The Sex Talk

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The Sex Talk

Karen Sanchez

Walking into science class is a mundane experience for 7th graders attending Kennedy Middle School (KMS). But, there’s one particular day that is different. Instead of the usual indifference one displays marching into class, there is a sense of excitement in the air, a surge of energy as students anticipate what they have all talked about for weeks on end: watching a woman give birth.

Excited and slightly nervous, the students will slowly huddle around with their friends, taking a seat in front of the abnormally large tables. When the video is popped onto the projector, their reactions will naturally differ, but the content will remain the same: a video of an obviously distressed women, a vagina, pubic hair, the head and body of a wrinkly creature, the liquids and blood which accompany the gift of human life.

For many years, this birth video was considered a trademark of KMS’ Sex Ed curriculum. However, this all changed about a year ago, when the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) passed a petition by parents and community members to “Suspend New Human Development Curriculum At Cupertino Union Schools.” Under this petition, 7th grade students would no longer be able to view the birth video.

As stated in the petition letter, this movement arose due to the previous Sex Ed curriculum’s failure to “address sex trafficking, sexual violence and harassment under the state and federal law, which are components of the act; [failure to provide] accurate medical information on sexual transmitted diseases; and [provision of] highly age inappropriate and culturally insensitive [content].”

The petition was signed by 4,485 individuals, one of which was Aria Danvers, a parent who prefers to be anonymous due to privacy reasons. A firm believer in the ideas proposed by the petition, Danvers not only signed the letter without hesitation, but also took it upon herself to advocate for the movement.

She began by gathering information, by periodically sparking conversations about the topic of Sex Ed as she waited for her child to emerge from the school doors. In this process, she found that most parents were in agreement with her. They too believed the previous Sex Ed curriculum was flawed, inappropriate and focused on the wrong issues, especially when describing sex.

“What really set us off was the the detailed explanations, especially of the act of sexual intercourse,” Danvers said. “[My kids] aren’t at the age of doing this, they’re still children — so why do they need to learn all this? It’s just unnecessary exposure for such a young age because if they’re not ready to discuss it with me, let alone with people their age, are they truly ready to understand and grasp this material?””

The issue of age was brought up by many parents, with some going as far as to write: “I need my middle schooler child to preserve her innocence till he/she is emotionally ready and mature. When there are so many laws that protect the kids from having sex when they are underage and [protect] children from pedophiles, there is a reason for that — [because] kids are kids.”

Danvers believes that Sex Ed should be taught later in life, when children are between 16 to 18 years of age and capable of grasping sensitive information. Her main reason for believing so can be traced back to her philosophy that early exposure breeds curiosity, and curiosity breeds sexual experimentation.

“How early are you introducing all these things?” Danvers said. “These kids will become curious, and because human nature means experimentation and experience, they will go out and want to do these things even though they’re not big enough to understand and don’t have control over their emotions.”

The science department at MVHS evidently disagrees with Danver, as it ensures that Sex Ed is taught in depth to all freshmen. A particular proponent of this idea is Biology teacher Lora Lerner, who not only finds great importance in teaching her students Sex Ed, but also goes into as much detail about the act of sex as she deems necessary.

 

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“I have to look at the age the students are, what’s most important [to learn] when you’re 14; but at the same time I look at the fact that some of them might never get Sex Ed again,” Lerner said. “I throw some things in there that are probably a lot for a 14 year old. I know they are. I see their little heads spinning, but I also know they may never hear it again.”

Examples of such information span from lubrication to masturbation to answering any question a student asks, whether that be about a particular sex position or about the use of fingering during intercourse.

Lerner does this not to scare her students off, but to normalize the act of sex. She wants her students to recognize the importance of communication and to implement it in their day-to-day lives. But Most of all, she wants to educate her students, not just about relationships or contraceptives, but about life-long skills ranging from communication to honesty to self-advocacy.

“It makes a lot of people very uncomfortable to think that their child is being [a] sexual person, having sexual feeling[s] but you know what, that’s natural and it does start young,” Lerner said. “[At that age] it is about appropriate behavior: no, we don’t just reach out and touch other people, keeping your hands to yourself, keeping the terms age appropriate… I don’t see why you shouldn’t start doing it from preschool and kindergarten.”

And so, Lerner, to some extent would agree with Danvers, in that, the birthing video shown in 7th grade is unnecessary for students of age 12 and 13.

“As a 7th grader, puberty is just beginning,” Lerner said. “People are having crushes, they’re starting to form little relationships, starting to think about their own bodies and how it works. So why is showing a video about a childbirth even necessary? We should be helping them deal with all of their changes, not scaring them with this tactic.”

