Sex Education in 6th Grade

Abstract

Sex education is one of the most controversial subjects in the US today. This paper discusses why mandatory sex education for sixth graders is necessary. It highlights the fact that US adolescents initiate sex at increasingly younger ages. Mandatory sex education will help curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among the youth.

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It will also equip the youngsters to deal with any sex-related issues. Sex education also ensures that children have an avenue to be informed and openly discuss matters of their sexuality.

The paper also addresses some of the major oppositions to sex education, including religious concerns, and concerns about corrupting children. Research indicates that sex education does not promote promiscuous behavior. Rather, it provides youngsters with clear information on sex and in a non-judgmental and non-prescriptive manner.

Introduction

An article by the New York Times reporter Jarrell Anne warned that teenagers were engaging in sex at an even earlier age than before. The news report indicated that the age at which sexual experimentation began was lowering, and children as young as 11 and 12 years were experimenting in sex.

Even more, concerning was the fact that most of these pre-teenagers had very little information about sex. Jarrell (2000) reported that while most sixth graders considered having intercourse to be a significant thing; most of them felt that oral sex was no big deal.

For these youngsters, oral sex is a safe and fun activity that can be engaged in at random. In addition to this, the youngsters who engaged in sex too soon confided in a psychologist that they felt bad about their actions. This raises major concerns about the health and emotional well-being of the children.

While there is a myriad of explanations offered to explain this phenomenon, Jarrell (2000) suggested that the mixed messages communicated to the young in today’s culture played a bigger role. While the young were constantly bombarded with warnings about STDs and encouraged to abstain from sexual encounters, the same youngsters are confronted with a sex-crazed culture where sex is glorified.

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Questions have, therefore, been raised as to whether sex education should be introduced to children in elementary school. This paper will argue that sex education should be mandatory in 6th grade to ensure that children are properly equipped to make sexually related decisions for themselves.

Background and History

The need for family life and sexuality education for children has always been acknowledged by parents, educators, and policymakers in our country. Earnest discussions about introducing sex education in schools began in 1912. In this year, the National Education Association proposed that teachers should have the proper training to give education on sexuality to students.

By 1940, an urgent need for sexuality education in schools was highlighted by the US Public Health Service. This advocacy resulted in the launch of a nationwide program in family life for school level children in 1953. By 1955, sex education pamphlets are known as “the sex education series for schools” were being distributed to most schools.

The initial success of sexuality education programs was met with opposition from Christian and Conservative groups starting from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. However, these efforts did not succeed, and by 1983, sex education has grown to become an integral part of education programs in schools. The AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s added to the resolution for sex education to be provided in public schools.

This epidemic led to previous opponents of sex education, acknowledging its importance. However, there has been a disagreement over the time when this education should be provided and the content of such instructions, especially among grade level children.

Landry, Singh, and Darroch (2000) acknowledge that many parents and communities in the US continue to deliberate over whether sexuality education belongs to American schools and if so, the subjects that this education should cover for the young ones. While some individuals feel that sex education should be the domain of parents, others feel that local schools are better placed to provide this education.

There is also disagreement over what should be taught in the sex programs with some arguing that abstinence should be promoted while others advocate for comprehensive, contraception-inclusive sex education. The Bush administration backed such an approach, and during President Bush’s first term, spending on abstinence, only sex education rose from $80 million to $137 million (Sabia, 2006).

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Even with the controversy surrounding the issue, sex education programs continue to attract significant interest from policymakers, parents, and educators alike.

Why Sex Education Should Be Mandatory

Mandatory sex education will ensure that children are equipped with valuable knowledge on issues such as contraceptive use and safe sex practices. This will result in a reduction in the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in young people as well as a decline in teenage pregnancy incidents.

Sabia (2006), an acclaimed researcher based at the University of Georgia asserts that sex education programs are useful tools that “reduce the future costs of teen pregnancy as well as the cost of sexually transmitted diseases” (p.783). The youth are engaging in sexual activities at increasingly younger ages. National surveys indicate that over 24% of young people become sexually active before they reach the age of 16 years (Jumping, 2010).

