U.S. Conservatives Lose Shit Over Sex Ed Guidelines

I know, I can't believe it either.

Since there's one tiny part of my brain left unexploded after the crisis pregnancy thing, let's talk about the conservative reaction in our fair country to proposed UNESCO guidelines for international sex ed, shall we?

First, a little context. Writes Bruce Crumley in Time:

The goal is simple: with contraception often not an option in many parts of the world - and vaccines to prevent diseases like AIDS still unavailable - UNESCO hopes that teaching children more about the risks of sexual activity will help them steer clear of such perils. The organization believes this could be one way to scale back the 111 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported among people ages 10 to 24 globally each year and similarly reduce the 4.4 million abortions that are sought by women ages 15 to 19 annually.

Conservatives, in theory, are all about teaching kids about the risks of sexual activity and reducing the number of abortions. They just don't think those things should involve telling kids that sex exists before they're old enough to have figured it out for themselves, promoting condom use, or discussing abortion without using ghoulish visual aids or the word "murder." They're also not big fans of acknowledging homosexuality, obvs, and they take particular exception to a recommendation in the guidelines that young children should learn about masturbation. Says Crumley: "The obsession with onanism is a bit curious, given that the 102-page document mentions masturbation only five times" — three times in the section for 9 to 15-year-olds, who should be told it's not harmful and can be "a person's first experience of sexual pleasure," and only twice in the 5 to 8-year-old part, where again, the primary message is, "You won't go blind."

Michelle Turner, founder of the Maryland-based Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, told the New York Times: "I'm really concerned about what they want to teach 5- to 8-year-olds, and I have concerns about their position on abortion and the way they want to present it to youth. Where are parents' rights? It's not up to the government to teach these things." You know, aside from the fact that I'll bet you a nickel Michelle Turner thinks it would be fine for the government to teach children about intelligent design, the "parents' rights" argument just doesn't hold water here. Sex ed is about public health. Your desire to keep your kid ignorant does not trump my desire to see my kid grow up without getting knocked up by somebody who doesn't carry condoms because he signed an abstinence pledge. (Or because he's never heard of them.) And given the devastating effects of on HIV, not to mention unplanned pregnancy and childbirth, on people in developing countries, it's especially galling that you think your preferred child-rearing methods should apply to the entire world. Also, I have yet to meet a 5-year-old who hasn't already discovered masturbation, and the recommended advice there — it won't hurt you, but do it in private — is exactly what I've heard several parents tell children much younger than that. They're not proposing replacing naptime with circle jerks here; they're talking about teaching kids that something most of them are already doing is normal and not harmful.

But of course, the people who oppose the guidelines don't think anything sex-related is normal and not harmful, unless you're married to someone of the opposite sex and doing it to make babies. Colin Mason of the anti-abortion Population Research Institute argues against the proposed guidelines because "conservative Christians and others" simply believe masturbation (among other things) is wrong. Which, you know, fine. You're still free to teach your kids that. All these guidelines might do is hinder your efforts to lie about masturbation being harmful. You can still tell them God is watching and he hates it — that's what freedom of religion is all about! But then, there's also the whole separation of church and state thing, which means your religious beliefs are not actually relevant to public health in this country, much less every other one.

On the upside, beyond a few noisy American cranks, there doesn't seem to be much opposition. Unfortunately, "the barrage of criticism has put Unesco... on the defensive" as they ready the guidelines for unveiling this fall, says the Times, and those American cranks have already caused the United Nations Population Fund to full out of the project. Oops, there went the last part of my brain that was still intact!

U.S. Conservatives Attack UNESCO's Sex-Ed Guidelines [Time]
U.N. Guide for Sex Ed Generates Opposition [The New York Times]