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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Family Role in Sex Education

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 19th 2008

 A very disturbing statistic was published nationwide in newspapers and on television news channels. Specifically, the Center for Disease(CDC)reported its findings in March of 2008 that one in four teenage girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease(STD). For all of our sophistication as an advanced and highly educated society, something is going wrong about the way we are educating boys and girls about sexuality.

WebMD Medical News posted a report on its site about the need of parents to take responsibility for educating their children about sex. Unfortunately, parents continue to find this a difficult task with which to cope. WebMD reports that many families select one occasion to discuss sex with their youngsters, never to raise the issue again. However, once is never enough.

Through the many years of my practice men and women have told me the various ways in which sex education was handled during their childhoods. I have heard stories including:

1. Mom and Dad left a book for me to read on the kitchen table and never said a thing.

2. When I was 5 years old mom told me all the entire story of sex but it was never mentioned again.

3. Sex in our house was a taboo subject and everyone knew it must not be discussed.

4. When I asked where babies come from my father told me that parents go to the pharmacy and ask for a blue pill for a boy and a pink pill for a girl and that's how babies are made.

5. When I asked about where babies come from I was sternly told that was a "dirty subject" and must not ask again.

Another variation on this theme was that I was told that I was too young to ask.

Yet, another variation on the subject was that my mom said that I would know and understand when I was an adult. She never told me how I would know and understand and it was never mentioned again.

6. One older woman remembered how, when she developed her menstrual cycle and told her mother, she was slapped across the face. I later learned that this was not so unusual among a certain generation of women.

7. Others discussed how they were told about the sperm and the egg but it was never made clear how a man and a woman cause the sperm and egg to meet and fertilize.

The stories go on with every kind and type of variation. The sum of all the stories were that kids came away confused and mystified about sex, yet, sensed that they had better not bring it up again.

So as not to appear totally skeptical about people, I will admit that some families handled the issue of sex education quite well, answering their children's questions in ways that were age appropriate, ending in full disclosure when they were old enough to fully comprehend.

For too many adults, sex education implies a course in biology, as though sex organs do not exist. They will discuss sperm and egg but nothing else.

I remember my own High School days, during which there was a short unit on reproduction in our Hygiene class. During those times, hygiene classes were part of the gymnasium experience. It is interesting that sex education was part of "hygiene," implying that there was something dirty going on. During the short unit there were posters on the eternal sperm, egg, fertilization, etc. but nothing on sex organs, masturbation, menstrual cycles, preventing pregnancy, proper behavior during sex, etc.

All the findings are that the more parents talk to their teenagers about sex the less risk there is of pregnancy and of STDs. It is important to remember in teaching kids about sex that protecting against STD is just as important as protecting against pregnancy. The fact is that the girls taking birth control pills will protect against pregnancy but not against STD's.

This is a vitally important topic about which people have very strong opinions, often guided by religious and moral teachings as well as their own early experiences. Everyone's participation is welcome on this all important issue.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    review - khabchi abdelilah ( Morocco) - Sep 8th 2008

    This is a review of an article titled:” the family role in sex education” posted by Allan N.Schwartz, LCSW, PhD on Wed, Mar 19th 2008. Review written by Khabchi Abdelilah on Tuesday 09 2008, Morocco

    I would like to express my opinion about this vitally important topic. Obviously, the family plays a crucial role in educating children about sex and how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted disease (STD) and pregnancy. Hence, the question which arises is which kind of education should parents follow to make their children grow aware about STD? Unfortunately, I see that life in the western culture plays a detrimental effect in the life of adolescents. That is to say, if we take a short glimpse, for instance, at Western Media, we will find out that it is filled with a lot of temptations that awaken easily the sexual instinct of people in general. Thus, we can notice that kids are the first ones who are straightforwardly infected by these media drawbacks because they are most of the time curious. So do not be surprised if the findings say that one in four teenager girls is infected with a STD.

    who is to be blamed then? In my standpoint, the western style of life is the real culprit who must be held responsible for AIDS and illegal children and anarchy overall. Drinking alcohol at an early age without any parents control and watching immoral movies or advertisements that are against the noble human values, for example, are clearly negative factors that can affect their sexual behaviour in future. Obviously, children are at the stage of learning and they can learn everything from their parents and society, especially if this later allows sexual intercourse without any moral organized rule. Certainly, they will look for the opportunity to discover and to make into practice what they see in the media (or in the street). Consequently, they fall into committing big mistakes which are unacceptable by any civilized ethical society.

    So who is responsible? I believe that the way in which parents bring up their children is originally wrong. I see that many parents in the West let their teenagers drink alcohol, which consists of substances that weaken the mental capacity little by little. Why do parents normalize illegal cohabitation in the mind of their children? ( boyfriend ; girlfriend).In other words, why not instilling moral ideas in their mind from the age of adolescence that sex must be done only in the institution of marriage; otherwise, they will live in predicaments all the rest of their life.This is what I see in the western civilization.

    I have many friends living in USA and Canada who have got kids form illegal cohabitations. On the contrary, we rarely find this phenomenon in Eastern cultures that adopt its way of life from religion (Islam), which denies illegal relations and encourages marriage. Instead of teaching children about sex and how to use condoms or pills to protect themselves against STD and pregnancy, parents, I believe, must teach their kids from childhood that sex out of marriage is something totally forbidden by the law of God. It is a question of belief in the constitution of what is supernatural that firstly rejects dehumanization. As far as I am concerned, living a pure material life without any spiritual law means living in chaos that may lead one day to self-destruction.

    Editor's Note: Forbiding children to have sex out of marriage doesn't work very well here in the West, even for parents who are devoutly religious (witness the current American Republican nominee for Vice President and her pregnant, not-married daughter ). Believing that sex outside of marriage is against God's will doesn't stop teens from wanting to have sex here; rather, it seems to make it more enticing to them. Your suggested policy also fails to take into account that the West is a pluralistic society with many different religious groups (and many completely secular people) living together.  It is not possible to talk about the "will of God" with regard to all those groups of people without doing violence to how many of those groups understand God's will (e.g., reasonable people cannot agree on what God desires). This is perhaps not the case in Morocco.  It would be nice to have a policy to follow that would legitimately reduce unwanted teen pregnancy.  However, another variation on purely "abstainence-only" sexual education isn't going to work for the West.  

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