Sex And The State

Indianapolis’ Pride Celebration gets bigger and better every year–this year, the parade was so crowded with people enjoying the lovely day and the multiple marchers and floats that the “usual subjects”–with their signs proclaiming the sinfulness of “homo” sex– almost escaped notice.

Those “usual subjects”–the scolds who come out of the woodwork to tell LGBTQ folks that God disapproves of them, and the “good Christians” who scream invective at women entering Planned Parenthood clinics–are reminders that Americans have always had a real problem with sex. Not just gay sex, either. Any sex.

Residents of more laid-back countries (no pun intended) have found both America’s excessive religiosity and famous prudishness puzzling, and both of those elements of our political culture are barriers to reasonable policymaking. Most of the country has finally  recognized that statutes forbidding fornication, sodomy and the like didn’t prevent those behaviors, but simply allowed police who were so inclined to harass marginalized folks with what lawyers call “arbitrary and capricious” enforcement.

The gratifying disappearance of these silly statutes, however, doesn’t mean we Americans have lost our obsession with sex. The fights have simply moved to other venues, like abortion, transgender bathrooms and especially sex education policy, where “family values” warriors continue to insist that only abstinence should be taught in the classroom.

Sex education has been a controversial subject for decades as public school officials and parents have debated the best ways to help teenagers avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Not all states require schools to teach sex ed. But many states require sex education instructors to discuss or stress abstinence from sexual activity, with some schools offering abstinence-only programming, which urges kids to wait until marriage and often excludes information about contraceptives.

So-called “comprehensive” sex education programs teach students about abstinence, but (in a nod to hormones and reality) also teach about contraception, sexual health and how to handle unwanted sexual advances. Such curricula are gaining ground in some states.

In 2019, sex education continues to make headlines even as teen pregnancy rates continue to fall. Policymakers in Colorado, California and Alabama have pushed for big changes in the way sex education is taught there. In Colorado, a bill that would ban abstinence-only education in public schools awaits the governor’s signature. The legislation, which also requires that sex education be inclusive for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ), was “one of the most contentious battles of the 2019 legislative session,”according to the Colorado Times Recorder.

In Alabama–home of the recent law banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest– the state’s sex education law requires teachers to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” (A bill has been introduced that would change that requirement, but as this is written, it’s still on the books.)

As of 2016, abstinence was a required topic of instruction in states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Texas…. 29 states, including Florida, Montana and Pennsylvania, did not require their sex education curricula to be based on medically accurate information. In some schools, teachers have been accused of inflating condom failure rates to discourage use.

I know that basing policy on evidence is out of favor in the Age of Trump, but the research is instructive: abstinence-only education results in higher teen birth rates. (And those “virginity pledges” that fundamentalist dads brag about? Researchers found that girls who took pledges were more likely to become pregnant outside of marriage when compared with girls and young women who did not take abstinence pledges.)

Facts are such inconvenient things.

I know it’s heresy, but maybe–just maybe–schools should teach kids medically-and-age appropriate information about their bodies, rather than inaccurate, incomplete or counterproductive information intended to mollify prudes and religious fundamentalists.


  1. Here’s my suggestion for sex-ed:
    Let the kids decide what is taught. If they want to know something, make sure they have factual material to get the answer for themselves.
    It’s a ‘natural’ function, and means different things to different kids at different times.
    In both my little rural school of 60 years ago, and in the schools I taught in, sex and its variety of aberrations went on, and the things kids learned surreptitiously continued throughout the succeeding generations.
    The biggest difference now is only this: the Puritans, who can mostly be defined as control freaks, which controlled us somewhat quietly and privately 60 years ago, now have grouped together and use a loudspeaker system called “the internet”, and insist that they be able to enforce their views on everybody, anywhere, and at any time.
    Until EVERYONE, including our married parents, who engages in sex is forced to wear a big red letter “A”, we’ll continue with this insanity.

  2. remarkable how we roll back centuries of getting a democracy right,we have the mind locked gotta save the world or else staff at the church. seriously,havent these folks seen enough hunger,vets with ptsd,marginalized people,(they also kick to the curb) public educators in need of some resources,(and leave your agenda at home)a food pantry with people who smile that work there,,oh yea, dont forget that share garden,and some one to share it..did i forget something? like nodak,though we have a clinic for women,and im a proud supporter,its the nuns and grave diggers at the gate who stigmatize and do the most harm. ( my very word to their face) “go do some immediate good,go help some one whos hungry…”best wishes.

  3. No doubt the legacy of historic Puritan influence on Christian presence in the USA continues to dwindle in power circles, the more discerning observant servant leaders of faith acknowledge the evidence of research and differentiating descriptive from prescriptive Scripture, to conclude with more progressive position taking in defiance of more othodox views. Christians are not alone countering the tension among progressive and orthodox within, alongside brothers and sisters who experience the same dynamic tension within other world religions. Today we have access to far more published resources that present evidenced based approaches to sex education than ever before. Contrary to headlines on fire, we are doing better.

  4. “There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.” Robert Kennedy, 1964.

  5. These same Puritanical bores drive people to look down upon our God-given sexual instincts. Shaming is their modus operanda.

    Is it any wonder our country is also addicted to porn?

    Everything in moderation. And if you don’t teach them in school, you can certainly expect they’ll be experimenting with each other. Those raging hormones don’t stop because you believe in God. You better equip teen boys better than that or we might see more date rapes or sexual assaults in colleges. “Deprive me, eh!”

    Everything in moderation.

    We’ve even turned sex into a black market proposition.

  6. Good quote Sandy from RFK!!!!

    It is rather amazing how so many states have fallen under the control of the bible thumper’s. Science based sex education does not impose some bible thumping morality, which is why the thumper’s object to it. Science based sex education would present the student with the responsibilities of sexual activity as well as the potential of side effects such as pregnancies, or STD’s.

    There is another part to this. Medicare for All or a Single Payer system of Health Care would guarantee access to all to discuss sexual activity with a Medical Professional, rather than bogus advice from theocrats.

  7. “Let the kids decide what is taught. If they want to know something, make sure they have factual material to get the answer for themselves.”

    Stephen F Smith; I was the source of all information for my children, explained some sex ed basics but, as you suggested, I told them if they had further questions that they could ask me anything. In 1970, my 13 year old son Mark came home from swimming at the “Y” and asked me, “Mom, what’s a fag?” I reminded him we had talked about boys who want to date boys and girls who want to date girls and that some people called them fags. He still looked confused so I asked why he had asked the question; he said, “Some boy came in the shower room and said someone stole all his fags, he was really mad.” So much for openness with my kids.

    “I know it’s heresy, but maybe–just maybe–schools should teach kids medically-and-age appropriate information about their bodies, rather than inaccurate, incomplete or counterproductive information intended to mollify prudes and religious fundamentalists.”

    Edith Bunker spoke some words of wisdom when Gloria was trying to explain menopause to her. Edith responded, “When I was a young girl, I didn’t know everything every young girl should know. Now I’m an old lady and I don’t know everything every old lady should know.” This lack of knowledge can actually lead to very dangerous health problems for girls and women of all ages with no education source. The same is true of boys and men of all ages; how many boys are aware of the symptoms of STDs and how many men in their 40s understand the importance of regular prostate exams. Girls should also be made aware of STD symptoms; we can preach and shame till we are blue in the face but hormones still rule young bodies. If they don’t understand what is going on; more than the fact that it feels good, abstinence is only a word in the dictionary.

    Many parents are too embarrassed, too uninformed themselves or view all sex as a sin. The parents of LGBTQs are almost always at a deeper lack of understanding and many disown their child as shameful degenerates. Sex education does not teach our children how to perform sexually; unlike driver’s ed which does teach them how to drive a car. Voucher students in religious schools are being taught that school’s religious beliefs; as the number of voucher students increases, so does the number of sexually uninformed young people in this country.

