Did Sex-Ed Class Cross Thin Line?

"We know that at least some 13- and 14-year-olds are becoming sexually active and sometimes even earlier," said Eli Coleman, director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "Children have a right to know about their bodies and sexual functioning. It is our duty to inform them."

"While we believe strongly in providing sexuality education that is both comprehensive and age-appropriate, the reality of our world is that topics related to sexuality strike chords in very different ways for different people," said Don Dyson, assistant professor of Education and Human Sexuality at Widener University in Chester, Pa. "As a result, sexuality educators, including health teachers who teach human sexuality, have to be thoughtful and intentional in the work that they do."

Rules Are Rules

Still, if the allegations made by the parents of the children in Lindsey's class are true, it's likely that the subjects she discussed would have crossed the line in the eyes of the state.

Under section R277-474 of the Utah Administrative Code, any human sexuality instructional program that takes place in the school setting must not involve "the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior." Likewise, any discussion of "the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices" is prohibited.

The code also maintains that "Utah educators may respond to spontaneous student questions for the purposes of providing accurate data or correcting inaccurate or misleading information or comments made by students in class regarding human sexuality."

But under this guideline, teachers may not solicit questions from students or otherwise encourage them to ask questions pertaining to this subject area.

The alleged actions by Lindsey may fall outside of these guidelines — thus forcing the school board to take action.

"As for the school board's reaction, they probably responded in one of the only ways they felt they could," Dyson said. "They are in a very difficult place of balancing the outrage of some of their very vocal constituents, and the silent support of the majority of parents, who according to the best research, support honest and comprehensive sexuality education for their children."

Sex Experts: Change Needed

But are such guidelines constructive? Sex experts said the case spotlights the problems with current rules that govern sex education for teens.

"Sex ed discussions need to use explicit — and not vague — terminology for the purpose of clarity," said Bill Taverner, co-founding editor of the American Journal of Sexuality Education and author of numerous sex ed texts. "Young people often equate sex as meaning only vaginal intercourse, and so when a teacher leaves oral and anal intercourse out of a discussion about abstinence or condoms, students may deduce that these behaviors don't count when it comes to STD prevention.

"Explicit, clear information about the subject matter, including the risks associated with unprotected oral and anal intercourse is an important part of sex education and STD prevention."

Omitting this information, noted Suzie Heumann of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, could put minors at risk of dangerous behaviors later.

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