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Asking the Wrong Questions About Sex Education

05/16/2013 01:02 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2013
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Last week, the "Room for Debate" section of the New York Times asked the question, "At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?" and invited four experts to weigh in.

No room for debate was needed. They agreed with each other, and with the research (imperfect though it may be): Talking and teaching kids about sexuality is something that should be done from an early age, in an "age-appropriate" way, both at home and in schools.

Given the significant accomplishments of the four would-be debaters, it's a shame they didn't use their allotted space to point out what is actually debated about childhood sex education.

Questions like "at what age..." make it seem like there might indeed be room for debate about what's best for children's health or education. Unanimous answers, like "early, often, and age-appropriate" make it clear that there isn't.

Where debate does happen, it is about parents' comfort and the values of adults, even though it masquerades as a concern for kids.

This is perhaps the most tiring part of every debate we have about sexuality education, and about sex more generally, as we've seen recently in debates about same-sex marriage.

Adults on both sides cry out that we need to protect the children. In doing, this they're protecting themselves, throwing kids in front of them like doe-eyed shields.

If we want to actually focus on what's best for kids, we should stop talking about when we start sex education and start talking about what we say and how we say it. If you read the four debaters in this piece, you would think all "liberal" or "progressive" educators only say one thing and always say it the same. We don't. Most people would put me in a category with the four debaters, but I fundamentally disagree with some of what they do, though we agree on when and were to do it.

Even more of us -- left, right, and center -- probably also agree that kids are already learning about sexuality by being in the world, and they are better off if they receive a planned and thoughtful education alongside their socialization. But where we disagree is about what that education looks like and how it is delivered.

That's the where the real room for debate is, and it is a debate worth having, because this is what really impacts the children that grown ups on all sides say they care so much about.

In anticipation of the release of my first book for kids, What Makes a Baby, I'll be blogging over the next few weeks sharing thoughts less on the when and more on the what and how of talking to children of all ages about sexuality, reproduction and gender.