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Wisconsin’s Tussle Over Sex Ed

on Apr 13, 2010 | Sex ed Adolescent health | 0 comments

Wisconsin’s Governor recently signed into law the Healthy Youth Act, a measure that requires schools in the state to update their human growth and development curricula to offer age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education. This includes information on the use of birth control and contraceptives.

Good for them, and I hope they have thick skins and steeled nerves. They’ll need them.

In late March – one month after the act became law – Scott Harold Southworth, district attorney of Wisconsin’s Juneau county, sent a chilling letter to school administrators and board members in his community to gently point out any teacher who complies with the new law could, oh, end up in jail for as long as six years. Gulp…I’ve never set foot in Wisconsin, but just reading the letter leaves me jittery and wanting to retain counsel.

Mr. Southworth claims the updated courses “promote the sexualization – and sexual assault- of our children.” He, somewhat bizarrely, compares teaching teens about condom use to offering instruction on alcohol and making mixed drinks (!) and warns that teachers who comply with the new law may be subject to arrest and prosecution for violating state statutes dealing with contributing to childhood delinquency. Words like “incarcerate,” “felony,” and “illegal” set the tone, with the occasional “adjudicate” tossed in for that lawyerly feel. Intimidated, much? Imagine how the educators must feel.

It is a discredited bromide that comprehensive sex ed courses give teens the idea (and permission) to have sex. A 10-year government funded study released in 2007 found abstinence-only sexual education programs to be ineffective in delaying sexual activity and reducing the number of partners among teens.

The assertion that teaching teens how to use condoms will somehow light the path to steamy romps on prom night is silly. The reality is that by the time they leave high school, most teens become sexually active. It’s also a fact that of the 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections estimated to occur each year in the U.S., about half are in those ages 15-24. Think about that: 9.5 million new STIs annually in adolescents and young adults alone!

The ludicrous notion that instructing teen-agers in safer sexual practices encourages them to have sex makes as much sense as suggesting that equipping cars with seat belts causes people to speed or drive recklessly. And, no, seat belts don’t guarantee you’ll be safe in a wreck, but the smart money says to wear one anyway. Young people discover sex quite nicely on their own; the question is do we pretend it isn’t happening, or instead provide them with healthy guidance to decrease STIs and unintended pregnancies?

Fred Wyand (aka Fredo)



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