Response to Matt Walsh on Sex-Ed

Today I read a post by Matt Walsh detailing his views on sexual health education in schools.  I could not disagree more with the position he takes.  He doesn’t believe that schools should be teaching sexual health topics except perhaps anatomy in biology class. 

He says “Instead of arguing about WHAT the schools should tell kids on the subject of sex, let’s contemplate the possibility that a collective, government-controlled, mass produced and disseminated “curriculum” about sex and intimacy isn’t necessarily the best way to handle such a profound and personal subject.”

I recognize that he is writing from the perspective that sex before marriage is a sin and that we should not in any way encourage children and young people to learn about or engage in sexual activities before marriage.  He feels that sexuality is a moral issue.  I’m not using the word sexuality here to denote sexual preference.  I mean sexuality as that part of ourselves that is sexual.

All humans (and animals for that matter) have sexual and reproductive organs.  Most people are born with one set and are biologically male or female.  As people develop some will discover that they have a sexual preference for the same sex or that they didn’t get assigned the right biological sex to match up with their gender identification.  Regardless of our identifications and attractions, we all have body parts related to sex and reproduction.

Certainly I would agree with Walsh that our bodies are a personal subject.  I also agree that sex and intimacy are personal and can be profound for many.  Of course sex is not always a positive experience and it is not always consensual.

At its core sexual health education is about health.  It is about learning the names of our body parts.  If a boy knows the that the thing attached to their shoulder is called an arm, it also makes sense for him to know that the thing between his legs is called a penis.  It is the first step to being comfortable with his body.  Children have a right to know that their bodies will change, that puberty is normal and natural.  Girls shouldn’t be afraid when they menstruate and for that matter should not feel ashamed of their bodies when they are menstruating.  Boys and girls, women and men need to understand fertility and how it works.  Our bodies are not mysteries.  We know that women produce eggs and men produce sperm and that if you introduce them to one another, a baby could be the end result.  There is no reason to hide any of this information from children and youth.  All humans deserve to understand how their bodies work.

This is not a moral issue.  It is a health issue.  Ignorance will not prevent pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s).  Likewise, knowing how an egg is fertilized will not cause a woman to get pregnant. Anatomy and physiology is not a question of right and wrong and therefore there is nothing moral or immoral about this knowledge.

The decision on when to start dating, who to date, engaging in sexual behaviours, whether to get married (if it is legal) before engaging in those behaviours are all framed by some religions as moral issues.  I would argue that morality is decided by the individual and is informed by their faith, the values taught by their parents and the facts they learn in and out of school.

Walsh makes some claims about the evil effects of sexual health education.  He says:

“Out of wedlock birthrates continue to climb, now pushing 40 percent as a national average. 110 million men and women have STDs. The divorce rate remains tragically high, tempered only by the increasing number of young people who have sworn off marriage entirely. Kids turn to porn at younger and younger ages. People in general are less capable of finding and maintaining healthy romantic relationships. Over 250 thousand people are raped or sexually assaulted every year.”

I could write a post in response to this paragraph alone, but I won’t.  There are a few things to address here. I understand that he and others see children born to parents who are not married as a moral failing.  I don’t think it is a valid measure of sexual health education whether or not a 30-something couple decides to live common-law and have kids.  As he points out marriage is no guarantee of stability.

There is another measure we can look at to determine the value of sexual health education.  A subset of those “out of wedlock” births are to teen parents.  I think we can agree that many teens are not prepared to parent and don’t intend to get pregnant.  As someone who became a father at 16 I write with some experience here.  The teen pregnancy rate (not the birth rate) hit a historic low in the US in 2008. Slightly less than 7% of American 15-19 year olds get pregnant each year. Nowhere near that 40% number claimed and un-cited by Walsh  In fact “the 2008 rate was a record low and represented a 42% decline from the peak rate of 117 per 1,000, which occurred in 1990.” Those who have read his post will note that is not a comparison with stats from 70 years ago.

The same report provides a comparison with Canadian teen pregnancy rates. “Despite having declined, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate continues to be one of the highest in the developed world. It is more than twice as high as rates in Canada (28 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2006) and Sweden (31 per 1,000).”

Since STD’s are not actually diseases we now more accurately refer to them as Sexually Transmitted Infections or STI’s.  I’m not sure where Walsh gets his number from and so I won’t challenge it.  Certainly teens – again in the US represent a significant portion (nearly half) of new STI cases per year.  Canada is not immune from rising STI rates. Parents and educators need to do a better job ensuring that 1) people understand what STI’s are and 2) how to avoid getting them – abstinence, contraception.  Of course abstinence means different things to different people…

I’m not aware of any evidence that correlates divorce rates to sexual health education.  There are so many potential reasons for marital breakdown that it is a bit unrealistic to tie it to the quality/morality of sexual health education.

His statement about youth accessing porn at younger ages actually reinforces the case for sexual health education. Research suggests that teens are seeking out porn in lieu of sexual health education. Porn is not real life.  Porn involves actors chosen for bodies that are not average.  The sexual activities in porn are not reflective of what most people can expect to experience in their relationships.  Doesn’t it make sense for someone to let kids and youth know that.  Young people will not stop watching porn online just because they don’t get sexual health education at school.  With education they can have a forum to process what they are watching and build some media awareness about what they are watching.

I will say only one thing about his last sentence.  Rape and sexual assault are not sex.  They are about power and abuse.  Sexual health education teaches people what it means to seek and give consent for participation in sexual activities.  It is about teaching people that sex without consent is rape.

Providing sexual health education in schools is not about framing parents as bad at their jobs as Walsh suggests.  It is the recognition that not all parents are experts on sexual health.  Not all parents are historians, mathematicians, tradespeople, literary scholars or scientists and so those subjects are also taught in schools.  Many of us parents did not receive good quality sexual health education when we were growing up so how can we be expected to know all the ins and outs – no pun intended – of sexual health.  We don’t have the time to keep up to date on STI’s, contraception, fertility and tools for educating our kids about all the issues related to sexuality.  Our job is to teach our kids about our values and how to function in society.  Where we have expertise we share that and for everything else there is Wikipedia and school.  The role of educators is to teach facts and evidence.  Then our kids can take those values and facts into account and make decisions about their own lives.  We have to trust them and give them space to make those choices.  Sometimes they will make mistakes and they will learn from those experiences.

Sexual health education is important. It reduces risks and helps teens to have healthier outcomes in their lives. “Teens who receive formal sex education prior to their first sexual experience demonstrate a range of healthier behaviors at first intercourse than those who receive no sex education at all.” They delay the first time they have sex, they are more likely to use contraception and … they have healthier relationships than those who received no formal sexual health education or abstinence-only education.

Parents need to be engaged in the process and education.  We need to include education throughout our children’s lives. Sexual health education is not a one time thing.  There is no such thing as having “the talk.” It is an ongoing conversation.  Parents often lack the tools due to our own lack of education while we were growing up.  We have a cultural fear of talking to our kids about sex and sexual health.  We need to seek out resources to help us to keep #Talkingthetalk.  I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks.

About DadGoesRound
I am a Canadian father of three girls and blog about Fatherhood, Kids and Current Affairs at www.dadgoesround.com

19 Responses to Response to Matt Walsh on Sex-Ed

  1. lhf says:

    Unfortunately, sex (or as it’s sometimes called, Family Life) Education is not about health – it’s about propagating myths designed to encourage kids to experiment with a variety of sex acts that may be Unhealthy, such as anal intercourse, which spreads disease. Those who teach it wish to transmit the decidedly Unhealthy ideas about sexual liberation promoted in the 60s by the New left. So before you criticize Mr. Walsh you should familiarize yourself with the content of such courses and look up something about the training of sex educators and the organization that certifies them, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). http://www.aasect.org/cert_reqs_educator.asp

    There is a heavy emphasis on homosexuality other aberrant psychological states in an effort to normalize them. Teaching biology as this writer describes above directly contradicts the aims of sex education. Biology would demand that kids be taught that one’s sex is defined before birth and it cannot be changed by cosmetic surgery and a chemical cocktail. Just as an example.

    • saratorvik says:

      Congratulations, you just showed your bigotry with your statements about homosexuality. I’m so tired of right-wingers and their homophobic hatemongering. Letting LGBT teenagers feel included and teaching people about how to have safe sex no matter what their orientation is not a detriment to society. If you bible thumpers had your way we’d probably round all the gay people up and gas them in chambers, since you seem to think they’re such gross abberrations and a danger to society. Lucky for us you bigots aren’t running the show and your influence is steadily declining.

    • saratorvik says:

      I see absolutely nothing wrong with that sex ed program you linked to, btw. It looks fantastic, and would likely give the students a well-rounded perspective on their bodies and sexual health.

    • goroundround says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am not a member of the AASECT as I am Canadian, but I was a volunteer community sexual health educator for ten years and I am familiar with the training provided to sexual health educators. I appreciate that you disagree with certain sex acts. That doesn’t mean that others don’t enjoy those activities. Your disagreement does not give you permission to deny them to others.

      All sexual activity has risks, so does walking on icy walks, driving a car, getting on an airplane and walking up a flight of stairs. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to mitigate the risk or that we should avoid those activities altogether. It is possible to learn ways to engage in all of those activities in a safer way. We can take steps to protect ourselves and reduce our risks. Sexual health education helps all of us to engage in activities that are pleasurable with as few risks as possible. Much like driver’s education helps us to get behind the wheel of a car and reduce the risk of crashing.

    • Absolutely, and more and more people are waking up to the heavy indoctrination that is in the so called “sex education”. Of course most of the readers of this blog will probably call you either hateful, a bigot,a religious nut or ignorant because your own educated opinion is offensive when it doesn’t exactly match theirs.

      • goroundround says:

        I will not call either of you any of those things. I am interested in learning more about why you perceive sexual health education to be about “heavy indoctrination.” Please feel free to provide examples of what you mean. The link provided above by lhf did not point to anything other than a list of training required. It did not speak to the content of training received or provided.

  2. Bobby Fiend says:

    Nice post. My only criticism is that Matt Walsh is such a clear attention-harlot tea-party-focus-group-friendly tool (note SFW language) that I worry he will get even more full of himself if he realizes someone spent a few pages responding to his stupidity.

    I’m in Texas. Reading that Walsh even implicitly implicates school-based sex ed in rising teen pregnancy, STIs, and (most horrifying of all) sexual abuse kind of makes me want to ask Anonymous to have a careful internal look at his webserver. I started this paragraph by saying I’m in Texas, where our current governor has attacked sex ed with vigor. The result is soaring teen pregnancy and STI rates.

    I changed my mind: Walsh isn’t just an attention person-of-negotiable-virtue, he’s borderline criminally irresponsible, if he’s using such transparent lies and cheap rhetorical tricks to attack sex ed. I’ll be waiting with bated breath for his companion piece, in which I’m sure he’ll demand that the gubmint stop taking away our natural liberty by teaching schoolchildren about fire safety.

    • Adam says:

      You say he uses “cheap rhetorical tactics”, as you slander the man personally. If his rhetoric is so cheap, it should be easy to refute without resorting to a commonly used “cheap trick”, namely, personal attack and character defamation.

  3. The debate on sex ed in our schools is one that raged over forty year ago. People like Matt Walsh fail to understand that the very audience they are trying to convince sex ed does not belong in our schools are the ones who had sex ed when they were kids. Bottom line: if Matt Walsh were alive forty-some years ago, he’d be making national headlines with his views. Now he simply sounds like an archaic relic of the past that we look at with morbid fascination, even morbid humor. Maybe he should’ve gone to college and learned some new things…. 🙂

  4. goroundround says:

    As a rule I tend to approve all comments submitted to my blog posts. However things are starting to get a bit personal here. Please refrain from personal attacks or insults against one another. It is possible to engage in debate and discussion without attacking people personally. I disagree with Matt Walsh and I did not attack him personally in my disagreement. From this point forward I will not approve responses that involve attacking me, Matt Walsh, other commenters or groups of people in general. Feel free to share opinions, concerns, ideas, thoughts, facts (citations please) and experiences.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. LAR says:

    It is so amazing to follow peoples replies whom seem to absolutely have no real idea how the real world works. I had actual sex education. 40 years ago. FACTS. That was all that was taught. No WELL ROUNDED perspective on my body. NO how to have safe sex. “At its core sexual health education today is about health”. Are you shitting me? Almost no FACTS included,only touchy feely crap. Schools are suppose to teach our young facts. How to read, how to work a math problem. History (which by the way is know taught to fit a certain agenda with actual events changed or removed). Science, which by the way, scientifically speaking sex has one real purpose. To produce offspring, period. These are the only things that should be taught in school. FACTS. Not a bunch bull that left leaning parrots (all they know are talking points) try to convince the rest of us are factual. [I have removed a section of this comment that was a specific attack on the intelligence of people on the left-side of the political spectrum. Attacks will not be approved. – Chris]

  6. Bess says:

    Very good article, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I was home schooled, I’m a Christian, but I support Sex Ed wherever it comes from as long as it’s aim is to teach and educate. I feel see should be talked about between children and parents but if that can’t happen then how are you supposed to make good sexual decisions if your questions are never answered? That’s where Sex Ed comes in, it’s just a tool and teachers are not bad as certain people seem to think, their job is to teach and help your kids to the best of their ability :). They are parents too!! I grew up with rabbits and we bred them many times so I was no stranger to mating or birth. I actually learned about Human Sex from reading it in the Encyclopedia when I was 9 simply because I was curious and my parents always encouraged learning and expected all of us to try to answer our own questions before asking them. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where no topic was off limits, they would rather we (their children) ask them than get the wrong info. As an adult, now, I’m very aware of the damage Christians have done and how intolerant we can be. I try very hard to be open minded and not judge, my good friend and I spent a week picking apart The Modesty Movement (long story) because it’s not right to say you’re a sinner for wearing a bikini. Anyways. Just my thoughts, I can’t apologize for other people’s actions and behaviors, I can only be responsible for my own.

  7. Gabriel says:

    Hi. Professional Youth Sexual Health Educator here. In this post you said, “At its core sexual health education is about health.”

    Nope. At its core sexual health is learning how to be an adult. I try to live in a realistic way which is why I teach sex ed but I preach abstinence. I would be the happiest guy on earth if none of my students were having sex. I don’t want them to have sex. I want them to wait as long as they can. But I know that’s not reality. Some of my students have had sex or are having sex. And if they’re going to have sex, I at least want them to know how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and contracting STDs. That’s only a small percent of what I actually teach in my classroom. What I focus on is how they can identify their personal values, how to respect and love their own bodies, how to negotiate and communicate with others, know what a healthy relationships look like and the warning signs of unhealthy relationships, I even teach kids how to open up more to their parents and to their doctors. At the end of the day I don’t earn my paycheck by how many kids know how to properly put on a condom, I earn my paycheck by how many of those students feel more empowered and confident in themselves.

    • goroundround says:

      I think we more or less agree here. Health is not just about physical health, it is also about mental health.
      I would say that sexual health education is not just about preparing to be an adult. Certainly when providing workshops to adolescents, the education helps them get there. However adolescents are not the only ones who want and need sexual health education. Two year olds need to know the correct names of their body parts. Kids need to know that some people are attracted to members of the same sex and that this is normal and not to be feared. They need to know that they don’t need to conform to social gender norms. Adults re-entering the dating world after a divorce may need reminders about contraception and STI’s. Seniors moving into retirement homes and long term care homes certainly need sexual health education given the increasing rates of STI’s in that age group.

      Sexual health is part of our overall health and is important throughout our whole lives and not just when we are teens.

  8. Craig Janis says:

    Well written. If you ever feel inclined to contribute to http://whatismattwalshwrongabouttoday.com, let us know!

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