Simmer Down, Kids!

Sex-ed teachers want to know: How do you get hormones to listen to reason?

His opponents see it as a place where kids receive too much graphic detail at too young an age — and worse, where they are tacitly given the go-ahead to have sex.

Siegel promises he will get to the answer about babies, but it will probably require staying late for a one-on-one chat.

The instructor is relegated to the Boys & Girls Clubs because he is only occasionally welcomed in public schools. A state law says that students should be taught abstinence as "the expected standard for all school-age children."

Kristin Newman is not sharing her oxytocin with anyone!
c. stiles
Kristin Newman is not sharing her oxytocin with anyone!

Sex-ed classes are just one component of the Boys & Girls Clubs' T.E.E.N. Society (Teen Education for Every Nationality), which is based on the Carrera model of pregnancy prevention. New York doctor Michael Carrera designed the program, in which sex education is woven into a larger context. Kids also receive job skills and computer training and play sports. Here in Delray, Planned Parenthood says, the program serves 110 at-risk youth, who get sex education once or twice a week as long as they stay in the program. The organization proudly reports that there have been no pregnancies, nor fathering of babies, among program participants since it began around 1997. The program is funded through grants and private donations, with no federal funding.

Siegel brings no computer, no anatomically correct teaching tools, no condoms. Not so much as a note card. Although a regular class might be more structured with lesson plans and games, today's class is something of a free-for-all discussion, guided largely by students' questions. He explains that they will need to make sexual decisions in the coming years and that he will be here to give them the information they need "so that when it comes time to make those decisions, you do it with power."

"Some people think we shouldn't be talking about this," Siegel warns. "That we're putting ideas in your head." But, he points out, every human has reproductive organs, and every student experiences the changes of puberty. So in the class, they discuss everything — "intercourse, sperm, eggs, penises, vaginas..."

Kids titter.

"People go crazy when we say those words, but we all have them. It's not like when they're passing out bodies, you can say, 'Oh, no thank you.' Sex ed is not a lesson on how to 'do it.' Some people think sex is for making babies, something you do in a marriage. And some people think it's for other things — like showing love and affection in a relationship."

He says he wants them to be "the sexually healthiest you can be, long before you even think about having sex. When are you old enough to have sex?"

They throw out guesses: 16? 17? 18? 25?

"It could be 35! You have to be responsible and mature."

When you're married?, ventures one student.

"What do you think the average age is for people to get married?" Siegel asks. Again, students guess.

"The average marriage age is close to 30. Are you going to say no until you're 30? Until 27? Look, I'm just some weird dude that talks about sex for a living. I don't give out permission."

Opponents of comprehensive sex ed argue that talks like these do in fact imply a permission. Planned Parenthood fights this notion, emphasizing in news releases that it hopes kids will abstain but must deal with the reality that many will not. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control, from 2005, indicate that 46.8 percent of high school students have had intercourse.

Siegel says it's none of his business whether any particular student is sexually active. But he does suggest that kids abstain from sex until they're mature — "until you're in a committed relationship. Until life is moving in the direction you want it to and your plans are moving in the right direction."

Much like Be the One, he asks their goals. Go to college? Become a doctor? Be a lawyer?

"If those are your plans," Siegel says, "and you get pregnant before you achieve them, then that's not sexually healthy."

The 10-year-old wants him to get to the point: "I still don't know how babies are made."

"Chaos theory." That's how researcher Brian Dodge sums up sex education in Florida. In November, Dodge and a team from the University of Florida released results of a survey about sex ed around the state. His team found that the education varied widely: The 479 teachers surveyed mentioned using 49 different curricula. Overall, Dodge found that sex ed is often introduced "deplorably late... and may not adequately address the realistic needs of students."

Sex education was introduced in schools in the 1960s and became the norm during the 1980s in response to the explosion of AIDS. But in Florida in 1990, the state Legislature passed a law requiring that schools "teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students while teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage." It's up to each school district to interpret that provision.

Federal funding to promote abstinence ballooned with the expansion of Title V of the Social Security Act, passed in 1996 as part of welfare reform under the Clinton administration. Now, federal money is disbursed largely through Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) projects. Be the One is the only program in Broward or Palm Beach that receives this money.

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