Such a reality exposes children to the adverse consequences of early sexual initiation, such as the risk of contracting STIs and unplanned teenage pregnancies. Research indicates that most children see themselves as being out of harm’s way about STDs and AIDS. Gilbert (2007) states that this “passion for ignorance” is characterized by not knowing and refusing to see oneself as implicated to the risks of contracting this deadly disease.

Considering the enormous human costs of the AIDS pandemic, it would be prudent to engage in actions that increased awareness of the disease and therefore reduced its prevalence. Sabia (2006) states that sex education empowers children by providing them with the knowledge that will promote responsible sexual conduct, therefore, protecting their health.

Mandatory sexual education will ensure that children in grade six are equipped with the necessary information needed to handle the sex-related issues they will face as they experience puberty. Lee Chen who is a pediatric researcher highlights that “children are demonstrating lowered ages of reproductive fertility making it necessary for them to be provided with information on sex at earlier years” (Lee et al., p.1493).

Research indicates that children are reaching the productive maturity of puberty at earlier ages than in previous generations. Lee et al., (2001) document that 50% of all girls experienced their first instance of the menstrual period by the time they were 12 years while 50% of boys had their first erection and ejaculation at about 13 years. Puberty is accompanied by increased interest in sexuality. Children are going to be intrigued by the changes that their bodies are undergoing and they might engage in sexual experimentation.

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The experimentation is likely to end up in unwanted pregnancies. A study by Azar (2012) reveals that because of limited information among youngsters, the US has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies among industrialized nations. Most of the children engage in sexual conduct without knowing the consequences that might result.

Sex education provided at an early age will ensure that the pre-teenagers are not ignorant of sexual matters. Azar (2012) contends that with the information obtained from these classes, the children will be able to handle themselves more maturely in issues about sex.

Sex education provided to sixth-grade children helps to fill any knowledge gap they might have on matters of sex. The pupils at this age are maturing physically and emotionally, and they are bound to have questions regarding their sexuality.

Goldman Juliette, an Adolescent Development researcher, affiliated to the Griffith University of Australia declares, “Learning about sex is a core part of school life and schools are the logical place to provide sexuality and reproductive health and safety education to all children and young people” (Goldman, 2010, p.48).

Sex education provides an avenue for young people to be informed and openly discuss matters of their sexuality. The sex education offered in the class setting serves to counter the media and peer influences that the pupil is constantly faced with. Goldman (2010) argues mandatory sex education will provide a much-needed counterbalance to the inevitable sexual boasting, banter, and bullying of the school playground.

If sex education is left to the media, dire consequences are bound to arise. Azure (2012) documents that in one study, children who were exposed to high levels of sexual content on television were twice as likely to engage in sexual activity and conceive compared to those who did not watch low sexual content.

In instances where sex education is properly implemented, the school-based sex education program becomes the main source of information about sex for the children. This has positive long-term effects on the children, as they can gain knowledge and skills that will serve them even in adulthood.

Wellings et al. (2006) elaborate that there is an average 15-year gap between the age of sexual activity initiation and marriage. As a result of this, information about sexual behavior is essential to the improvement of the sexual health of the individual.

Opposition to Mandatory Sex Education and Rebuttals

The material taught in sex education cases is contrary to the religious beliefs that many children have been brought up with. Norman, who is a Senior Scientist and Director at the Center for Research on Adolescent Health and Development reveals that “sex education is mostly devoid of references to religious beliefs or moral principles” (173). This secular nature of sex education leads to children being provided with sex education that might contradict religious beliefs.

For most members of society, religion promotes positive sexual values as abstinence. However, sex education does not promote any negative conduct as religious leaders suggest. Instead, it equips the students with information that will benefit them in their future sexual lives. Wellings et al. (2006) contend that religion does not act as an absolute deterrence for youths engaging in sex. It is therefore prudent to provide the children with the necessary sexual information that they need.

Sex education provides otherwise uninformed youngsters with intimate knowledge of sexual matters, therefore, igniting their interest in the topic. The renowned researcher Vuttanont (2006) asserts that sexual education increases the “degree of awareness of, and curiosity about sex, and sexuality” (p. 2074).

