Coming to this country from India in the late 1980s, the concept of school-based sex education (SBSE) was totally foreign to me. However, one thing was very clear: teenage pregnancy rates were extremely lower in India compared that in the United States, even though SBSE was and still is almost non-existent in India. The utility of SBSE still remains unclear and dubious to me. Being a mental health professional, I’m fully aware I’m in a small minority questioning and challenging the value of SBSE. I understand most scientific and medical communities largely support comprehensive sex education (CSE) and criticize abstinence-only sex education. Maybe my divergent opinion is a product of my substantial exposure to radically different cultures. I’m of the opinion that drawing upon the wisdoms and experiences of different cultures helps achieve a balanced life view. This assists me in guiding my patients around life dilemmas.
Parents vs. Schools
It seems to me, over the past several decades in American culture, the role of parental guidance has greatly diminished, and the role of schools has been overemphasized. Parents have increasingly become detached from their obligation and children have been saddled with making tricky life choices on their own. When it comes to the sexual behavior of children, the general acceptance of sex as mere recreation plays a part too. I believe it should be the parents, who have vested emotional interests in children, not the teachers or school counselors, who should be talking to children about intricacies of sexuality. At the very least, parents should play a larger role than the schools.
Physical vs. Emotional Consequences
Most SBSE programs stem from concern about physical consequences of sexual activity such as teen pregnancies and sexually trans-mitted diseases. I don’t believe that’s the right starting point. The emotional consequences could be much more devastating and therefore should be both the starting and focal point of any sex education program. The physical consequences are always accompanied by emotional consequences.
Girls vs. Boys
In our zeal to equalize life experiences among women and men, we tend to forget different consequences of certain behaviors for the two sexes. When a girl and a boy engage in sexual intercourse,
it is only the girl who can get pregnant. It is only females who must decide to carry or to not carry the baby. The emotional baggage and responsibilities are much greater for them. I don’t know about you, but it makes complete sense to me to put more weight on this aspect of sexual behavior when we talk to younger women. Simply put, both physical and emotional risks of unwise sexual behavior are much greater for females than males.
Comprehensive Sex Ed vs. Abstinence
The best way to avoid the consequences is to altogether avoid engaging in the action in question. Putting value systems and religions aside, this seems to me to be the best argument for abstinence for children. I have never met minors from any ethnic, cultural, or religious backgrounds with normal development who have difficulty learning about sexuality during nor-mal life experiences. I believe it’s a total myth our children need to be given a course on sexual behavior. What about giving a course on relationships? I’ve never come across one. The real problem is adults aren’t good role models when it comes to sexuality. Instead of changing our behavior and creating better role models for our children, we invest our money and efforts into “educating” our children about sex, so we don’t have to deal with the undesirable consequences of their behavior, which is modeled after ours.
So, what are the solutions?
Every school should offer a course to parents or caregivers on how to talk to their children about sex. Many parents find it uncomfortable to talk about this topic. The focal point of this course should be an emphasis on emotional consequences, self-respect, and self-preservation. The different consequences for girls and boys should be greatly emphasized. We must also look at our adult sexual culture, make changes, and be better role models for our children.
*This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist, a researcher, an author, and an educator. He has been recognized by Ohio NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) as a recipient of the Psychiatrist of the Year Award, and by National NAMI as a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award. Dr. Ranjan is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for the NAMI of Greater Cleveland. Please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at askthedoctor@ charakcenter.com. From time to time, he will address some of these questions in this column. All contact information will be kept confidential.