Despite this, Lerner says she is still an ardent believer in the idea of Sex Ed and opposes Danvers’ statement that Sex Ed encourages impulsive decisions regarding sexual intercourse.

“This has been researched for years and it been constantly disproven in every single study ever done and it’s shown that the more comprehensive, good Sex Ed you give to kids, the longer they wait to have sex,” Learner said. “People fear that if we talk about this, people are suddenly going to go out and have sex, but it is exactly the opposite. So part of it is just educating people, if you’re interested in having your children wait and make good decisions, then what we need to do is give them more information and not less.”

Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to sexuality education, confirms Lerner’s claim. Out of the 26 Sex Ed programs it identified, 23 of which contained some comprehensive sexual education curriculum, it was found that 14 programs demonstrated a significant delay in sexual activities; 13 were able to show decline in teen pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs; and 14 increased the use of condoms.

Part of this success can be attributed to the fact that the curriculums studied by Advocates for Youth were comprehensive and didn’t limit their teachings to abstinence. Knowing this, Lerner employs a similar method in her classroom, making sure to inform her students on topics ranging from sex toys to rape culture. But she is not doing this simply by choice. As of January of 2016, it has become mandatory for California-based, high school instructors to educate their students in a comprehensive manner, where they must converse about sexual orientation, gender identity and sex trafficking openly and frankly.

Seeing that this is not happening in KMS not only saddens Lerner, but puzzles her, as she believes that Sex Ed should be out in the open, available to all. 8th grader Pragati from KMS feels the same way.

In fact, when she learned last year, as a 7th grader, that middle schoolers would no longer be able to watch the birth video, Pragati was annoyed and a bit angered. She and her friends had a debate on the subject, in which they all took turns venting out their emotions. At the end of this conversation, they all agreed that Sex Ed should be taught, no matter what.

“One of the reasons we should learn about sex is so we can understand it to the fullest extent and be ready with the possibilities that can come out of it,” Pragati said. “Trust me, we joke about sex all the time, but it’s not like we actually know and understand it.”

Pragati’s main source of frustration came from the fact that the student body had no say in the decision to get rid of Sex Ed. Irritated by this, she proceeded to take matters into her own hands by gathering with her friends and conducting her own research on the topic. Through her research, she found that Sex-Ed is an educational platform for all, one that dispels misconceptions and prepares individuals for their future.

“I think it’s really important to learn about Sex Ed because a lot of people don’t know much about their bodies and how it functions,” said Pragati. “Everyone should know because you don’t know when you are going to have sex, and so you might as well do it in the safe way through education.”

While Danvers supports Sex Ed at the right time and age, she thinks that parents, not teachers, play a larger role in teaching their children about sexual health. She arrives at this conclusion from her own experiences.

“I learned about all this from my mom and my sister, when I was about 15 years old,” Danvers said. “And looking at it now, I think that was the perfect time and place to learn about my body because I didn’t have any curiosity, I wasn’t tempted to discover more and it didn’t affect other parts of my life, like studies or friendships. If I had learned this from someone else in a class, I wouldn’t have taken anything seriously because my mind would’ve been on other things, like what other students might think [of] me.”

Danvers believes that school exists for one main purpose only — to educate children in math, science, reading and other core subjects. While Sex Ed certainly falls in that category, and Danvers supports its practice, she still considers it to be slightly unnecessary and even a little detrimental for students.

“This is the time for creativity,” Danvers said. “Kids have so much energy and ideas; they can do anything in this age and time. But if they learn about all this, then their performance will go down. They will begin thinking about [sex] all the time, which will affect their emotional health and their studies.”

Pragati disagrees.

“With Sex Ed, people who are confused about their sexuality will finally learn what’s going on,” Pragati said. “Eighth graders already have sex and almost all middle schoolers know about it before even having a class, so I actually think having Sex Ed calms students down, like it lowers their curiosity.”

Indeed, for Lerner, that is the entire point of Sex Ed — to improve the emotional wellbeing of students, to help them to learn about their growing bodies and to provide them with lifelong tools and learning skills. For this reason, she believes that not only is it essential to have a comprehensive Sex Ed curriculum, but also to have curriculums that match a student’s maturity. According to her, only then will the awkwardness around sex be removed.

“Students are growing up in a different world where a lot of people talk about sex, but they don’t have good role models yet,” Lerner said. “People still think that it is not something we should talk about. But if we are supposed to go about our lives thinking that we aren’t allowed to talk about sex, how will we ever get past the unfamiliarity and resistance around it? We never will.”