The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Sex Ed strife

WE SAT in the back of the class room, shades drawn and blank index cards resting on our otherwise bare desks. My friend Katie giggled uncontrollably as Julie, the girl in the video flickering on the television screen, got her period for the first time. Luckily, her mother came armed with every type of feminine product imaginable, prepared for a drawn out battle against menstruation. It was the spring of fifth grade and we were entering Sex Ed.

That was 12 years ago. Back then, Sex Ed, more legitimately termed Human Growth and Development, was a funny diversion from the everyday school routine. Teachers discussed reproduction, mentioned AIDS and glazed over some information on illicit drugs as nervous pre-teens squirmed in their seats. But the approach was sufficient and within the appropriate bounds for what a public school should be expected to teach. In some areas today, though, the sex education situation has gotten out of hand. School systems around the country need to continue to provide students with biological facts and information on health risks while saving the more explicit sex-related topics for home or community organizations.

A poll released last Wednesday by the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health surveyed 1,245 adults with children between 5 and 18 years old found that a majority of individuals polled disapprove of the recent trend of comprehensive sex education, which teaches details of controversial topics, such as contraceptive use, homosexuality and sexual fantasies. The poll, administered by Zogby International, presented parents with 29 specific questions about comprehensive sex education as outlined in the 1990 Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, a list created by the Sexuality Information and Education Council.

The survey's sponsors based their questions on the assumption that parents would disagree with comprehensive sex education if they knew details concerning the curriculum's components, rather than the usual vague generalizations handed down to parents. They were right. Over 75 percent of parents reported disapproval of this approach to comprehensive approach to sex education (

That is not to say the majority of all parents in the nation oppose this newer curriculum. After all, the Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health is made up of primarily conservative organizations, including the Christian Coalition of America, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, National Abstinence Clearinghouse and the Traditional Values Coalition. It does, however, point out that many parents are not receiving the full report concerning the details their children begin collecting in school as early as kindergarten, and this is a problem.

When it comes to something as sensitive as sex education, which brings up issues of personal beliefs and values, the parents' vital role as educators should be apparent. Though much of the burden is on the parents, the school should be responsible for making painstakingly clear what their children will be taught in class. For those parents seeking additional support, school districts also need to set up more opportunities for parents and children to come together in a facilitated setting to promote more open dialogue.

While parents can serve as moral guides, schools need to concern themselves with disseminating facts on sex education. It's difficult to imagine parents objecting to having the biology of reproduction and human development discussed in public schools. After all, the teacher or textbook probably can explain the nitty-gritty of the fallopian tubes and vas deferens better than the average parent.

The clash between school and home primarily lies in the abstinence versus safer-sex education debate. Rather than getting caught up in the controversy, schools should be a resource to guide students to other sources of help rather than to become the moral police.

When being taught about the limitations imposed on student-teacher relations, teachers learn not to get too involved in a student's personal life. Some of the personal matters an adolescent might approach a teacher with are sexual and sensitive nature. Teachers are told to be aware of local support services that handle issues such as teen pregnancy, contraception, abortion and STDs so that they can direct students to these groups. But, teachers are instructed not to offer personal opinion or advice -- only direction for students to get their concerns addressed by qualified professionals. Similarly, sex education classes offer an excellent opportunity for making students aware of the resources available to them without passing judgments on abstinence or showing students how to use a condom.

It's difficult to please everyone when it comes to something as controversial as sex education. But by putting schools in charge of the facts, parents in charge of the moral concerns and community organizations in charge of the resources, sex education could transform into something greater than a bunch of 10 year-olds giggling in a corner, too afraid to ask questions.

(Stephanie Batten's column appears

Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


Latest Podcast

Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.