Learning About Sex Ed Before Learning to Read?

Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey

John McCain, a proponent of abstinence-only education programs, is at odds with 80 percent of the American public who support comprehensive sex education. He can sensationalize the issue, but the fact remains that this is an issue of public health and safety.

John McCain recently released an ad attacking Barack
Obama’s education agenda, including his support for comprehensive sex education.
The announcer says that Obama supports "learning about sex before learning to
read." Well, I hope so. If we are not giving our children age-appropriate
education throughout their lives, we are not doing our best to protect
them.

Earlier this year, the Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice put out a request for people to tell us the story of how
they learned about sex. We received well over 400 responses from individuals
around the country age 17 through 94. These replies offer thoughtful reflections
and often intimate, sometimes painful, glimpses into personal lives. Quite a few
responders said they learned about sex "the hard way" — from being abused as a
child.

If I had known
what sex was, I would have understood what was happening to me when I was
molested by a male relative beginning at age 8
. – Stephanie,
45*

My sex ed took
place in a household where there was physical and emotional abuse, AND sexual
abuse. Dad was having sex with 3 younger brothers.
– Susan,
47

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My uncle molested
me at 12. If someone had shared the facts with me sooner it may not have
happened the way it did.
– Tom, 50

My father molested
me. The earliest I remember was at age 6-7.
– Helen,
76+

I was molested at
8 and do not recall ever being "taught" about sex.
– Ginger,
32

From my older
cousins talking about it and some in particular wanting to experiment with me. I
was 6. They were teenagers.
– Emily, 38

I was sexually
abused from infancy.
– Dorothy, 71

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, each year there are around 80,000 reported cases of child sexual
abuse. It is well known that the number of unreported cases is far greater. Yet
the curriculum for comprehensive sex education in kindergarten that John McCain
derided is to learn about inappropriate touching.

Our survey also found that what you learn – or don’t
learn – as a child and young person can have life-long
repercussions.

I wish I’d learned
what intercourse was and how easy it is to get pregnant.
– Joyce,
79

I wish I’d learned
about STDs and the way in which they can be transmitted. I was under the
impression that oral sex was safe, since you couldn’t get pregnant from it.

– Abigail, 26

The good girl/bad
girl images prevalent when I was young only served to instill a great deal of
fear in me, which negatively impacted on my marriage for years.
– Jean,
57

Senator McCain, a proponent of abstinence-only education
programs, is at odds with 80 percent of the American public who support
comprehensive sex education. He can sensationalize the issue, but the fact
remains that this is an issue of public health and
safety.

Major faith traditions – Methodist, Episcopalian,
Presbyterian, Jewish – representing millions of Americans, support comprehensive
sexuality education. These faith communities take seriously their duty to
instill a set of religious and moral values that will help guide young people to
responsible life choices. They believe that it is the role of government to
ensure that the nation’s youth receive the facts – unblemished by ideology –
that will protect them from predators, disease and unintended pregnancy.

*Names have been changed.

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