Comprehensive Sex Ed Responsive to Age, Community Standards

Sen. John McCain has released an ad attacking Sen. Barack Obama for his
support of age appropriate sex ed, suggesting Obama supports education that would teach kindergartners about sex before they learn to read.

Obama’s and McCain’s positions sum up both sides of the debate
over when and how to educate youth about human sexuality.  Advocates of abstinence-only programs warn that teachers will be forced to bring adult themes to young students, summoning images
of kindergartners being instructed on the proper way to put a condom on a
banana.  Supporters of comprehensive sex
education counter that, rather than provide one curriculum for all ages, age
appropriate comprehensive sex education programs take into consideration the
age and developmental level of the students, along with community values. 

Though political candidates and their supporters are forever
declaring their position for or against comprehensive sex education, they spend
little to no time explaining what, in their book, comprehensive sexual
education is.  How and why educators
develop age appropriate sex education programs is also rarely discussed.  Would supporters of abstinence only programs
re-think their position if they better understood how age appropriateness
factors into comprehensive sex education? And do pro-choice, pro-sexual health
voters actually know what is taught in comprehensive sexuality education, by
grade level? As both major political parties proceed in support of differing
platforms — the Democratic
Party’s 2008 platform includes support
of age-appropriate comprehensive sex
education while the Republican
Party Platform maintains support of abstinence only education
— now is a
good time to revisit age appropriate comprehensive sex education.

The Sexuality Information and Education
Council of the United States
(SIECUS) defines sex education as a lifelong
process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values
that encompasses sexual development, sexual and reproductive health,
interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender
roles.  SIECUS has developed Guidelines for
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
(Kindergarten through 12th grade) through
a national task force of experts in the fields of adolescent development,
health care, and education.  The
guidelines provide a framework of the key concepts topics, and messages that
all sexuality education programs would ideally include.

Monica Rodriguez, Vice President for Education and Training
at SIECUS, explained that age appropriate comprehensive sex education is based
on what research has revealed about youth emotionally, cognitively and
physically: ""Basically, what someone wants to insure (parent to child or
educator to child) is that the information is presented in a way that is
developmentally and age appropriate for a young person," she explains. For instance, if teaching about puberty, she’d take this approach:

"Puberty starts at about 9 or 10 in girls so I need to make
sure I’m addressing this topic with girls starting in 4th and 5th grade for
sure.  By 6th grade it is a history
lesson. I need to recognize that some girls will not be near starting while
others will.  The information can’t be
too graphic but provide basic information and lay the foundation to prepare
them for what is coming.  We know that
kids that age are very concrete thinkers – they need to see it, feel it and
touch it.  Models work better than
abstract drawings.  Some kids learn
through experiencing things, so I would have them make models.  In 4th grade, I would have them name the body
parts and talk about hormones and what changes will happen and reinforce that
it is normal.  Whereas for high school
students, I would go into more specific details about hormones etcetera."


But, says Rodriguez, if a six-year-old were curious about the changes her body would undergo, that young person might not need specific details.  Says Rodriguez, "I have a six-year-old niece who is curious
about periods.  She thinks it is gross and
she is worried that it is going to happen to her." What message does her niece get? "The age appropriate message for her was, when
you get older you will get your period and it is kind of gross.  But you know what?  You just deal with it and it is a natural
thing that happens in the body."

Challenges of Age-Appropriate Instruction

Rodriguez acknowledged that a challenge many educators face
is that they are usually teaching to a group. 
"You have to keep it broad for the group," says Rodriguez. "Developmental levels will vary in a group and it is important for the
educator to realize that and for the curriculum to allow for that."  According to Rodriquez, educators should
answer things broadly and then pull out students who need more detailed
one-on-one information.

Another challenge to developing age appropriate
comprehensive sex education curricula is the issue of community standards.  Rodriquez explains that in a typical public
school system, each school district has its own rules and policies.  Each building and classroom also has its own
rules.  The age appropriate comprehensive
sex education curriculum has to be developed in partnership with community
buy-in.  A curriculum
committee – teachers, parents, community leaders – approve the
curriculum and present it to the school board.  The board then determines what is acceptable within that

Rodriguez points out that in some communities teachers
aren’t allowed to answer any questions not addressed in the approved curriculum
while in other communities’ educators have set up anonymous question boxes
where students can ask anything.

