Guns and Genitals: Sex-Ed Montana Style

This article was originally published by Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ).

Seems to me that simple, clear communication works best, even with young kids. When there is a threat or an opportunity I let my kids know in plain and simple terms.  No running with scissors.  Walk near the edge of a pool.  Put the matches down.  So far this plain-talking strategy has kept ER visits to a minimum and led to a relatively peaceful life with 2 pre-schoolers.

Judging from the turbulence caused by a sex ed curriculum under consideration by the School Board in Helena, MT, there are people who disagree.  According to Fox News, some local parents are in a tizzy about their kindergartners learning the actual words for their body parts, including those covered by their bathing suits.  When we as parents want to, and need to, communicate important information to our kids (or hear important information from them), why wouldn’t we use the right words?  Their objections to the curriculum go on from there, but it seems grounded in the same basic fear of information.

The data, as usual, supports a reasonable approach.  Teens who have accurate information, resources and support around their bodies and sexuality are better armed to make the daily decisions that affect their well-being both now and into the future.  According to recent research, the average age for first-time sex for white Evangelical Protestants is 16, among the earliest average age for any group. They are also the least likely of any group of teens to use contraception, and the most likely to have been given abstinence-only sex ed, which I guess avoids using actual names for body parts until pretty late in the game.

This from the Dallas Observer last year:

In “Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools,” researchers David Wiley and Kelly Wilson of Texas State University took a comprehensive look at how sexuality is taught in Texas public schools. The short answer: It isn’t really. Kids are, however, being taught: A) sex will KILL YOU DEAD RIGHT NOW; B) only depressive, suicidal, loser slut bunnies ever have sex outside of marriage; and C) condoms kill more people than handguns.

Despite the fact that Texas ranks third in the rate of teen pregnancies and that its students are more sexually active and that they have more sex partners than the average U.S. student, sex ed here is nearly exclusively devoted to abstinence education, often with a religious bent. Information about contraception, disease prevention and STD testing is most often scarce or, worse, wildly inaccurate.

Like Texas, many of the same States that resist comprehensive sex ed are the same places that pride themselves on loose laws for gun ownership.  Gun-rights advocates maintain that straight-forward education, not regulation and licensing, is the best way to keep kids safe.

The National Rifle Association leads the way: they have a cool program called Eddie Eagle, aimed at exactly the same age group those parents are up in arms about learning about their own bodies.   According to the site, the curriculum is designed to be used in schools.  Anyone can use it–you don’t need to be an NRA member or certified to teach anything at all.  The curriculum is even available in Spanish. 

According to the NRA, it doesn’t aim to teach kids that guns are either “good or bad”, but rather how to stay safe when you see one. “Like swimming pools, electrical outlets, matchbooks and household poison, they’re treated simply as a fact of everyday life. With firearms found in about half of all American households, it’s a stance that makes sense.”

I don’t have a gun in the house, but I can agree with that line of thinking.  Like it or not, guns are around, so kids at an early age should learn how to be safe around them.

Now, genitals, at my last count, are in 100 percent of households. Why not use the same common sense approach that knowledge is power, and give our kids straight forward, age appropriate information? 

That is exactly why a new toolkit launched by EMERJ called The New Sex Ed is so important.  The toolkit uses community tested strategies to help parents and educators implement useful and effective comprehensive sex ed programs. Given the fight the Right has picked against teaching science, health, and touchy subjects like evolution and global warming, advocates for the truth need great resources like these to support parents, communities and school boards in making informed choices about educating their kids.

I also want to give parents in Texas and Montana credit.  The Dallas Observer article also says that polls show that the overwhelming majority of Texans want teens to get accurate, useful information about sexual health, but until this report, “legislators and other policymakers had no idea what sexuality education looked like in the state and neither did parents.”

I have a feeling that most parents in Montana want the same thing.  Fox News’s distortions not withstanding, parenting young kids is good at teaching us all one thing: Facts Please.

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  • jaydl

    I am aghast at the many adult Americans, themselves former teens, who are trying to quiet and stifle teen sexuality instead of helping young people to develop into sexually mature and responsible adults! Particularly when it’s so clear that avoidance tactics and abstinence-only platforms are extraordinarily counter-productive.

    While I don’t agree that the NRA has great ideas to advance (and I’m suspicious of an “educational” program that it seeks to put into schools!), I heartily agree with this author’s thrust. Don’t run from risk — address it.

