The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Don’t push the big red button: vagina and sex ed

[WARNING: profane language, for the use of illustrating an argument]

Idaho teacher Tim McDaniel has been under scrutiny from the authorities for not only saying “vagina” in his Grade 10 biology lesson on human reproduction, but was also accused of showing videos that showed what genital herpes looked like, and making “inappropriate” jokes.

It is understandable that “inappropriate” jokes should not be allowed. Jokes rely heavily on cultural context, and the line distinguishing jokes and insults is often blurry. A video of genital herpes may be too graphic, despite its relevance to the topic.

However, the main accusation that is jeopardizing McDaniel’s job is the use of the word “vagina” in his science lesson. Katie Norman, one of the parents who is not in favour with McDaniel’s teaching style, says sensitive topics like birth control should have been warned.

What’s more shocking is that he says he is only teaching sex education because the health teacher does not want to teach it.

Let’s face it: there are many teenagers who engage in sexual intercourse, whether it is only once or over the course of their adolescence. And let’s face another fact: it only takes one fertilized ovum to result into a baby.

70% of teenagers have engaged in sexual intercourse by their 19th birthday.

The problem with sex education is not only about what is being done in schools, but also what is happening in the community. Treating sex as taboo is not going to help teenagers stay away from experimenting with sex. In fact, abstinence-only states have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the U.S., whereas comprehensive sex ed has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy.

We know what happens when we tell a child or teenager not to push the big red button. What do they do? They press the big red button. It’s only natural. Humans are curious creatures, and we love to explore and share our discoveries.

What else is natural? Vaginas are. Penises are. Human reproduction is natural.

Veering away from scientific terms like “uterus”, “urethra”, “vagina”, and “penis” not only leads to more confusion for the students, but it also pushes them to use words that don’t accurately depict what they are trying to label. Students are already confused about their bodies, identities, relationships, and suddenly, how sex plays into a relationship. Would “the man thing” or “the woman thing” have been more acceptable? Or what about street talk, such as “dick” or “pussy”? Would either of those terms have been more professional?

Human reproduction shouldn’t be seen as a “nasty” or “disgusting” thing. I am not promoting teenagers to experiment with sex, but it is evident that abstinence-only education is definitely not working, as illustrated by Texas. 96% of Texan schools are abstinence-only, and Texas has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the entire nation.

Red flags should be popping up, if they have not already.

Parents and teachers need to be open and be confident about their bodies. Society has gotten into the practice of shunning the natural human body. For example, we shun body hair, unclear skin (i.e. skin with acne), body fluids in general (ex. sweat). We pride on having “the natural look”, but that itself is a manufactured art form: girls use make-up to look like they don’t have make-up. Why not just leave the make-up? Because nobody actually likes the natural look. Nobody likes hairy bodies, or unclear skin, or leaking body fluids.

But we know, or at least, perceive, sex as a natural thing. An extreme example is seeing male promiscuity as acceptable, but not female promiscuity. In fact, even when a female isn’t promiscuous, they somehow “had it coming” that they are raped, even when they are not in a mental state to say no. Sex is natural for men. Females? Not at all.

And that’s why human reproduction is seen as this ugly thing that nobody wants to touch. Yes, human reproduction requires sperm and egg, but females have much heavier burdens of the aftermath, i.e. carrying a child for 9 months in her womb. Talking about females and sex is dirty. It talks about leaking body fluids. It may or may not involve hair, depending on personal preference. It may involve skin that isn’t clear or perfectly smooth.

But I digress. The point of this post is to illustrate how ridiculous it is to attempt to eliminate scientific terms like “vagina” and “penis” out of the conversation of human reproduction. After all, what other terms should teachers use?

Teaching students about birth control in a safe environment (i.e. school) is much better than learning about them from the street, or learning them the hard way. It is definitely much better to receive accurate information from a trusted authority than through word of mouth from peers, who are in the same clueless boat as the listener is. It would be the blind leading the blind, which is exactly what is happening in abstinence-only states, in a sense. Parents are blind to the truth about teenagers being engaged in sex, and despite the failure of abstinence-only education, they lead their children down the same path, and their children end up in undesirable and unexpected situations.

Providing comprehensive sex education means showing the facts to the students, and having them form their own opinions and personal preference. Comprehensive education does not mean:

  • telling your children to fornicate
  • promoting that sex is better than abstinence
  • promoting that abstinence is better than sex
  • shunning your beliefs, whatever they are
  • that your child will have a burning desire to have sex
  • that your child will totally not want to have sex, ever

Comprehensive education is merely saying, “This is what sex is, and these are the parts involved. This is what happens if you have unprotected sex. This is what you can do to prevent that.” Of course, hopefully teachers have more emotion than my dialogue.  Teaching sex ed is not the same as teaching math or teaching how to change engine oil. Sex is not only about the mechanics; it’s about pleasure and risk, and part of it includes knowing that if you have pleasure during sex, that is normal. If you do not have pleasure during sex, that is perfectly normal too. Emotions need to be taken into account to attempt to teach sex in an encompassing and holistic manner.

Education is not supposed to be about indoctrinating only one set of beliefs, although that sometimes happens as the hidden curriculum, but it should be about opening minds and providing new thoughts. It should be about being able to entertain a thought without needing to agree to it. It should be about providing different sides of an argument, and having the students decide on their own.

If a parent wants abstinence-only education, they may want to consider homeschooling.

However, keep in mind that teaching only one side of the story is not really the essence of education. That is what we usually refer to as “brainwashing”.

7 comments on “Don’t push the big red button: vagina and sex ed

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      April 4, 2013

      I think it’s an issue common almost everywhere except Europe. Europe seems to be the most liberal in terms of accepting comprehensive sex ed.

  1. Danielle Harris
    April 4, 2013

    I agree with many things you said but I am curious about the stats quoted about Texas. I wonder if the abortion rate is lower. Maybe kids are still getting pregnant in other states but getting abortions? Texas kids are having the babies? Just wanting clarification.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      April 4, 2013

      Abortion implies that the woman was pregnant in the first place. I support abortions, but why not nip the problem in the bud? Considering these are percentages, I would think that the issues with “they’re just having more babies” has already been taken into consideration, and that Texas just has a higher ratio of people who are pregnant in their teens.

      Even if other states are getting abortions, it doesn’t alter the rate of teen pregnancy since you had to have been pregnant to get an abortion in the first place.

      I haven’t delved deeply into the statistics, though.

  2. mostlysanemamas
    April 4, 2013

    Such a great post! It baffles my mind that we waste time as a society calling out the teachers who are trying to actually trying to educate our children. Your point about abstinence only education and the Texas teen pregnancy rate is the stuff that SHOULD be making headlines everywhere.

  3. jcmarckx2009
    April 4, 2013

    Well put. I have never used euphemisms with my son, and I won’t use them with my students. I have never understood how proper terminology is perceived as offensive.

    Great post!

  4. jamesgillingham
    April 4, 2013

    You make several crucial points, points that you’d hope would be screamingly obvious to anyone with a brain but it would seem that this is sadly not the case. Ignorance kills. It is as simple as that. Thanks for another excellent post. I find your blog unfalteringly eloquent, interesting and important.

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