sex information a child receives does not occur in formal, planned, or even verbal ways. Rather, it is absorbed constantly throughout childhood and later life in every contact with other persons and the environment at large. Sex education goes on in every school bus, at every recess period, in the locker room, at every slumber party, in front of the television set, at the movies, and through the pages of every newspaper and magazine. Without being oppressive about it, you need to be intimately aware of the sex implications of your child's activities. Only in this way will you be able to guide, interpret, clarify and even censor the sex information he receives. As Dr. Loren L. Hoch of the Science Education Center at the University of Akron pointed out, "... we have allowed most of the protective barriers which shielded us in our youth to disappear. We have dispensed with chaperones, supervision, rules, close family relations, and privacy from the intrusion of the communications media" (The Science Teacher, November 1970, p. 42). He's right, and we need to reestablish those "protective barriers" for our children's sake. 3. Keep parent-child communication channels open. Remember, open communication means a genuine give and take, not an adult lecturer and a child listener. Children have questions and ideas worth hearing, and we need to be willing, interested listeners. There is no better way of catching and correcting erroneous ideas. Besides, such a dialogue helps remove the secrecy and taboo from sex. If you will establish good communication with your child early, you will be able to avoid estrangement later on. It gives a child a loving, secure place to come with questions and problems, knowing he won't be turned off with excuses or evasions. The belief that parent-child communication is unavoidably lost on the day a child becomes a teen-ager is a myth. However, some parents fail to communicate with their children when they are young; and when teen-age finally does arrive, many parents find they do not know their children well enough to have anything to say. 4. Avoid sex education by "crisis." Anticipate problems. As parents, you are both mature adults. You have already lived through all of the stages of development your child is going through or has ahead of him. With a little awareness and observation, you can prepare your child to anticipate and accept his sexual development with reassurance and confidence rather than puzzlement, confusion, or fear. Adolescent bodily changes, the appearance of secondary sex characteristics, menarche in girls, and the intensifying of sex drives should be anticipated and discussed as the matter-of-fact part of life they really are - before each new situation becomes a crisis. 5. Provide wholesome outlets for physical exercise. Especially at the onset of puberty and during the years of adolescence is regular physical exercise essential. It is necessary for the proper development of muscle, bone, tissue, heart and lungs. But it is also of equal importance in dissipating the tensions produced by changes in body chemistry brought on by sexual development. A vigorous swim, a competitive game of basketball, softball or tennis, or a few fast laps around the block on a bike can do much to reduce the pressure of the adolescent's growing sex drives. Spinoff from such activity will also be a clearer definition of a youngster's masculinity or femininity as well as greater self -confidence. 6. Protect your child from homosexual tendencies. Most parents associate the cause of homosexual tendencies with wrong companions. To a degree that may be correct. But, more and more psychiatrists are finding that the truly controlling factor is the family constellation in which the child is reared. The recipe for developing homosexuality in a boy is an over intimate, overprotective, emotionally smothering mother and a detached, hostile or indifferent father. Likewise, a close-binding, overly possessive, puritanically domineering father may trigger the emotional and psychological conditions that will produce homosexual tendencies in a girl. It is clear that the character of the father and his interpersonal relations with the child during the impressionate years seem to be most crucial. Dr. Irving Bieber reports that he has never interviewed a homosexual man who had a close, warm relationship with his father. As psychiatrist Warren J. Gadpaille put it, "A healthy mother can prevent her son's having inappropriate apprehensions toward women and can foster healthy attitudes toward maleness, but ideally it requires a man to produce men." He concluded that, "A psychologically good father appears to be a specific protection against development as a homosexual" (Sexual Behavior, April 1971, p. 7). 7. Instill strong character in your child. To a large extent, right character is learned by observing and emulating the actions and attitudes of good parents. However, there is also a need to teach a child directly that there are physical and spiritual laws which govern every facet of life. He must learn that lasting happiness and fulfillment in all of life, including sex, can only result from operating within those laws. He must be convinced that breaking laws will always hurt him, not just simply if he gets caught. And, that no matter how appealing it may be to ignore those laws just for a moment, it is far wiser to exercise self-discipline and choose the right way - always. Remember, successful character training depends on parents. That means the "buck" stops with you.' Dr. Edward A. Tyler, assistant dean and professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, summed up the entire sex education issue when he wrote, "There'd be no need for sex education anywhere if every child had parents who provided a model of loving tenderness, who encouraged inquisitive concern about any and all things human, and who answered all questions freely" (Hospital Physician, October 1970, p. 118). About now you are probably thinking, "That's all well and good, but how can I answer all those questions – I just don't have the knowledge!" Well, don't be discouraged, not many parents have. But, there is a source right in your neighborhood that could and should be making that knowledge available to you.
What Schools Should Be Doing
Did you know that the strongest argument for placing sex education in the schools has been the belief that parents are neither able nor willing to teach their own children about sex? But, what is even more disturbing is the realization that parents apparently have been written off as uneducable.' Yes, educators have apparently had so little confidence in the intelligence of parents that they have made little effort to educate them in the area of sex. But, it ought to be clear from what has already been said that parents need sex education first. The schools cannot be allowed to simply write off the present adult generation as too ignorant or too much trouble to educate in this area. As Dr. Brunstetter put it, "... sex education is most needed among adults who for the space of this generation are charged with the care of the world ... "(California Medicine, May 1970, p. 12). The question you need to ask is, why don't the schools institute sex education programs for parents? Why not a whole series of adult workshops and study groups, or at least regular packets of sex education study materials (as offered in this article) sent home for parents? These are good questions that someone needs to ask school administrators. The schools can and should render a far greater service to the nations than they presently are. They should be assisting in upgrading the ability of parents to instruct their own children. In that way the facts of sex could be properly taught within the context of the moral values of each individual family unit, which is as it ought to be.
It's Up to You
But whether or not you are able to influence your local school administration to begin providing sex education programs for parents - whether or not the controversy continues to swirl around the sex education issue – you cannot just sit back and wait, ignoring the de facto sex education bombarding your child every day. Neither can you just be "anti" everything. You need a positive approach and program, so why not begin by writing for the literature we mentioned earlier. It is provided absolutely free of charge as a public service of Ambassador College. Then start to apply the principles we have suggested in your family. Accept the challenge of truly assuming your full role in the character training and sex education of your children. One day you may be called upon personally to account for the children you have been given. Will you attempt to excuse away a bad job by pleading ignorance and shifting the blame to the public schools? Or will you accept your God-given responsibility now and be able to point with confidence and pride to the fruit of your labors? Remember, in every sense, it's your baby!