When Washington State’s comprehensive sex education bill (SB 5395) was passed by the state legislature earlier this year, I wrote about how important this legislation was in raising a generation of informed, empowered, consent-driven, and healthy young people. Not everyone agreed. I had one subscriber reach out to me (before unsubscribing) to accuse me of peddling pornography to children. Huh? Setting aside the utter absurdity and offensiveness of such an accusation, now that this bill is on the ballot pending voter approval in November, I figured it was time to address this again…
So, from a child abuse prevention perspective, here is what parents need to understand about this (or similar) legislation:
Children who are well-informed and have open lines of communication with an adult about sex are less likely to be victimized, and they are more likely to tell someone about it if they are. Time and again in my work prosecuting sexually violent predators, I heard offenders admit that they targeted children who didn’t have close a relationship with an adult and/or had no understanding of sex, body parts, and sexuality. Predators simply do not like well-informed children; well-informed children are harder to target.
Talking to kids—yes kids—about sex and sexuality is critical to their long-term health and safety. Of course those discussions should be age appropriate, and of course those discussions should happen at home; there is nothing in this bill that undermines that. But the more trusted adults we have helping children learn to make healthy choices, the safer they are. This does not equate to “sexualizing children” as opponents of the bill suggest.
If we don’t talk to kids about sex and sexuality, we are placing the responsibility for their sexual health in their hands and Dr. Google’s. We don’t place the responsibility for their emotional, spiritual, physical, health or their overall education in their hands—why would we neglect this very important aspect of being human?
Nothing in the bill that is now before the voters (Referendum Measure No. 90) prevents parents from opting out of the curriculum if they are uncomfortable with the content. So while many families will elect to use the school-based curriculum to spur on or supplement discussions and education at home (as I advise), parents are free to choose to take on the task exclusively if they wish. But for those children who don’t have a family member who can or will talk to them about this, let’s not deprive them of scientific age-appropriate information about this critical aspects of development. Making sure all children have access to important information is just one step in the complex cog of equity and anti-racism work.
Research definitively shows that in countries where children are provided comprehensive sexual education from an early age, there are reduced rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unintended pregnancies. It also promotes gender equality and equitable social norms and has been proven to delay the age of first sexual activity, increase condom use, and promote safer, more consent-based sexual behavior overall. Countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands, that employ comprehensive sexual education from an early age enjoy incredibly low rates of teen pregnancy (8 per 1000 in teens age 15-19) whereas the United States, where sexual education is mandated in less than half the states, has the highest (57 per 1000).
Now, I hope this goes without saying, but there are a lot of false narratives out there right now about this legislation. Be a wise, discerning consumer of social media. Read the bill yourself. Don’t fall for the clickbait. This bill does not advocate, require, nor even suggest teaching children how to use fruit as sex toys (do I even need to say this?), nor does it suggest that teens should describe their first sexual experience to a class. Both of those (and many of the other false claims I’ve seen) would be patently absurd, inappropriate methods of teaching reproductive science, health, consent, social emotional learning, and boundaries, all of which are included in the legislation. Again, this is a great time to be a wise consumer. So let’s be abundantly clear: I am not peddling porn to children.
But I will raise a toast to the idea of keeping our children safe(r) through comprehensive sex education so they can grow up happy, healthy, whole, and heartful. Cheers!