By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
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He thinks a lot of high school kids are grossed out by Tila Tequila. "We underestimate our youth."
Next door, in Palm Beach County, Fred Barths chuckles at some parts of the official human development curriculum — and he's in charge of it.
Although the curriculum — written in 1990 — is relatively thorough in regard to HIV and pregnancy, one fact sheet states authoritatively that "girls reach puberty at 11 or 12 and are expected to abstain from sexual relations until marriage at 21 or 22." Homosexuality is barely addressed, except in one handout that poses the question: "Do boys who look or act like girls usually become homosexual?" The seventh-grade textbook covers sex by saying, "Human development starts when a man deposits millions of sperm into a woman's vagina." There is little to differentiate it from a bank transaction.
Barths, the K-12 science administrator, acknowledges that "it's falling to science teachers to teach a more comprehensive form of human growth and development." Although he faithfully repeats the state's mantra on abstinence, he was recently warned by the Health Department about the rising pregnancy rate and cites a personal concern that kids are "constantly bombarded" with media that promote early sex. He is working on revisions to the official curriculum.
That could mean a looming battle ahead. Although Barths gets few complaints, the ones he receives are from people who "overwhelmingly didn't think sex should be discussed in schools at all."
A common criticism of comprehensive sex ed is that it introduces adult concepts to kids at a young age. To Ricky Siegel, that's misguided. "Even 3-year-olds know the difference between girl parts and boy parts."
Days before Christmas, Siegel is back at the Boys & Girls Club with a lesson built around a "teachable moment": the news just broke that teenaged actress Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant.
"She's 16!" a girl gasps.
"She's still a good person," another says defensively.
Someone mentions Tila Tequila.
Today's theme is about opening dialogues with parents, and it's a perfect example of how talking about sex with kids can veer into unpredictable territory. "Eighty-five percent of parents think it's important to talk about abstaining until you're older," Siegel says, offering them each a pamphlet they can give to their parents called "How to Talk to Your Children About Sex."
Siegel tells a cautionary tale about a girl from Coral Springs whose parents never discussed sex. The girl hid her pregnancy, and when the baby was born, she threw it in the Dumpster, where it died. "I don't want you to be scared to talk about sex," he says.
One girl, 10-year-old Brianna Dillard, takes that as in invitation. "I would like to know why people are homosexual," she states politely.
"Gay people don't choose to be gay any more than straight people choose to be straight," Siegel replies. He explains that people can't necessarily decide whom they get a crush on. "Some guys see Beyoncé — they don't say, 'Ooh, there's Beyoncé; I think I'll get turned on by her!' But they might start feeling like Jim Carrey in The Mask, where his eyes pop out of his head and his tongue rolls out on the floor."
"Oh yeah, how did Jim Carrey do that?" asks 11-and-a-half-year-old Caitlin Carmichael, a smiley blond.
Here, Siegel must detour to explain movie special effects.
"Was that the only movie he was in?" Carmichael wonders.
It takes Siegel a moment to steer the conversation away from Jim Carrey films.
Curious Brianna Dillard has another question: "Why do people have oral sex?"
Heads turn toward Siegel.
He admits that it might sound disgusting — the same way that kissing seems odd to small kids. "Why do people want to smoosh their lips together or put their tongues in each other's mouths? When you're 5, that's ridiculous!"
Siegel tells them that the most important sex organ in the body is the brain, and the largest is the skin. He tries to explain the concept of erogenous zones. "Somebody can lick another person's earlobe and it drives them crazy! It gets complicated, but the most important thing is the emotion behind it."
With that, time is up, but a few kids linger to give their opinions.
Ashley Johnson, 10-and-a-half, said she's been "kinda scared" to talk about sex. "My dad asked me one time, 'Are you ready to talk about the birds and bees?' and I said, 'What is birds and bees?' He said it's not just all about the organs getting together."
Johnson said she was too shy to elaborate. Those organs.
Fresh-faced Brianna Dillard — the one with the rousing questions — said the class "makes me a little more comfortable talking to my parents." Well... maybe not Dad. It's easy to ask Mom about sex when it's on TV.
Are their peers having sex already? One student reports that "kids slap each other's butts." Another says couples sneak off during class to make out in the stairwell, where construction workers have been known to discover them. One girl has a cousin who got pregnant and kicked out of the house. Another's 13-year-old friend had sex with an eighth-grader. "She said it was good."