The Importance of Words. How Sex Ed Is its Own Worst Enemy.

I teach Sex Ed and I hate its name. Let me explain.

I have my doctorate in human reproduction. I am a board certified reproductive biologist and I own a sperm bank. I have been teaching Human Sexuality for over 20 years. Most of that time has been spent at two local universities, but a couple of semesters were at a community college. I even had the pleasure of teaching a semester-long class at a local high school. Twice. The funny thing is that at each of these venues, the class I taught was called something different. One class was called The Psychology of Sexuality, another Human Sexuality, and finally Reproductive Development. They were even taught in different departments ranging from psychology to community health. I have taught at the undergraduate and graduate level and to 11 and 12th graders. Even though these classes had different names they were all taught under the umbrella of reproductive health. And even though I have been teaching this topic for a couple of decades, I hate it when people use the term sex ed. Sexuality education. Human sexuality. Why? Because when I say sex ed people react with this all-knowing nod of "Oh yes, I know what that is." And then when you say you want to teach sex ed in high schools you are met with "Oh, you just want to teach our kids how to have sex." Which of course is not true. However, it is no wonder that this topic got dumped into a moral trough that we can't seem to get out of. We can't get out of this trough because we keep using the term sex ed. This term needs to go. We need to start saying "reproductive health."

A historical look at sex ed shows that it has made very little progress in being accepted as part of the educational agenda. The first sex ed program was implemented in 1913 in Chicago. It was quickly shut down by the Catholic Church. Sexuality education is often met with giggles and snickers because of the word sex, but in reality it is so much more that. It is imperative that it be inclusive, which means it should not be heterosexually biased. Yes, this means it must include discussion around sexual minorities. But wait, there's more. It is about eating disorders, substance abuse, bullying, and even suicide. Of course it includes puberty, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and abortion. But most importantly it is about topics that really need to be discussed such as pleasure, relationships, gender, masturbation, desire, orgasm, kink and unusual sexual behaviors. Oh yeah, we must not forget old people. We need to talk about aging and what that means. While the topics I just listed may seem exhaustive, they are just a few that fall under this all-encompassing term. To continue to call it sex ed does it a disservice and, let's face it, it turns people off.

Reproductive health is a much better term because of its broad range. When I began using this term 20 years ago people laughed at me. They asked me to explain what that was. They wanted to know why we needed to be concerned about our reproductive health. It has been a long time coming but we are seeing this term being used more and more. You can subscribe to the topic of reproductive health and Google will send you a daily email with some of the hot topics surrounding this subject. In fact, a quick search on Google will result in 19.8 million hits. If the rest of the world is using this terminology, then why, as educators, are we still hanging on to the worn out and ineffective term sex ed?

Worse still, is when I hear the term comprehensive sex ed. This came about when abstinence only until marriage started to take hold. To fight back, we had to include the word comprehensive, so that parents would know that we were definitely going to talk about abstinence when we talk sex ed. This is silly. Of course we are going to talk about abstinence. Abstinence is where we start but it is not where we stop. There is more ground to cover. If we stop using sex ed and start using reproductive health, it is clearly understood (at least by those who are in the know) that all topics will be covered, not just sex. Then there is the compromise phrase of reproductive/sexual health. This one just about sends me into a whole new level of frustration. We don't need to say reproductive/sexual health when referring to education. Reproductive health includes the topic of sexual health. To use this phrase, is equivalent to saying hepatitis B/liver disease. It's implied.

Come on educators! We know how hard it is to get sex ed, comprehensive sex ed, reproductive health, reproductive/sexual health classes into the high schools. We have been told numerous times that parents don't want their kids learning about sex. So let's not use a term that turns people off and inhibits the progress of education in this arena. Stop trying to put a round peg in a square hole. The label of sex ed does not fit in the scheme of society. It only amplifies the sex negative environment we live in. We need to let the world know that reproductive health is the biology, psychology, and sociology of sexuality. And beyond.

So if you are planning on taking a class from me, the school catalog may call it Human Sexuality but rest assured, it will be about reproductive health.