American Sex Ed sucks. It’s 2016, a time of easy-access porn and sex(t) positivity, yet we still spend millions on abstinence-only programs and outdated lesson plans. Not only is the approach puritanical, it’s also ineffective: Kids aren’t getting the information they need to make healthy decisions about sex when the time comes. That’s why Amy Schalet wants to rewrite the status quo. A sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she has devoted her career to making our conversations about adolescent sexuality smarter, safer, and more current. And a little more Dutch.

What are we doing wrong?

I was born in America but grew up in the Netherlands, so I’ve always moved between these two cultures. In the US, there is this dramatization of teen sexuality–playing up the fear and conflict and danger. The metaphor of raging hormones is so central, and that communicates this idea of sexuality as an out-of-control force.

How is it different in the Netherlands?

Children are taught at very early ages to recognize their own feelings through desexualized, playful exercises. There’s one exercise where the kids feel objects, like pieces of clay, just to decide what feels good and not good to them. Dutch teens have fewer unintended pregnancies and more positive first sexual experiences.

What does the ideal model look like here?

It wouldn’t just be one class; it would be something that happens throughout kids’ education, starting in first grade. Self-knowledge–what you want, what you don’t want–should be part of a continuum of things, from learning about sexual anatomy all the way to relationship building. And it should be mandatory to address the needs of young people with diverse sexual and gender identities.

Is this more important now that porn is so ubiquitous?

Absolutely. Kids who stumble on porn should feel they can ask their parents about it, and they should have the tools to understand what they’re seeing. When these topics are shrouded in shame and taboo, young people don’t feel comfortable asking adults for help.

Are there immediate steps adults can take?

Talking to kids about their platonic friendships makes it easier to get them to open up about sexuality. We should also make sure to use correct terms for anatomy and feelings and actions. There are so many euphemisms adults use. My American nieces will ask, “Is this an ‘adult’ conversation?” You’re creating a situation where sex becomes an avenue through which to prove you’re an adult. When we talk in code we’re withholding information, and what we’re withholding isn’t just contraception and condoms but the opportunity to develop crucial life skills and self-awareness–and that comes at a huge cost.

25 Comments

  1. Betty Rubble

    A functional family structure teaches its children the proper way to go about relationships. The schools are silent on this topic, leaving those children with dysfunctional structures out in the cold.

  2. Betty Rubble

    Oh please. Abstinence-only is taught in a very small fraction of schools, certainly not enough to explain the 40% national illegitimacy rate. The baby mama lifestyle is far more prevalent in the lower classes than the upper, and both classes are exposed to the same education system. No amount of contraceptive education can overcome the influence of a dysfunctional community culture.

    Yes, we live in a hypersexualized culture and it has shown to be detrimental in many ways. What students need is more relationship education and a blunt discussion on the proper time to bring children into the world

  3. Betty Rubble

    Teen pregnancies have declined considerably, however, out of wedlock births to women in their 20s have skyrocketed, mostly among the lower classes.

  4. MidwestNorsk

    Garbage “journalism”.

  5. aFriendlyAgenda

    “Kids aren’t getting the information they need to make healthy decisions about sex
    when the time come.

    Kids aren’t supposed to be having sex you goddamn cho-mo.
    Thats not when the time comes. Sex isn’t to hard to figure out as an an adult when the time comes.

    But thats not what you’re after.
    You want to teach liberal deviancy to children who dont know any better so that you can chop their weiners off and paint them into a cultural corner for the rest of their lives for your own political agendas.

    “That’s why Amy Schalet wants to rewrite the status quo. A sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,…”

    Fear people who live off the taxpayer in their own intellectual bubble rewriting the status quo for the rest of society.

    1. Ask yourself what their true motives are.

    2. Even if they where good (but they aren’t), how the heck would they know what their talking about up their on campus in their bubble.

  6. aFriendlyAgenda

    “American Sex Ed sucks. It’s 2016, a time of easy-access porn and sex(t) positivity, …”

    Dont you think its strange that this liberal is offering a solution to the problems that easy access to liberal pornogragraphy and “sext positivity” has caused in society?

    1. The hubris and disregard of liberal intellectuals for anyone around them to so blatantly offer that smug trick to your face in front of your eyes while playing outraged about it.

    2. They must be right if everybody else is stupid enough to expect a solution from the same people who created the problem in the first place.

  7. If you are as enlightened as you perceive yourself to be, you’d know sex is far more than a physical act. If not, rape would be much closer to a simple assault and 6 month prison sentences would be common, not devious aberrant affronts to society.

  8. Would love to see the success rates on 2 parent families versus single parent families before we decide on a need for sweeping changes.

  9. Bryan Miller

    is there a right and wrong way to do it then? is sex wrong simply b/c it is out of wedlock or are you against teaching birth control and positive relationship dynamics? I am not against a parents right to make decisions etc but i think there are some boundaries within that (vaccines, going to school) i am just curious what your perfect solution is?

  10. Bryan Miller

    curious that kids these days are actually having less sex. I agree with your points with media putting lots of pressure on “sex sells” but at the same time i have no idea how to combat that within the media. Sex does sell and we are capitalistic so that isn’t going to change anytime soon. I think more emphasis on a healthy relationship is pretty important

    https://www.washingtonpost.com

  11. Bryan Miller

    are you arguing for abstinence only education? or what are you arguing for? all i can tell is that you are angry? You want to set morals on what the media can publish? Are you talking censorship here or??? what does this look like? We are a capitalistic society and sex sells

  12. When me prayers were poorly said, Who tucked me in me widdle bed, And spanked me till me ass was red?
    Me Mudder

    When at night the bed did squeak, Me raised me head to have a peek, Who yelled at me to go to sleep?
    Me Fadder

  13. aFriendlyAgenda

    BTW: Nice title pic.
    All those pencils attacking the poor helpless eraser.

    You ever think some people always want to make things worse so that they can play victim and blame it all on the mean ole pencils for a living.

  14. Reason and Rhyme

    Did you read that article on the bastion of truth known as Breitbart, by any chance?

    The ease with which people like you are goaded by your fear into believing lies that conform to your religiously warped world view would be amusing if it weren’t so alarming.

    And so we get Trump.

  15. No, Trump happened because arrogant sociopathic socialists like you want the government to teach our children how to have sex, regardless of what the parents beliefs on the subject may be. This is a bridge WAY to far!

  16. You’re still trolling here, huh?
    Oh well.
    At least its not conservative smut.

  17. aFriendlyAgenda

    Heres the solution,
    federal guidelines and regulations regarding ethics and responsibilities in the MEDIA.
    The same way the libs use their media to instigate all these culture-wars, race-riots and violence in the streets,
    they use it to push and glorify veiled pornography like miley cyrus and the jersey shore on teenagers and children.

    Thats why they’re always thinking about it, becasue libs are always pushing it on them.
    And thats why the libs will say that THAT cant be stopped, and THATS a violation of their freedom of press,
    becasue they dont want to stop it. They’re doing it on purpose.

    So that they can make a living writing an article about how the solution is pushing more of it and teaching a class making it worse.
    And then writing more articles and teaching more classes about how to fix all the new and even worse problems they’ve made and how the solution is always more of it, for profit and power billed to the tax payer for the the rest lives.

  18. Almost commented on this this morning, but decided against it. Guess the fight happened anyways.

    This article makes some good points, and I’m not opposed to trying some of them out. I don’t kid myself that abstinence-only isn’t going to work with most teens. I’d still like it noted as an option, and stressed that it is the only fool-proof option, but among others that at least offer protection if you decide to wait.

    I feel a lot of commenters are latching onto the “puritanical” statement, and yeah, teaching that sex is evil and a vice, or even the “it’s for adults” point of view just isn’t going to get us anywhere. However, I think this nation gets torn between that and something I feel the article only hinted at – that our music and television shows pretty much portray sex as something that if you’re not doing, and almost constantly, by 15, there’s something wrong with you.

    I’m not even talking about porn, but the shows and entertainment aimed at today’s youth. Maybe some will think I’m seeing it wrong, but having had teen girls in my household, I’d say the pressure from what our youth see daily is intense. Pressure to pick whether your gay or straight, pressure to be like what they see. It’s my usual position that these days kids imitate fiction, more often than fiction portraying reality. No, there’s nothing wrong with sex, but my opinion, there is something wrong when it’s what defines your life. And I’ve seen people of all sorts, straight, gay, etc, who that is all their life centers around.

    I’d rather see a society where teens understand their options, and if that requires starting some of their education earlier, that’s fine. I’d also rather see our teens have the impression of “It’s ok if I want to wait to be ready” rather than “It’s not ok to want to have sex” or even worse “I’m worthless if I’m not having sex” – both of the last two seem to lead to our teen pregnancy problem in the very least.

  19. Reason and Rhyme

    No one is suggesting that we show children porn. There is a vast difference between acknowledging what feels good by touching soft clay and “smut.” However, the fact that modern religion basically consists of telling people that their every urge is evil is why you can’t tell the difference.

    Educating someone is always better than teaching them to fear. Unfortunately it appears that it is too late to apply that wisdom to you.

  20. aFriendlyAgenda

    ” It is the vast population of educated, enlightened American adults that will do the teaching.”

    Enlightened according to who?
    Other smug liberal smut peddlers?

    But thats not real scientific method,
    thats just you agreeing with the same smut someone else taught you who may or may not have lived off the tax payer on a college campus their whole lives and doesn’t know what they’re talking about either.

  21. Because its not the vast populace of ignorant, brainwashed American adults that will teach things. It is the vast population of educated, enlightened American adults that will do the teaching.

  22. I would argue a general lack of education is why Trump happened.

  23. Oh man, I wish I could up vote you a dozen more times.

  24. How can you possibly expect our vast populace of ignorant, brainwashed American adults to teach anything? These people don’t understand or appreciate science, they think the most powerful way to get things done is to pray about it. Sex isn’t a natural biological function, its a pathology. Until religion takes a back seat to science you don’t stand a chance.

  25. Assuming that another country has nothing to teach us is how Trump happened.

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