I learned about sex from the streets. In the working-class Little Italy in South Philly where I was born and raised, it’s where you found out anything you wanted to know. The older kids were fonts of wisdom. They didn’t always know what they were talking about, but you listened to them anyway, because they had more a lot more experience than you did with the important things in life.
It was definitely better than listening to the nuns. According to them, touching yourself “down there” (they never specified exactly where, but somehow we knew exactly where they meant) had all sorts of horrible consequences, the least of which was hairy palms, the worst of which was burning in hell fire for all eternity.
I don’t remember exactly what they told us about how babies were created, but it couldn’t have been much more sophisticated than that yarn about the stork that we got from Saturday morning cartoons. Maybe they didn’t tell us anything at all. It’s very possible. After all, I started first grade around 1956. Catholic schools were still operating in the Dark Ages, I’m not joking. Hell, they didn’t even mention evolution, let alone the joys of a good orgasm.
And our parents didn’t give us any info, either. At some point, they just assumed we knew and included us in their “adult” conversations.
So you can imagine my joy in reading that this semester New York City public schools are mandating two sex education classes for students, one in middle school and the other in high school. Students are being taught the basics, everything from puberty 101 to how to put on a condom, though parents can opt their kids out of the lessons on birth control methods.
Which might be the stupidest thing a New York parent can do. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recently released stats showing that 41% of the Big Apple’s teens are sexually active by ninth and 58% by 12th grade. In the Chelsea area of the city, 67% of pregnancies are aborted, according to a Chiaroscuro Foundation study. New York City’s overall abortion rate is 40%. Many of these are repeat abortions.
Burying one’s head in some traditional religious “morality” isn’t going to change the hard, cold facts of life in the Big Apple or anywhere else. Like the birds and the bees, kids are doing it and they’re doing it with or without any knowledge of how it all works.
Sex education couldn’t be more urgent. Yet anti-abortion spokespeople and other right-wingers (including the pope, who should just learn to keep his trap shut on sexual matters) are denouncing the decision to teach children about sex and contraception. They say that parents should be doing the teaching. But, as in my youth, many are simply not doing it. Or if they are, they’re merely teaching them to “just say no.”
Which is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. As evidenced by the stats on how many kids are having sex and abortions. When will people learn that knowledge is never a bad thing?
Besides, having sex ed taught in schools doesn’t prevent parents from talking to their kids about sex. One is not exclusive of the other.
New York is doing the responsible thing.