The Santa Barbara Unified School District is considering adopting a new sex education curriculum called, Teen Talk, in order to meet updated State requirements, and better prepare our young people for healthy relationships and sexual activity.

Having taught human sexuality at Santa Barbara City College for the past 20 years, the majority of the hundreds of students I’ve had who attended our local junior and senior high schools have consistently said they were not adequately prepared to deal with the realities of sexual involvement and intimate relationships. High rates of sexual assault, eating disorders, homophobia, abusive relationships, unintended pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are powerful evidence that we are failing to protect and prepare our children.

A vocal minority of community members have objected to the curriculum and more thorough sexuality education, while the vast majority of parents support comprehensive sex education but tend not to speak up about it. Our schools clearly need to spend more time and cover more topics to ensure the sexual health and safety of our young people.

To parents who worry about sex education in schools, research has shown that the more young people know about sexuality and the more comfortable they are discussing it, the more cautious and healthy they will be when they become sexually active.

To those who say it’s the parent’s job to educate their children about sex, I couldn’t agree more. But the fact is that most parents don’t talk to their kids much about sex. Some parents tell their children to wait until marriage. But research tells us that only 3 percent of Americans delay coitus until marriage. Some parents tell their kids to use condoms but fail to teach them how. Very few parents discuss sexual decision making, body image, abuse prevention, consent, gender, sexual orientation, healthy relationships and other critically important sex related topics with their children.

My college students whose parents tried to hide sex from them and pulled them out of sex education classes say this increased their curiosity and risky behavior, and left them more vulnerable to abuse, eating disorders, bullying, suicidal thoughts, unplanned pregnancy and STIs.

Without education from parents and schools, young people rely on friends, the internet and trial and error to learn about sex. Friends can be supportive but are often as uninformed as their peers. While the internet has much valuable information, young people need guidance in interpreting what they see. Many young people now see pornography on the internet by age 10. Parents may try to limit their children’s access, but their friends will show them, and parents will miss the opportunity to educate them about the misleading images and messages found on the internet. And, trial and error is a costly way to learn.

Sex is one of the most profound aspects of life, with its ability to promote long-term loving relationships, to provide pleasure, and to create new life. Why would we want to withhold information about something as wonderful as sex? Teaching young people how to manage it makes much more sense.

Parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education. But they don’t have the right to stop other people’s children from learning about this central part of human development. So do the right thing, and let school board president Laura Capps at know you support the district’s efforts to improve the quality of sex education.


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