The current Abbotsford school board policy regarding sexual education is as follows: “When human sexuality is discussed in any school district context, the Board requires that the instruction and resources are age-appropriate and promote abstinence from sexual activity” (sd34 policies, 7.180: 1). The goal behind this is to promote student health by avoiding pregnancy and STD’s and to “encourage and promote responsible, informed decision-making and create a climate where abstinence is celebrated as a smart, safe, healthy choice [so that] students will choose to not engage in sexual activity, thereby avoiding the associated negative emotional, physical, and psychological consequences” (ibid). The policy then goes on to explain how teachers should apply age-appropriate information in the classroom in order to foster discussion about “‘saving sex’ instead of ‘safe sex’ or ‘safer sex’” (ibid, 2).
Should education for sex be about abstinence? What if math education was abstinence based? “Ok, Timmy, here are integers and fractions, but you should probably stay away from them until after you graduate to avoid the negative numbers.” But seriously, is telling someone to avoid the problems associated with a large part of their life really education at all? There are many limitations to this policy. My primary concerns with this policy stem from who is teaching the material under discussion, how it is being taught, and what is not being taught.
Firstly, who is best suited to teach a child about sex: his/her parents or a teacher? Should sex education be taught in schools at all? I think so. After all, parents do not have access to all of the information that teachers do, and it is important that students receive the same basic facts on the matter. However, should parents be left out of the discussion? I do not think so. After all, they clearly know the ins and outs of sex; otherwise, they would not have had children in the first place. I think this policy is limited by not including parents and their views into the discussion. Students should be encouraged to talk about sex with their parents.
Secondly, I worry that by teaching avoidance of sex, the Abbotsford school district is not adequately preparing students for what lies ahead of them. Sex is complicated and difficult to figure out, and by urging students to avoid it, this policy simply focuses on the negative aspects of sex. This can be seen in the purpose behind this policy: “to avoid negative consequences” rather than to encourage a healthy celebration of sex itself. If students want to see the negative consequences of sex, all they have to do is turn on the TV and watch Sixteen and Pregnant or any other high-school drama. Students need real facts about all aspects of sex, not just negative ones, delivered in an honest and frank fashion. Otherwise, how can they develop a healthy attitude towards it?
Finally, this policy is at its worst where it avoids the question of how to use birth control: “While students will be instructed about contraceptives, the “how to” will not be taught in the classroom setting” (ibid). Instead, failure rates and health risks are all that are dealt with in the classroom. This works fine for those students who choose to avoid sex altogether, but what about those who do not? Not only will they be doing something that is frowned upon by the school administration – they will be doing it without much of an idea about the safest way to go about it. Condoms are really hard to get the hang of, and the pill is more complicated than it seems (for example, it takes three months before it can reliably prevent pregnancy). By only offering this information if students are willing to take extra steps to get it – which they probably won’t, as it is frowned upon – this policy sets those students who choose to ignore it up for a very bad time indeed.
That is why this policy is too limited and could use some serious changes. Bringing parents into the discussion of sexual education, fostering a healthy attitude towards sex in the classroom that does not rely solely on avoidance, and teaching proper contraceptive use would all go a long way to making this policy more appropriate and useful for students.