Why Do Schools Teach Sex Education?

Why are school teachers tasked with teaching students about sexual education? Today, Danielle explores how sex ed ended up in America’s schools!

Written and Hosted by: Danielle Bainbridge
Produced by Complexly for PBS Digital Studios
#SexEd #SexEducation #OriginOfEverything

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Origin of Everything is a show about the undertold histories and cultural dialogues that make up our collective story. From the food we eat, to the trivia and fun facts we can’t seem to get out of our heads, to the social issues we can’t stop debating, everything around us has a history. Origin of Everything is here to explore it all. We like to think that no topic is too small or too challenging to get started.

Works Cited:

Jonathan Zimmerman Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education

Sylvester Graham, Lectures on Chastity (1834)

Benjamin S. Warren, and Charles F. Bolduan. “War Activities of the United States Public Health Service.” Public Health Reports (1896-1970) 34, no. 23 (1919): 1243-267. doi:10.2307/4575183.

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  1. Teachers can now be informed and taught how to approach it.. thanks to both mordern day biology/life science teaching and health class (whether you may learn about drugs and it's history… and of course sex, stds/stis, rape, consent, etc.) but yet due to the USA being held in between religious morals (most religions if anything.. there may be some that aren't too offended by it.. I think Paganism was one.. but i forget >x<) and the country's future and the ones who will be the ones making the future happen (chldren, preteens, teens, & young legal adults). I found an article about a year or 2 ago that made me and my friends had to read.. The article was about parents/adults in the US were questioning about why many European countries and Japan had the brain cells to think sex education should be taught starting at 5.. unfortunatel not many of my friends ever remembered asking "where do babies come from" or "why does [he/she] doesn't have what i have?" (if referring to a friend, a sibling, or a cousin their age for a few examples who are the opposite gender). And I think the article reported that adults either said they never did whether or not they truly didn't, didn't think they did/didn't remember at all, or were in complete utter denial (even though they know/remembered they did.. and jsut lied). But they then were wondering how their teen pregnancy in those specific European Countries countries and Japan was little to none at all… when they are taught all of this starting from kindergarten..My friends were wondering the same thing.. but then I said "I don't know.. but i think they know more and 100% correct information about condoms, masturbation, and birth control… versus religious facts/morals to it or to maybe just not enough to none at all."
    Makes sense doesn't it, right?

    ((making the following below the last thing since i edited this comment with adding the above))
    P.S. Also I had the book "Where did I come from" OwO I was 4 (almost 5) and it was at the time my parents annouced that there will be a new baby soon in our home.. making my older brother now the oldest of 2 kids and making me not only a younger sister but also an older sister. Funny enough is years ago while my sister (she was 20 and I was 25… this year I turned 30 and she recently turned 25 earlier the current month (July… when the video came out I turned 30 6 days before this video upload) we were cleaning out the basement and we found this book.. she literally asked "when did we get this book" and i answered simpling with "while you were still in 'mommy's tummy.'" Of course she gave me a weird look but then she got why we had it and she looked at it and got it was child friendly picture book of reproducing. I think we still have the book somewhere at my mom's house.. but if not… I'm grateful we did (also i do know of the books; just for boys, just for girls, it's not the stork, & how babies are made.. even though we didn't have those books.. i was familiar with seeing them growing up).

  2. The same backlash against sex ed still persists today, where in 2019 there is an ongoing protest at a school in Birmingham over the inclusion of LGBT relationships in lessons as an attempt to tackle homophobic attitudes. The same arguments have cropped up, about leaving it up to the parents, and about not wanting to expose children to so much sexuality at such a young age (even though by the time they reach Primary school they have already seen countless heterosexual couples on the street and on TV).

    To be clear, the lessons do not focus on the sex side of LGBT, but instead are all about the social context: that some children will have two mothers or two fathers, that sometimes you'll see two boys or two girls holding hands, etc. So it isn't so much that they're being taught about sex, but rather they're learning about the society in which they live, and that seeing an LGBT couple should not be any more unusual than seeing a straight couple.

  3. I mean you'd think the conservatives would have learned….telling them not to have sex doesn't work…it's better to teach them to have safe sex :p

  4. They limit Black History to one month , and doin’t want to teach it anyway ! They doin’t want prayer in school . But they push sex education like Hell !

  5. My mom is a retired RN who worked in labor and delivery. When she had an eleven year old girl come in, in labor, that was about the time she 100% that YES, sex ed should be taught in schools! She always signed me up for the courses, and I had my first official class in school on the topic at age 10. She also bought me books and taught me quite a bit on her own time.