  • tonys

    It is funny how close the NRA and Pro-Abortion (NARAL and such) folks are in their thinking.  They both dread any government control on their perceived rights and will fight tooth and nail to stop, what even seem like reasonable controls (assault weapons ban for the NRA and partial birth abortion ban for NARAL folks).  Hey, they even share 3 core letters, A, N and R.  NRAers claim to be conservative and want government out of gun control, but most are pro-life and want government controls on women’s “reproductive” rights.  NARALers are liberals who generally agree with government implementing and enforcing gun control laws yet want government to stay away from controlling “reproductive” rights.


    It’s funny how two diametrically opposed groups (mostly) can agree that government should stay out of issues that they are in favor of, but should jump into issues that they oppose.  In the end, it falls upon your definition of what “truth” is so I can’t disagree with people who don’t want the government teaching their elementary school children what anal sex and homosexual relationships are about and I can’t disagree with parents who have given over the responsibility of raising their kids to the government and can’t/won’t spend the time it takes to teach their kids about healthy sexuality so they want the schools to do it.  I guess no one is really right or wrong, just different.


    It is who gets to decide these things that matters and one side will be mad and the other will be glad.

  • arekushieru

    They will fight tooth and nail against what seem like UNreasonable controls, you mean to say….  If you are ProChoice, of COURSE the majority of you are going to support gun laws.  After all, we believe in the freedom to prevent others from infringing on our rights, while those who oppose gun laws believe in the freedom to infringe on other’s rights, kinda like the current envisioning of the ProLife movement is attempting to do.


    Btw, I have never met anyone who is Pro-Abortion for others.  I am ProChoice for others, Pro-Abortion for myself.  Please, get it right.


    So, you can’t disagree with parents who DO want their children to be taught about homosexual relationships and/or anal sex?  You just passed it off as parents just wanting to hand over the teaching of healthy sexuality to the government and ‘slough off’ their responsibility, after all, which is wrong.  Because, you see, I think it IS the responsibility of professional outside educators to teach core subjects.  And you can’t get much more ‘core’ than sex, now can you?  Which means, there is another side of the coin that others, like you yourself, always seem to miss.  Not all parents understand even the most basic procedures of sex, because they, themselves, WEREN’T TAUGHT.  And almost all parents don’t understand everything there is to know about those procedures, because they aren’t *professionals* in the field, that have taken courses and studied it all their lives.  And it is far more difficult to talk to one’s parents about sex, then it is to talk to an outside individual.  My parents are pretty knowledgeable and open, but even I had more difficulty talking to them, than my sex-ed teacher in school.

  • squirrely-girl

    …I can’t disagree with people who don’t want the government teaching their elementary school children what anal sex and homosexual relationships are about…


    First, I think the stereotype/fear-mongering about what comprehensive/non abstinence-only sex ed would look like is just WRONG! All comprehensive sex ed programs are taught with AGE APPROPRIATE content and materials. Contrary to fundie fears, it IS possible to teach about healthy sexuality without engaging elementary school kids in discussions of anal sex… just as it’s possible to discuss healthy sexuality at those ages without giving graphic descriptions of ANY sex act (oral, penile-vaginal, hand jobs, rim jobs, etc.). Comprehensive sex ed at the elementary school level is primarily concerned with children understanding their anatomy and physiology as well as knowing what appropriate sexual boundaries are. 


    Second, plenty of straight couples engage in anal sex and homosexual relationships are about the same things heterosexual relationships are about: two people loving each other. 

  • hekate

    Schools teach about language, history, math, science, etc. so why not sexuality education? My parents knew arithmetic, but they didn’t understand algebra so I had a math teacher for that. My parents knew of gravity, but they didn’t understand all scientific theories, so I had a science teacher for that. My parents knew about sex, but they weren’t trained in sexual health and honestly, I didn’t want to talk to my parents about sex. You don’t expect children to learn about physiology or psychology from their parents, so why expect them to learn about sexuality? Sexuality is more complicated than the penis goes into the vagina and eventually you get a baby. 


    I had sex ed in high school, but I didn’t even pay attention to it because the teacher told us straight up that the school forbid her from talking about abortion, homosexuality, and a third topic I can’t recall. Since she couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me everything, I figured why should I listen to her? She can’t be trusted to give accurate information if she omits pieces. I imagine children who receive abstinence-only education or education from a parent with some kind of aversion to sexuality feel the same way.