When asked how school districts handle protest to a board-approved curriculum, Rodriguez acknowledged that "The most vocal people are
often the ones who determine what happens. 
People who organize and get others involved can get a curriculum pulled
and abstinence only one put into place. 
That curriculum might not truly reflect the community standards but
rather the standards of a vocal few."

Rodriguez offered the example of a community where opponents
of an approved age appropriate comprehensive sex education curriculum persuaded
their school board to require students to have permission slips signed by a
parent or guardian before being allowed to participate in the class.   "Those women organized to try to get the
curriculum pulled but 95% of the parents signed the slips."  In the end, the community reaffirmed that the
curriculum met their standards.

Not only do communities not need to worry that
kindergartners will be faced with condoms and bananas, but comprehensive sex
education has research on its side. 
Studies have found that abstinence-plus
programs have a positive impact on sexual behavior
, comprehensive
sex education holds the most promise for preventing teen pregnancies and
sexually transmitted infections
and that comprehensive
sex education is better at reducing teen pregnancy than abstinence-only
.  Age appropriate
comprehensive sex education does not silence parents or communities.  Despite protests to the contrary, individuals
and agencies at the federal, state, and local level are all involved in making
curriculum decisions that ultimately determine what students learn in the

The facts go a long way to dispel fears surrounding age
appropriate comprehensive sex education, but supporters of abstinence-only
programs continue to promote their anti-knowledge agenda.  Pro-choice voters must factor in the need to
defend and promote age appropriate comprehensive sex education or we’ll be
looking at four more years of abstinence-only funding — and the consequences of
the failure to educate our youth that goes hand-in-hand with it.

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  • invalid-0

    Is there a generally accepted guideline of what age and developmentally appropriate means. Perhaps a list of subjects by grade level? If so, where can I find it.

    If not, this is something that should be addressed, because it seems to me to be something of a catch all loophole.

  • invalid-0

    The John McCain attack ad purporting that Barack Obama advocates age-appropriate and science-based sex education in schools has again exposed the general lack of understanding that the public has about sex education. Most of the negative comments about Obama on internet blogs seem to make the assumption that the intention of age-appropriate and science-based sex education is to teach very young children about intercourse and other adult sexual activities. That is not what Obama meant and it is not something that young children even have the capacity to grasp.

    What Obama was talking about was warning young children about sexual predators and explaining concepts like “good touch and bad touch.” A specific example would be teaching young children that it is inappropriate to touch ANYONE else without their permission, including other children. This is a very important lesson and one that should be reinforced by teaching the children how to comfortably ask for permission to touch someone and how to say “NO” when they are asked and do not wish to be physically touched in any way. In addition to the problem of sexual predators, children can be very disrespectful to other children and their early experiences, particularly in the public schools, often leave scars that last a lifetime.

    Other industrialized countries that teach age-appropriate and science-based sex education in the public schools have much lower rates of unwanted teenage pregnancy, abortion and STDs. Also, many studies have shown that the more age-appropriate and science-based sex education a person has, ,on average, the longer they will delay the age of initial intercourse.

    It is vital that we all understand the issues involved with this discussion (the very safety of very young as well as older children) and how important they are to all of us, our society and, especially our children.

    Gary Schubach, Ed.D., A.C.S.

  • invalid-0

    Obama and his apologists always try to explain “what he meant” when trying to lessen the impact of his gaffes, inappropriate positions, and controversial votes. Regarding legislation, it really doesn’t matter “what he meant”; what matters is what the bill says. The bill does not confirm Obama’s interpretation of the information which should be disseminated to a 5 year-old, i.e. information regarding how to avoid sexual predators. It only requires “age appropriate” sex education for children from K through 12, but does not define what is “appropriate” for a 5 year-old.

    There is a very long list of items which should be included in a “comprehensive” sexual education program, including, discussions of “unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,including HIV . . . “; and “the possible side effects and health benefits of all forms of contraception, including the success and failure rates for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.” Also on that list is information on “sexual advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances . . . information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance.”

