On one end of the sex-education spectrum, there’s the nuts-and-bolts, non-judgmental technique of teaching safe sex — say, putting condoms on bananas in front of a class of snickering middle-schoolers. On the other end, there’s shame-and-scare tactics intended to lock down unmarried genitals. Where your local school board falls on the spectrum is likely a function of your community’s moral compass. Or at least the moral compass of the local PTA.
According to one sexual health agency, sex-ed programs are missing what actually inspires kids to pay attention: lessons on pleasure zones.
As the Kiwi news site Stuff reported, the New Zealand-based agency Family Planning takes issue with traditional sex-ed’s focus on avoiding harmful consequences of sex, including pregnancy and STIs. According to Family Planning representative Vicky Burgess-Munro, kids are actually more interested a sex-positive approach.
"They were sick of being told just the basics,” Munro told Stuff. “They wanted to know how to be good lovers, how to get the most, and most positive, out of their relationships."
As everyone knows, kids are less likely to respond to lessons crammed down their throats. When their interests are piqued, they're more likely to pay attention.
At a national physical education conference earlier this month, Family Planning offered sample lesson plans, including an activity called “Hot Bods,” in which students identify erogenous zones and brainstorm “elements of a positive sexual experience.” Pleasure pedagogy, says Family Planning, might also include lessons on anatomy and the biology of arousal.
Unsurprisingly, educators weren’t exactly hot for Family Planning’s proposal. One all-boys high school principal called the erogenous-ed proposal “interesting ground,” but, Stuff wrote, he “‘could not imagine his staff wanting to ‘get into technique.’” Another principal said he’d feel uncomfortable advising students about pleasure. Still other educators said teaching the in’s-and-out’s (zing!) of sexual pleasure isn’t part of their job.
Fair enough. Plenty of people squirm at the thought of candidly discussing sex with other adults. It’s not surprising that teachers aren’t jumping at the chance to instruct 16-year-olds on the finer points of getting off. But if teachers were allowed to teach only material that matched their personal beliefs, the entire point of having an education system would fall apart. It’s bad enough that scientifically spurious (and downright absurd) curricula invades American classrooms.
Curriculum overhauls are rarely a breeze — at least in the U.S. — especially in subject areas that concern moral education. Perceived interference with religious instruction, for example, has helped impede the development of public school ethics programs, despite the demonstrated cognitive and social benefits of participating in service-learning programs, discussion-based ethics classes and ethics bowls. Still, we're not exactly rushing to turn out Kindergarten Kantians.
Maybe we’ll get past our squeamishness eventually. And, if talking about orgasms will inspire kids to learn important facts about sexual health — facts that will benefit them as adults — prudishness shouldn't stand in the way.