sexuality education: asking the wrong questions?

Christopher White, over at the National Sexuality Resource Center, has a thoughtful piece up about the way we assess whether sexuality education is effective here in the United States.

I spend a great amount of time talking to educators, researchers, students, friends, family members, and many others about why I think it is important that we reframe the ways that we think about sexuality education and sexuality research, shifting away from a model that focuses on disease and prengancy prevention that I believe pathologizes sexuality and sexual behavior in a way that is harmful and confusing. One of the responses I constantly receive regards the evidence of such an approach and whether or not it will continue to work; and to be honest, this is a part of the conversation where I tend to flounder a bit. "Chapter Nine" [in When Sex Goes to School by Kristin Luker] allowed me to understand why I have such a hard time answering this question, and I disagree with Dr. Luker about whether or not this is the right question. The problem is not whether or not it works but how we (and I mean everyone from researchers to students to politicians to parents to teachers) decide whether or not it works.

I encourage you to check the whole thing out.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways we do and do not speak about sexuality in our culture -- who does the speaking, who does the listening, in what contexts, and with whom. This is largely because I really like talking and thinking about sex -- hell, I'm a talker and a thinker, and when it comes to things I take pleasure in, I enjoy talking and thinking even more than usual! -- but talk about sexuality that respects personal privacy and social convention (or at least disrespects social convention with knowing intent) is an extremely difficult balancing act!

More on this, possibly, to come, particularly as it pertains to my future in the library/archives profession. But in the meantime, I'm not sure I have much more to say as a direct response to the piece, other than that I basically agree with him: when we focus so completely on disease and pregnancy prevention, and on the negatives of young people being sexually active (thus the equation of "successful" sex education with delayed commencement of sexual activity), we lose out.

We lose out on the chance to have much more holistic conversations about the pleasure our sexuality can bring to ourselves and relationships, and how that pleasure can be meaningfully integrated into the rest of our lives in a whole range of contexts. And I personally feel like our culture is that much more impoverished because of our unwillingness to have those conversations -- in school and out of it, with young people, middlers, and elders alike.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, I'm not entirely familiar with how it is done in the states, but in Ontario it was all from a risk-based approach, rather than one that encouraged healthy attitudes. They taught us about contraceptives and tried to acknowledge the awkwardness of the topic in humourous ways, but we were still pretty much on our own to develop our sexualities. Sex was still pretty taboo.

    Wouldn't it be cool if we taught the youth how to ask about sexual boundaries, health issues, and what feels good? I'm looking forward to the normalization of healthy attitudes and practices.