    Because G*d forbid she EVER have a child giving birth to a child in her assigned rooms again.

  6. I think Communists, unions, foreigners,etc. have infiltrated our schools to teach out children the communist doctrine that says if they can brainwash and indoctrinate one generation, they can change and hijack our great country, steal our freedom and liberty and destroy us. Religion, sex education, politics, etc. have no place in our schools, that's the parents job. We have handed over our children to the schools, government,etc. and we see how that's going! Wake up parents!

  7. A couple things that get overlooked with these issues (in my opinion):
    Hygiene and other sexual health needs of each gender (aside from intercourse), think period care for example.
    And in the case of abstinence until marriage, what after marriage? It just pushes the ball down the field, not dealing with the actual issue. What to expect and how to be healthy when sexually active. Those issues exist weather you are in a monogamous marriage or not.
    And remember, these are things that are new, awkward and embarrassing for teenagers to talk about. And with social taboos, wanting to ask questions they might have is that much more difficult.
    I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and am all for abstinence until marriage. But I am also very aware how that vast majority of the world is not. But that’s the issue, when educating the masses, you have to take in to consideration the needs of everyone, not just those screaming the loudest.

  8. Health education (physical and psychological – sex included) is still lacking tremendously at home as well as in schools in the south. I’m limiting myself to this area because this is where I moved and still live for more that 20 years now. Why do I say that? Y’all know why. But I’m not going to say the obvious. I hate the subject as much as I hate politics.

    US still has a long way to reach that level of mass education . But there is no money nor money making in that. Only the idiot can be exploited and the “for profit” knows that full well. So: good luck! 👍🏻

  9. The school system goes about it the wrong way. Children should be taught to follow the examples of birds who build their nests BEFORE laying eggs. They should be taught about the value of human life and the need to prepare for it long before having sex and engaging in reproduction. Not passing out breakable condoms to encourage premarital sex before making a home. Teach the children common sense that feathered fowl apparently have (intuition). Build first , reproduce after. It can be done.

  10. I remember taking sex ed in the seventh grade along with the DARE program. The banana condom demonstration. The graphic depictions of venereal diseases. And the last weekend before summer they made us partner up and take care of this creepily lifelike doll with a keyhole in its back. Pretty hi tech for the time, it had sensors in it to detect if it had been dropped or hit and would cry randomly throughout the weekend. You had to hold a turnkey in its back to keep it quiet. The night it was my turn to take care of it, the damned thing cried for eleven hours and I fell asleep holding the key in its back.

  11. I believe that research has proven that comprehensive sex education (so not abstinence focused) lowers the numbers of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
    (Young) people have the right to information that benefits their health and overall well-being.
    I believe the primary task of providing that information should be the parents/care givers, but because some won't do so, I believe it's the governments responsibility to provide it.

  12. I have a huge problem with you asking “if schools should be in the business of teaching sexual education”. You asking that shows just how much you “americans” think of everything as a business, a structure in which to make monetary profits. Academic and social education is not to be a business. It is a right that children have, and they do have the right to know about their bodies and their options.

  13. My school actually focused a lot of making sure we knew everything about sex from mentally, diseases, pregnancy, contraception, and even the type of birth control, healthy relationships, and even how not to be petty when breaking up.

  14. I remember when the whole Dr. Elders thing happened. I was in one of my last years of sex ed (where I went to school you didn't take it past 9th grade) and my teacher focused on the (safe) sex part of sex ed. But then that happened, and people got upset, so the school district went around checking up on the classes being taught, and apparently my teacher faked teaching Abstinence Education really well, because our class ended up bring profiled by Nightline regarding the 'new' focus on abstinence in schools. And by the time I took biology there was the choice (opt-out) to learn about the human body, all stemming from the early 1990s.