  8. Back when we had bought a farm and with it three horses I got the education of a lifetime on sex education. My oldest son was thirteen and he and his brother and sister were helping me clean out the barn. The stallion of the three horses suddenly mounted one of the mares. The children all looked on with astonishment as the stallion bit the neck of the mare and generally did his thing. Later my son said, “So that’s how they do it. The boy bites the girl’s neck.” Instead of taking the opportunity to do some real parenting I stupidly replied, “I think you were watching the wrong end of the action” and let it go at that. Next day when the kids ran off the bus from school my oldest yelled at the top of his lungs, “Mom, mom, Julie’s pregnant! Timmy bit her on the neck.” Oh, the humiliation!

  9. Parents and pet owners teach their charges either how to think or how to follow rules. I’ve had a lot more success with the latter.

  10. Theresa is a comedian – she should go for a late show! In biology classes we teach digestive, circulatory and other systems without interference of politicians and Puritans but clam up when sexual systems are up for discussion. Why? It’s just another system. Trouble is, what we do with that system, which can range from the asexual impregnation of Mary to the ladies of the night. We should teach all systems alike as biologists; what to do with it I would also entrust to biologists over preachers. It’s a real world; Norman Rockwell need not apply.

  11. Theresa – LOL!

    So, I’m pretty disappointed that what passes for “Christianity” has been reduced to two issues – anti-abortion and anti-gay. It’s backlash for sure… but focusing on sex and reproduction instead of broader issues of love, charity, being welcoming, being humble, etc. seems not only wrong headed, but deliberately manipulative.

    Public policy – including sex education – should have as a minimum floor that it be medically accurate and not contradicted by science.

    I’m not opposed to teaching abstinence as part of a comprehensive program that includes birth control and safe sex — It’s as ok to deliver the message that “Not everyone is doing it, and that’s ok – and probably even a good thing at this age”. Not everyone is emotionally mature in their teens and early 20’s – and actual abstinence has a pretty good track record on avoiding unintended pregnancy, and STD’s – let alone keeping kids out of relationship issues that they aren’t emotionally equipped to handle.

    Although most teens have always been exposed to some sexual content (who didn’t know where dad stashed the Playboy Magazine by the time they were 15?) the internet has changed things considerably. I feel badly for kids who grow up thinking that what they are seeing on the computer is in any way representative of real life – be that porn or the curated for Instagram lifestyle. Or that the implied rules of the internet apply to real life.

    Because of technology, we also have to have discussions about things like sexting – from all sides of that. The point that you don’t make images and trust someone, such as a boyfriend, not to share them. And having images of an under-aged person is child porn and has serious, life-changing consequences – let alone the more subtle issues of objectifying people.

    If I had children, they would get a smart phone on their 30th birthday – shortly after letting them go out on a date for the first time.

  12. If we don’t teach sex education but DO teach abstinence, shouldn’t the question be “abstain from what?” … smiling at strangers? … wearing mismatched socks? Going on a date without a clean handkerchief?… what should we abstain from???

  13. Let the kids decide what is taught. If they want to know something, make sure they have factual material to get the answer for themselves. It’s a ‘natural’ function, and means different things to different kids at different times.

    Stephen S. — are you kidding me?!?!? I worked 10 years as a mental health counselor with teens and heard a lot of bogus info that kids thought was true. The best one was “I’m only having anal sex because I want to be a virgin when I get married.” Letting kids “decide” what they want to learn is dangerous as well as fool hardy. They need clear concise information from non judgemental adults who can help them find their way regarding sexual relationships.

  14. It seems to me that we began hearing more and more about teens having oral sex, considering it was not sex because it was oral, after Bill Clinton lied about not having sex because it was oral sex.

    Today; there are no limits thanks to Trump, et al, of our elected leaders being accepted by the christian evangelicals as honorable men…including child molesters. How do we un-teach those lessons they see almost daily in our news? No reason to abstain from sex in any form or on any level if there are no consequences to your actions.

  15. I am reminded of an old cartoon with this caption (more or less):

    So you see son, the birds lay eggs and the bees pollinate the flowers. Now run along and for god’s sake don’t get any more girls pregnant.

    I think that was sex education in the ’50s.

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