    I noticed when looking at the bill that the original version dealt with grades 6 through 12, and then it was changed to read K through 12. I think the issue for many parents would be this: Do we really want the State to be discussing these issues with our 5 year-olds? I think most people would say no. This is indicative of a serious problem with Obama; on just about any issue, you can count on him to take the most radical approach. Another example of this is abortion. He is not only pro-choice (which I am, also), but he has also supported partial birth abortion and even live birth abortion, which is essentially the killing of a live baby, living outside the mother’s womb, who survived a botched abortion attempt. These radical positions are way out of the mainstream of America, and in my opinion, make Obama an unsuitable candidate for President.

  • invalid-0

    when my niece was 6 years old, she was molested in the women’s restroom at a ymca. she was taking swimming lessons. whomever was in charge, let her use the restroom during the lesson (a group lesson) alone. she came back from the restroom, finished the lesson, was picked up by her mom & dad, went home, and after dinner, several hours after the molestation, she mentioned a man touching her in the bathroom. she, in a 6 year old way, kind of knew it wasn’t right, but didn’t understand what had happened. my family has often suspected that the pervert who molested her might have been caught, had my niece understood that what happened was something she should’ve told the swimming instructor about as soon as she returned from the restroom.
    it wasn’t that my sister and brother-in-law wouldn’t have taught my niece about innapropriate touching if they’d known she’d ever be put in a position to be alone in public. they were very careful, and assumed the ymca would have a policy where a 6 year old would never be left alone.
    i can’t believe anyone could be against giving children enough knowledge to understand certain circumstances. perverts and predators exist, and i am all for doing whatever we can to help kids understand enough to protect themselves.
    and how about a link, not jill stanek, proving this bizarre meme that obama supports “live birth abortion”? never even heard of that. think it’s called murder, and THAT is why obama was against a bill that’s ulterior motive was to chip away at legal abortions. there was already a law covering allowing an infant to die who’d survived a partial birth abortion. i can’t believe so many people are still spouting this lie about obama.

  • invalid-0

    Vivienne: Unfortunately, the bill which Obama supported did not limit sex education to 5 year-olds to a discussion of inappropriate touching. Regarding Obama’s stance on live birth abortion, here are a few links.

    By Steven Mosher
    Few politicians, even those on the far left, dare to support it, but Barack Obama, as a member of the Illinois state legislature, once did.

  • mellankelly1




  • invalid-0

    “Obama and his apologists always try to explain “what he meant”

    What we try to do is cut through the bullshit and lies. Take your post, for instance. If you have ANY evidence other than your fevered and sick imagination that anyone anywhere in the US is discussing any issues beyond learning to protect themselves from pedophiles “with our 5 year-olds”
    do let us know.
    I swear, every election cycle I think that social conservatives could not possible stoop any lower and then y’all prove me wrong. For people who brag on your ‘values’ so much you sure spend a lot of time in the gutter.

  • invalid-0

    Citing Steven Mosher to prove any real point is the equivalent of asking my car mechanic about his views on quantum physics and expecting an informed, illuminated answer….

  • invalid-0

    Let’s see, there was no denying on that date our economy was going to hell in a hand-basket! Did I hear McCain and/or Palin say something like: “please America, now is not the time to bring more children into the world if you can’t afford them. Our financial institutions are at critical mass and our social services will probably suffer budget-cuts for years to follow. People will fall through the cracks and it would be tragic to see more children travel that stark path than need be. Do all you can to prevent unwanted pregnancy, God will understand.”

    No, we didn’t hear that, did we? Big surprise, the GOP lost big-time! All you guys wanting to tell the rest of US who we have sex with and when it’s permitted: how’s your 401k? your job still in India? Home sold yet at the sheriff’s auction? Boss still has that yacht, doesn’t he?

    American History lesson #1: this country was founded upon money – not morality! You fail to make enough of US wealthy-er and you lose in the election. The more you have your party in lock-step, the more it’s fate hangs upon how the top is perceived. For the first time in my life, the entire Democratic ticket I voted for won: Democratic leaders at county level in alomost 30 years and a Democratic congressman not seen since 1882. To say the Republicans really pissed US off is an understatement.

    The stockholders have spoken! Unfortunately the same logic that sunk McCain also sunk expansion of gay rights, but that’s another story.

  • invalid-0

    That does in beds blonde early in the morning?
    seacoast career school: