Sex Ed Warms Up Every January

By Rachel Sandstrom & Rob Goffins

sexeducationFEATUREHearing tell of local sex education efforts being old school, Advocate staff moved tail to strip the curriculum down for some naked facts, but were rebuffed—we never really heard the word no, but neither did we ever get an affirmative consent. Anyhow, more on all that in a moment.

Under the Covers

Parents can of course opt their kids out of the sex ed program at local middle and high schools, but then would come all the awkward silences and sighs at home some wintry night, and it turns out not many parents love that. So, most opt for what the school district offers, but a number of parents and students have expressed concerns to us about the curriculum.

For instance, parental concerns included social science experiments from the 1970s that have been largely debunked since and recommendations having to do with birth control that do not account for health outcomes—parents shared their impression that the curriculum may not have been updated for some number of years.

One of the students we spoke with had been through both the middle and high school programs. His concerns were that what teachers taught had too much to do with their personal beliefs and that it seemed to him that the curriculum was more directed at what boys could do than girls. For instance, he shared, “My middle school teacher told us he didn’t agree with the curriculum and he was great, he literally let the class ask anything they wanted and answered every question no matter how dumb.” In contrast he shared about his high school teacher, who he knew to be of the Christian faith, “He did cover all the material about birth control, but he also kept saying that none of it was 100 percent and the best thing to do was to stay abstinent.”

Belit Burke is the State of Oregon program manager for children and teens health education. She explained that the state provides a middle school curriculum that local districts can use called My Future, My Choice. Locally, Linus Pauling Middle School was forthcoming in confirming they utilize the program, though it is still unclear which parts they use, and how they implement the program in their classrooms.

My Future, My Choice encourages conversations within peer groups, and between parents and their students. It discusses peer pressure, healthy relationships, and the physical and emotional changes that mark puberty. The curriculum mentions condom use, HIV and STIs, and pregnancy. The curriculum states a few times that condoms can break if not worn properly, but there is no mention of the danger of using two. Other birth control methods discussed include dental dams and diaphragms that, while still effective, are uncommon. There is a passing mention of HIV/AIDS and STI testing, but no mention of support or resources should a teen get pregnant or contract an STI. Burke confirmed that the primary philosophy of the program is to delay sexual involvement; the program is directed at students younger than 16.

Once age 16, the national Centers for Disease Control pegs the rate of students having intercourse at over a third, with increases of eight to nine percent per grade. In this context, the experiences related to us by Corvallis School District students and parents are concerning.

We asked the Corvallis District for access to the high school curriculum, a request we repeated a number of times before we received an agreement that we could, but the district apparently wanted to make certain one of their staff would be present as we reviewed the materials at their district office. Their head office does not house students. We proposed a number of meeting times over the course of many emails; all were rejected except one that was supposedly good for the district but then they cancelled saying their staff was too busy. Our efforts began in October. 

By contrast, Burke made herself available within two days of our request.

Next Steps

Most everyone knows that teens will do what teens have done since the beginning of time and that they will all be embarrassed the first time they buy condoms, even though the minimum-wage clerk could care less. We will keep you abreast of any movement from the district; in the meantime, here are some resources: