Sex Education, 21st Century Style

Our society, correctly, values the importance of education and lifelong learning as a pathway to success and a happy life. Countless studies show that those who graduate college do better -- not only financially, but also in other phases of life -- than those with only a high school education.

But there is one area of education where we are still stuck in the middle ages -- and it's having an increasingly deleterious effect on our society. For lack of a better term, sex education, is a too often ignored area of study and it's high time we had a candid discussion about it.

I'm not merely referring to those sleepy high school classes sometimes called "Hygiene," or "Sex Ed" which even us boomers remember as the bad joke of our high school years. In my case, I had a clueless physical education teacher who one day wrote on the blackboard (remember those?) terms like "gonorrhea" and "vulva" and told us that we needed to memorize their definitions for the exam, case closed. No discussion in class, no debate about the pros and cons of teenage sex, no role playing about what teenage girls think vs. what teenage boys think when they think about sex.

And now we have reached a tipping point in the history of our country, where sexuality, gender differences, what is acceptable behavior and what is not, is starting to rip apart some of our vital institutions like the university campus, the military, the corporate office and other key areas of our society.

Should we resign ourselves to this being a perennial problem that is not solvable? Absolutely not.

Just to be clear, some of the educating I'm suggesting has been, and should continue to be, the responsibility of parents and family. And what I'm talking about goes beyond the traditional boundaries of sex education into the realm of gender education, ethics and good old American notions of equality for all.

Let me explain.

I believe wholeheartedly that we must start educating children -- boys and girls (but particularly boys) -- at a young age (probably 12 or 13) about the biology surrounding sexual maturation and the attendant behaviors that hormones can have an impact on. Not just dry biology, but also real-life case studies and role-playing.

Teenagers, who are becoming sexually curious and active at even younger ages than in my generation, need to get accurate information and learn proper behavior from places other than television, film and the schoolyard.

Just as importantly, this education process needs to be continued from the ages of 12-22, each year, as the vagaries of adolescence change and as things like alcohol, marijuana and independent living get added to the mix.

The recent issue of New York magazine, which featured a powerful cover story about the poignant backlash against campus rape at Columbia, got me thinking about all this and it seems like education is really the only answer.

When college freshmen arrive on campus they are generally subject to anywhere between two days and a week of orientation activities. How many colleges include sex education (and perhaps even alcohol education) to this important orientation?

How difficult would it be to add two days of "sexual training," a series of seminars and frank discussions that would include role-playing so that students can hear both male and female points of view?

This kind of "sensitivity training" should be required at all colleges at least once a year; in the military it should be a basic and rigorously enforced component of officer training; and at corporations throughout the country, it probably should be offered at no cost, with government subsidies and perhaps even include tax incentives for those who take advantage of this.

We are now at a point where even powerful women like the junior Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, are subject to degrading and insensitive remarks from male peers. Sen. Gillibrand has not only distinguished herself in taking on the military patriarchy, but her recent book "Off the Sidelines," shines a light on the old boys club of Washington, D.C.

We can no longer accept that "boys will be boys" mentality of earlier generations when it is holding back our friends, our wives, our sisters and our daughters from feeling safe and valued at school, at work or on the street.

We need, as a society, to make sex education and sensitivity training available and required to a larger audience. Then we will not read each day the heart-rending stories of women in the boardroom, the military and the classroom feeling like they are still living -- in 2014 -- in a patriarchal society that will never change.

Education is the answer. Start at 12 and make sure that the next generation of men is much better educated. Let's ensure that they will join their sisters and girlfriends in the long-overdue fight for equal opportunity, equal pay and will make sure that women feel equally safe everywhere they go.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, is a former Liberal Party-backed candidate for mayor of New York City. Comments? Email