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Think Out Loud

Sex Ed

Pete Springer/OPB

Sex education was in the news this week when parents and administrators in Scappoose disagreed over a new middle school sex ed curriculum. The school board there voted last month to provide more sex education materials for its 7th and 8th grade students to satisfy state mandates, but opponents now fear that the new materials amount to a “how-to” sex guide.

Nationwide, there’s actually a pretty broad array of sex education laws — from Alaska, which has no mandates to teach about sex or sexually transmitted diseases, to Delaware, where schools must teach abstintence and contraception. Oregon is closer to the Delaware model. You can check out the full state mandates (along with a some changes passed by the legislature in the last session) but here’s one of the key paragraphs:

All human sexuality education programs shall emphasize that abstinence from sexual intercourse, when practiced consistently and correctly, is the only method that is 100 percent effective against unintended pregnancy, HIV infection, hepatitis B/C infection, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence is to be stressed, but not to the exclusion of other methods for preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, and hepatitis B/C. Such courses are to acknowledge the value of abstinence while not devaluing or ignoring those students who have had or are having sexual relationships. Further, sexuality education materials, instructional strategies, and activities must not, in any way, use shame or fear based tactics.

How do schools manage what could be seen as a tricky balance?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for an issue that brings up seemingly endless questions.

For example, what’s the best way to even assess whether sexual education is working? The number of unwanted pregnancies (down by more than half since 1991)? Rates of sexually transmitted diseases? Or perhaps the sheer number of Oregon students having sex?

If you’re a parent, what sex education are your children receiving? If you’ve chosen to opt out of in-school sex education for your children, what was your reasoning? And what — if anything — have you substituted in its place?

Most broadly: what should young people learn about sex in school, and when should they learn it?

  • Brad Victor: Sexuality Education Specialist at the Oregon Department of Education
  • Karen Kessi: Parent of two middle school daughters and member of the Scappoose committee that analyzed supplemental sex ed material
  • Lisa Maloney: Parent of a middle school daughter
  • Tamarah Grigg: K-12 Health and fitness coordinator for Vancouver Public Schools
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