As a sex educator and mom, I am endlessly amazed by the irrational fears about teaching kids about sexuality. It's getting so insane, that in an underhanded campaign ad, John McCain has challenged Barack Obama for supporting age-appropriate sex education. Why are we so afraid of our kids learning about subjects that are normal and natural? Sexuality education isn't about encouraging students to have sex; sexuality education is about giving students the tools to feel good about themselves, their bodies, and eventually, the skills to evaluate many decisions about sex and relationships (friendships, too!). And this type of education begins the minute you bring a baby into your home. From the words you use to describe the parts hidden by their diapers to the types of toys you shower them with, everything counts. They are always learning; we are always teaching (even when we may think otherwise).
May I be so bold? Sex and sexuality are not dirty words. Sexuality is a part of our overall health. Sexuality is an essential part of our identities from birth on. All of us are sexual beings. The act of sex is a small part of the "sexuality" umbrella. Sexuality includes our sense of gender, gender roles, reproductive and genital anatomy, different types of families, roles we play in relationships and friendships, our sexual orientation, our physical and emotional development, and eventually, sex behaviors.
The recent McCain attack had to do with the kindergarten set, so let's look at it. Shouldn't five-year-olds know the correct names of their body parts? Shouldn't they know that stereotypical gender roles don't apply any more? Don't we want our daughters to know that they can become doctors and that our sons can become (and should become) emotionally involved and supportive men? Shouldn't our children know that families come in all different shapes and sizes but the one thing that all families have in common is love? Shouldn't our children know that their genitals are important and special places that only they (or a doctor during an exam) should touch? If you answer "yes," you are in support of early sexuality education.
And yes, I practice what I preach. My three-year-old son knows that females have vulvas and males have penises. He isn't afraid of language; he is empowered by it. He knows that when a woman is pregnant, a fetus grows in her uterus (not her stomach or belly). He knows that there is nothing wrong with liking The Little Mermaid or other Disney Princesses. He also knows that while he has a mom and dad, not all of his friends do. Some have two dads, two moms, one mom, a grandparent, and everything else. Perhaps most importantly, he knows that no question he has is off limits.
I recognize that while talking about sexuality is easy for me, it is a daunting task for others. Which is why I wrote a parenting book on the subject (Third Base Ain't What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning About Sex Today -- and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults) so that all families could step up to plate (pardon the pun) and create healthy environments to talk about sexuality (including the facts as well as personal family values) in light of our sexually charged and challenged world.
Let's not stick our heads in the sand. Let's not pretend that sexuality isn't an important part of who we are.
Let us collectively raise a generation of children who feel good in their own skin, who are tolerant and respectful of others, who make thoughtful and educated decisions, and who always know that their parents are available to answer any question they have without the fear of judgment.
At the end of the day, yes, I wholeheartedly support comprehensive sexuality education. For goodness sake, that's what I do for a living. But keep in mind that the purpose of school sex education is not to usurp parental responsibility. School-based sex education can only supplement what we are supposed to be doing at home each and every day. It's our job and it starts early.