  15. Idk how i never heard of you before. you are such a good host for this show. pbs as always another quality well reasearched edutainment series. Hats off

  16. 'm sorry, but there is nothing wrong with a parent choosing when to teach and nurture their children to be prepared for the practice and subject of sex, whether they are religious or not and to say there is, is to deprive children of what should be a human right of developing a natural strong and close bond, understanding and nurturing from from their mother and father. It is like saying you no longer think a parent deciding when their child should be taught to bathe themselves, learn to speak, learn to to eat, learn to use the toilet and much else that is natural and bonds families as they teach and nurture their children on these matters should be put in the hands of schools. People gain their most powerful lessons that lead to them learning about sex and the family from their families and parents or relationships their single parents have by observation as nature intends for them and other life forms to learn. Attacking religion for insisting a healthy process of nature for children and the family is not disrupted is lain wrong and dangerous. There is nothing we have made to replace nature that has ever compared to what nature has delivered for us naturally. What is shocking is that government school policies are being implemented to disrupt this natural process, encouraging children to grow up to no longer understand that the purpose of sex is to create children. To no longer understand that the reason one has sexual urges is that there body is getting ready to produce children. These truths should be common sense and the very pillars of learning about sex, and are what children are taught through natural process of the relation ships with their parents and yet those who fight for children's rights to maintain these learning through natural process are being ridiculed as bigots, backward or un-progressive. It's as stupid as ridiculing a parent for teaching their child natural foods are more healthy for them than chocolates, cakes and crisps and telling parents the school will teach the child from the age of 4 or 5 crisps are more healthy than natural foods so a fat child is not bullied and does not feel terrible being fat. It all makes no sense. The most important thing is we teach children to love and respect their brothers and sisters no matter what to stop bullying and if they do we have failed. Children need not be stripped of their rights to naturing and learning about natural life from their parents and family which bonds them closer and raises their sense of trust and understanding of family love and life. The idea human beings learning most about the relationships that create and build loving homes for children from their parents can be replaced by schools is a fraudulent disgrace that like feeding children cakes everyday will have natural long term repercussions on our societies. Sexual relationships are taught by nature first through a child observation of their parents as is the case with other human life and this process of natural learning is being threatened by schools teaching children things that disrupt nature's process that intends to teach prepare children for the understanding that children and families are produced by having sex and the purpose of sex is to produce children. The fact we choose to practice sex for other objectives should never let us or our children stop understanding what sex really is for or we are a less intelligent being. Peace and love

  17. HAHAHAA! Sometimes I wonder if I watch this as much for what cool stuff the host wears & what's in the globe, as for the historical content.

  18. Giggling? As someone who was fascinated by reproduction from a very early age, the “embarrassment” many people face their children with when discussing sex just seems frustratingly dull to me. If a kid asks how babies are made, just bloody tell them. Yeesh.

  19. I learnd everything I know about puberty from school because my mom was uncofertable talking about it so she didnt. In a christian household I am expected to not have sex but my mom has told me (in our one veary short talk) that if i want birth control She will take me to get it. that is literaly all my mom has talked with me about it.

  20. I challenge anybody to Research Kindsey report. Government hired and funded a crazy man to exploite and experiment with children. He set the standard of sex ed in our school. His headquarters was at a college that still stands today. I dare you to dig deep.

  21. I honestly think that parents should choose if they should teach their kids sex Ed because, it’s important for teens to understand that because sadly, many people don’t even know that you need protection

  22. If a KID (/pre/teen) is too immature to use birth control then they’re way too immature to have a baby & deal with the harsh responsibilities & emotional weight of that.

    It’s just safer to teach them masterbation, birth control & give them some basic items for it (Deodorant, Tampons, Condoms, etc)

  23. I never got sex education. The only time I heard the birds and the bees was after my second period. I also thought that I caught a disease or was dying, not having a normal body function. My mom also just told me the bare minimum so after I searched on the internet to learn more about periods.

  24. i went to a catholic school. girls and boys were put in different classrooms for "family life planning" which was a week of "sex ed" instead of our usual religion course. girls were told you will get your period and it will hurt. boys were told sperm meets egg and that's a baby. all of this information was hidden within the normal religious spiel. abstinence was suggested.

    thankfully, this was all common knowledge to me bc my mom told me e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g concerning sex ed at a young age & she always answered my questions. i feel that i've always had a healthy perspective on sex bc of this.

  25. Discussions about Sex Ed so often pigeonhole it as somehow an isolated topic, seemingly separate from other areas of knowledge. You don't need Sex Ed to make babies: In fact, studies show that you get more babies without Sex Ed! Which is why so many confuse and conflate fuzzy definitions of "Sex Ed" with equally fuzzy definitions of "Birth Control".

    Yes, a lack of Sex Ed can indeed cause more babies. But you tend to get younger parents for those babies. Parents less ready for the ensuing decades of parenthood. You also get more sick babies, and more premature babies. And more sick parents. Lower rates of high school graduation and college attendance. Worse overall life outcomes for both the parents and their children.

