Sex Education in Schools: The Comprehensive vs. The Abstinence Approach
The emergence of the Information Revolution has led to profound discoveries that have resulted to the development and improvement of living conditions in the human society. Limitless and various information about anything can be found in a second, through the help of Internet technology and other innovations generated by new technologies and research in science. Cures for serious illnesses, news about current events, and other issues important and significant are available within our reach through the media. However, as human civilization embark into yet another momentous year of Information Revolution, there have been little said and documented about sex education and awareness in the society, especially among the younger generation of the society, comprised of the adolescents and early adults of the society.
This particular social group in the society is the targets of the society's campaign for the proliferation of sex education. Sex education is defined as the "instruction in the processes and consequences of sexual activity, ordinarily given to children and adolescents" (Microsoft Encarta 2002). The concept of sex education in the society is unheard of until the 20th century, wherein unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases became prevalent, and because of these circumstances, it became imperative for parents and communities to unite and cooperate together in an effort to inform their children about sex and its possible effects if children are not properly oriented about it (Microsoft Encarta 2002). In an effort to chronicle the developments in sex education in from its conception, this paper will discuss two popular approaches that most institutions utilize in teaching sex education among children: the comprehensive and abstinence approaches. A discussion of their differences and effects on children and the success on the study of sex education will be the primary concern of this paper, in order to generate a general outlook of the state of sex education in the present American society.
Significance of Teaching Sex Education
Why should sex education be taught to children? It is imperative that children will have sufficient knowledge about sex because this way, the danger of engaging in unsafe sex and ignorance in the physical, psychological, and emotional effects of sexual relationships and activities will result to results or effects that can be detrimental to the growth and development of an individual at an early, young age. Sex education also aims to provide children information that they could not have obtained or discussed at home with their parents. Thus, because of the 'openness' quality of sex education in schools, most of the programs related to sex education are usually conducted in schools, although there are also programs that are geared towards parents as informers of sex education to their children.
The significance of sex education can be individualistic and social. For an individual, the significance of sex education is to provide enlightenment on issues about sex that cannot and are often not discussed at home, or in public. More importantly, sex education is vital to humans because it is through sex education that people learn about their sexual anatomy, and illnesses or any difficulties that people may face can be easily remedied or known if there is enough knowledge about sex and other issues related to it (Santrock 2001 542).
Also, the social significance of sex education is to prevent the society from experiencing problems that can be collective in nature, such as the increasing rates of unwanted pregnancies, occurrences of sexually-transmitted diseases, and emotional distress caused by sexual relationships or abuse (Santrock 2001 543). Through a thorough study of sex education, people will comprehend their problems even better, making it easier for a solution to be formulated and enacted, thereby solving the problem at hand immediately.
Importance of School as the Primary Institution in Teaching Sex Education
Schools are far more powerful institutions than families because they provide a neutral 'ground' wherein sex education can be taught in an 'educational' and objective manner, unlike the subjective nature of sex education at home and with friends. A journal article written by Simon Forrest explores the importance of teachers in promoting the importance of sex education in schools. Forrest reported that teachers occupy multiple roles in teaching sex education: teachers can assume the roles of a "protector and friend," and teachers can easily conduct sex education sessions because they are able to make teaching a fun experience, which builds trust not only among the children/students, but also with the students' teacher/s as well (Forrest 2003 10). Aside from the teachers, another factor that makes schools a favorable venue for sex education is that schools are more comforting for children to tackle and discuss sensitive issues such as sex, as compared to the tension and uncomfortability that children sometimes feel whenever they discuss sex issues with their parents or family relations.
Sex Education Approaches: Abstinence vs. Comprehensive
The current landscape of the contemporary sex education is divided into two popular approaches: the Comprehensive and Abstinence approaches. Both approaches are pro-sex education, although they have varying lengths of sessions / conduct of teaching, methods applied, and philosophies that each approach advocates. This section of the paper will discuss in-depth what these two approaches are, and what are their significance and contribution to the implementation and success of sex education in the society.
Comprehensive Approach to Sex Education
The first of the two approaches, the comprehensive approach, is a popular approach in sex education because it is a more liberal method of teaching sex education in children, as compared with the abstinence approach, which is more conservative in its philosophy and objective. There are four underlying principles that provide a holistic view of what comprehensive approach to teaching sex education is. In a comprehensive article by Barbara Whitehead, the comprehensive approach to teaching can be described as the following: (adapted from Whitehead's Atlantic Monthly article, 1994):
1st principle: Comprehensive approach assumes that children are "sexual from birth."
2nd principle: Children are sexually miseducated, i.e., they have negative notions about the idea of sex and issues related to sex.
3rd principle: If miseducation is a problem, then sex education is the solution.
4th principle: Sex education must begin in the earliest grades. (This is considered as the most important principle in Comprehensive teaching).
These four main philosophies of comprehensive teaching suggests an important feature of comprehensive teaching, which is, sex education is taught in stages, as implied in the fourth principle, wherein sex education must begin in the earliest grades. By assuming that children are 'sexual from birth,' and that children should be sexually educated in his or her earliest years, the sex education is conducted in comprehensive teaching similar to the teaching of ordinary school subjects, such as math, science, and English. In these subjects, children are taught simple concepts in the first few grades, but as children progress to a higher grade, the degree of difficulty and complexity of concepts and issues discussed become more intense and sophisticated. This method characterizes comprehensive teaching, wherein children are first introduced to basic concepts about sex, such as the introduction to the reproductive systems of humans (female and male). As children grow up, they become more oriented with the other aspects of sex education, such as the psychological and emotional motivations and effects of sex in an individual, maintaining sexual relationships with others, or coping with sexual abuse or difficulties.
Comprehensive teaching is approved among many sectors in the society because it provides a 'liberal' and more realistic view of the social state of the society at present (Whitehead 2003). This means that comprehensive teaching takes into consideration and acknowledges that some students may have sexual relationships, and has active sex lives, and teaching these sexually-active students from abstaining will not be effective. Thus, comprehensive teaching, while it is successful in informing students about sex and its issues, students are not properly oriented with the proper ways in order to avoid participating in sexual activities or being influenced to try engaging in it. Because comprehensive teaching is too assumptive, abstinence teaching served as the alternative method in teaching sex education to students or children who do not perform and have active sex lives.
Abstinence Approach to Sex Education
While comprehensive teaching of sex education assumes some students to have lead active sex lives, abstinence teaching encourages students to prohibit and delay the practice of any sexual activity as much as possible. Abstinence teaching is effective in enforcing in students to not practice sex while they are still young and unprepared for it, and eliminates of monitoring students' progress that is characteristic of comprehensive teaching, since sexually-active students must be monitored in order to measure effectively the success of the sex education program. Since abstinence teaching only teaches the causes and effects of sex, and does not include progressive lessons about sex in more complex and difficult phases, abstinence teaching are usually finished after five class period, which is a relatively shorter length of time compared to comprehensive teaching (Whitehead 2003).