Pupils who would otherwise not express any interest in sexual matters have their curiosity awakened by the explicit sex education provided in the class setting. Vuttanont (2006) warns that sex education offers a platform for younger pupils who are preoccupied with the mechanics of sex to obtain this information. It is then likely that they might decide to engage in sex at an earlier age due to this early exposure to sexual information.

However, sex education does not promote the desire to engage in sexual experimentation among pupils. Sabia (2006) declares that the decision by teenagers to become sexually active or not is largely independent of school-based sex education. As such, the argument that exposing students to information on sex will increase their likelihood of becoming sexually active at an earlier age is flawed.

In addition to this, children are still going to have access to information on sexual matters, even if it is not provided in the school setting. Sabia (2006) reveals that without sex education in schools, pupils will obtain sex information from the many alternative sources available such as TV and the internet. This will be detrimental to them for such information is provided without any guidance or moral context.

Sex education in school excuses parents from having to play the role of guiding their children on sexual matters. Jumping Yu (2010), who is research in sex education, argues that the negative consequences of teenage sexual behavior cannot be solved by mandatory sex education to 6th-grade students. Jumping (2010) contends, “the family provides an environment in which young people often shape their sexual values consciously or unconsciously” (p.194).

Any strategy that downplays the role of parents in providing sexual education of their children will, therefore, prove to be ineffective. However, it should be noted that children obtain a significant amount of their socialization from the school setting.

Children spend more time at school interacting with teachers and their peers than they spend with their parents. Limmer (2010) declares that the school setting is best placed to offer sexuality education to children for teachers are likely to offer information without imposing moral values or judgments on the children.

Conclusion

This paper set out to argue that sex education should be mandatory in 6th grade. It began by discussing an article that shows how children are engaging in sexual experimentation at younger ages with negative consequences. The paper then showed how in spite of the general agreement that sex education is important for children, there is controversy over when it should be provided, who should provide it, and the content of such a program.

To buttress the view that sex education for 6th-grade students is important, the paper has offered expert opinion in support of sex education programs. The paper has demonstrated that the suggestion by opponents of sex education that this education promotes promiscuity by destigmatizing sex or providing low-cost contraception is wrong.

Instead, the evidence given suggests that sex education ensures that children are provided with clear information on sex and in a non-judgmental and non-prescriptive manner. These youngsters can use the valuable information to make the right decisions regarding sex in their lives. All development minded citizens should, therefore, support efforts by policymakers to implement sex education for sixth graders in school all over the country.

References

Azar, B. (2012). Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention: Highlights from a Citywide Effort. American Journal of Public Health, 102 (10), 1837-1841.

Gilbert, J. (2007). Risking a relation: sex education and adolescent development. Sex Education, 7 (1), 47-61.

Goldman, J.D. (2010). The new sexuality education curriculum for Queensland primary schools. Sex Education, 10(1), 47–66.

Jarrell, A. (2000) The Face of Teenage Sex Grows Younger. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/02/style/the-face-of-teenage-sex-grows-younger.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.

Juping, J. (2010). Sex education beyond school: implications for practice and research. Sex Education, 10 (2), 187-199.

Landry, D.J., Singh, S., & Darroch, E.J. (2000). Sexuality Education in Fifth and Sixth Grades in U.S. Public Schools, 1999. Family Planning Perspectives, 32(5), 212-219.

Lee, P.A., Kulin, H.E., & Guo, S.S. (2001). Age of puberty among girls and the diagnosis of precocious puberty. Pediatrics, 107 (6) 1493–1496.

Limmer, M. (2010). Young men, masculinities and sex education. Sex Education, 10(4), 349–358.

Norman, Constantine (2007). California Parents’ Preferences and Beliefs Regarding School-Based Sex Education Policy. Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health, 39 (3), 167-175.

Sabia, J. (2006). Does Sex Education Affect Adolescent Sexual Behaviors and Health? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 25 (4), 783–802.

Vuttanont, U. (2006). ‘Smart boys’ and ‘sweet girls’—sex education needs in teenagers: a mixed-method study. Lancet, 368 (1), 2068-80, 2006.

Wellings, K., Collumbien, M., Slaymaker, E., Singh, S., Hodges, Z., Patel, D., & Bajos, N. (2006). Sexual behaviour in context: A global perspective. The Lancet, 368 (9), 1706–1728.

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