    Sex Ed isn't a one-and-done panacea for these problems. In fact, the biological and medical sides of Sex Ed are the least important parts of it! What matters far more are the social and emotional aspects, the context of maturing one's mind in parallel with one's body. The body will mature no matter what. But it sets a clock ticking that has other impacts when the body fully matures before the mind is ready to cope with the implications.

    First, Birth Control is just that: Being aware of and in control of every part of the process from being a pre-pubescent to intentionally becoming (or not becoming) a parent. I really hate the word "Prevention" used in this context. It's like calling Driver's Education "Crash Prevention". In reality, the goal isn't merely to manage a single outcome (desired or otherwise), but to understand and successfully participate in the entire process.

    I think the basis for Sex Ed should rest on three legs of a knowledge stool. First, start with Gender Studies, both within the human domain and in nature as a whole, combined with Social Studies and Civics, where we learn how to function as individuals within society. Second, ensure a basic education in biology and the related sciences.

    Third is to learn how to reason about issues that have both factual and emotional components. How to detect one's own ignorance, how to remedy it, and how to constructively share and consider differing views. How to cope with feelings that may be stirred by social, mental and biological sources. How to not rely on others teaching you everything, but to become a curious observer of one's self and the surrounding world, forming and asking questions, then seeking answers.

    This third leg is sorely lacking. For example, I believe students should be exposed to mental/emotional tools like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and it's spin-offs) well before the start of puberty. Also the reasoning needed to understand how to conduct detailed online searches that reveal useful and accurate information, and determine when they haven't found reliable information.

    Personally, I was very fortunate to have had 3 months of Debate and Rhetoric while in 5th grade. The goal wasn't to simply learn how to win an argument or be persuasive, but to understand the communication tools involved, and how to use them. Which meant learning how to think in ways that even made them useful in the first place, to develop both a body of knowledge and lines of reasoning. Those brief few months converted school from primarily a social experience burdened with homework, to being something that could make me a much more able person, unafraid to discuss difficult or awkward issues, especially with adults.

    It is beyond awesome to watch young minds become empowered with such tools. To see them applied to themselves, each other, and the world at large. They won't enter the adult world knowing everything in advance, but they can be trusted to know how to find what they need.

    At some point, we all must accept that no school system can teach every student what they need to know, and that relatively few parents are able to fill in all the gaps. Students must enter the world able to figure things out on their own, independent of what they have or have not learned from school, their parents, or society at large.

    Sex Ed doesn't need to teach all the details! Just explore the general territory, reason about key factors and issues, and emphasize the personal responsibility component of both the fun (and risks) of sex and the joy (and work) of prepared parenting. With the three legs of the stool in place, Sex Ed could be quite brief. Without all three legs, it could easily be the case that no amount of Sex Ed would be enough.

    Stop treating Sex Ed as a "thing" off in its own corner! It's simply one more aspect of being an individual in society. Let's focus on that.

  26. This is just really sad…its a mandate to have schools teach our children about sex yet school dont make it a mandate to talk about money management and finances…smh…and you wonder why there's an increase of single mothers and the US is in trillions of dollars in debt…side eye

  27. The main things I remember about sex ed were deeply uncomfortable male gym teachers having to teach it and watching a lot of videos that were about 20 years old. I also remember it getting worse over the years? In 5th grade they gave us pretty good information on puberty, in middle school they tried, even though the health classes put way more emphasis on "don't do drugs" and in high school it was laughably bad, literally their idea about teaching us about STIs was making us do words scrambles.

  28. It never fails to amaze me how prudish the US as a nation is. I grew up in Catholic, conservative Italy, and got comprehensive sex ed in school provided by actual sex educators. Like… not even at church they bothered with the "abstinence only" crap….

  29. I remember when I took sex Ed in school they taught us about the g-spot, anterior fornix, and milking the prostate on the last day.
    It was extremely informative and…uh…controversial.🙂

  30. I've been seriously considering writing a sex ed/puberty book for kids. Before this video, it hadn't occurred to me that it could be used in classrooms too. Thanks for the idea.

  31. I live in Germany and somehow slipped through the gaps of disorganized sex ed in schools. But as teenagers we all read BRAVO magazine and that got the basics across.
    I am now in the process of becoming a teacher myself and have colleagues talk about their sex ed classes. Mostly I find them disappointingly hetero- and cisnormative =/

  32. Yeah, my sexual education sucked. They told us love was a limited resource like oil and every time you had sex, you gave away your love. They told us that’s why celebrity relationships didn’t last that long. Probably two seconds on condoms and nothing about birth control or the freaking bloody goop coming out of my vagina every month.

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