Sex Education (page 2)
Sex education classes in late elementary school typically provide students with information related to the biology of the reproductive system. The focus of these classes is on preparing children for somatic changes related to puberty (e.g., breast and genital development, menarche). Many practitioners feel, however, that a biological focus leaves children in middle childhood ill-prepared to deal with increased feelings of sexual arousal as well as opportunities to act on these feelings. Researchers who study the effective elements of successful comprehensive sexuality education programs find that they begin in late middle childhood (e.g., grades 5 and 6), and in addition to providing information on the biology of puberty these programs:
- Promote parental involvement and communication with regard to information, values, and beliefs that stress the effectiveness of abstinence.
- Provide support for increased parental monitoring and supervision.
- Teach children strategies for refusing sexual advances.
- Encourage assertiveness and teach social-problem solving skills.
- Focus on reducing the amount of time spent in situations of sexual possibility and delay sexual debut.
- Are sensitive to the cultural needs of the community.
Despite the fact that more than 70% of parents surveyed agree that schools should teach sex education, some school officials and parents worry that talking to children in middle childhood about sex and contraceptives implicitly condones sexual activity. They further argue that teaching children to abstain should be the focus of sex education classes.
Research consistently finds that communication with children and adolescents about sex and contraceptives does not increase sexual activity or encourage earlier sexual debut, but rather encourages the delay of sexual debut by approximately 1.5 years and increases the percentage of youth who report using condoms (Schuster, Bell, Berry, & Kanouse, 1998; Sellers, McGraw, & McKinlay, 1994). Another finding is that sex education programs that teach about and encourage abstinence are most effective with those youth who have not yet had intercourse (Aten, Siegel, Enaharo, & Auinger, 2002). For some populations (e.g., Black urban youth), this means providing abstinence training sooner (fifth or sixth grade) rather than later (Johnson, 2002).
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