I was searching online for “sex education approaches” or “approaches to sex education” and was fascinated by the results:
The two main approaches to adolescent sexual education in the USA are abstinence-only-until-marriage and comprehensive sexual education.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14681810220133604
Did you notice the interesting word choice?
Abstinence-based vs. “comprehensive” – the very word choice is making a judgement that abstinence-based approaches to sex education cannot be “comprehensive.”
To me, this is a false dichotomy. It’s like saying there are only two approaches to drug education, or any drug/substance-abuse awareness classes: the “abstinence-based” approach vs. the “comprehensive” one.
Of course, for some people the drug in question (I’ll use alcohol as an example) will be such a potent distraction or temptation that they decide to abstain from it entirely. But I wouldn’t call that a “non-comprehensive” approach. Rather, they have comprehensively evaluated the risks and benefits of their taking the drug and decided that abstinence is the best option for them.
Likewise, the abstinence-based approach to sex education does not rule out sex indefinitely or claim that celibacy is the only option.
It simply says that sex should take place only within the safe, loving, mutually consensual, adult protections of a lifelong marriage.
Put another way: Let’s go back to the alcohol and drug education analogy. Someone may have a personal rule that they will only drink alcohol whenever they have a “designated driver” to take them home.
Who are we to say that this approach is not “comprehensive”? If it works for that person, then I don’t think we should scoff at this approach as “abstinence-based and not comprehensive.”
I think a better categorization of common approaches to sex education would be something like this:
1. “They’ll Figure It Out” sex education approach
Once a friend of mine overheard her 10-year-old son talking about his pet hamster, who was a boy. “Better not put a girl hamster in his cage,” he observed.
“Why?” said his 6-year-old sister.
“Because they’ll have babies,” he answered.
“But how?” his little sister persisted. “How do they have babies?”
“They just do,” he said with the assumed wisdom of elder siblinghood.
My friend thought this was hilarious, but I found it a little strange. Apparently the 10-year-old had heard through his public school “grapevine” that babies were a joint project between boys and girls, but had no idea how the process worked.
In case you didn’t already guess, my own sex education experience happened very differently. My Asian mother (a retired doctor) make sure to let us know all the details throughout our childhood.
I still remember one read-aloud session in our homeschool. The book explained in detail how the sperm fertilized the egg, how it happened through sexual intercourse, and how babies were born in a vaginal delivery (complete with pictures)!
As a result, my mom never left it to us to “figure out” what sex was or how the human reproductive system works. I understand some people’s concerns in that too much sexual information, too soon, can overwhelm a child.
But I also believe we should pay attention to the other concern: that in our society today, our children have already picked up sexual information from sources other than ourselves! If we don’t volunteer that information early to them, they will naturally stop going to us for any questions or thoughts they may have.
2. “Weird Words” sex education approach
In this approach to sex education, parents will use euphemisms and other such dodging tactics to hint at the “big picture” without actually giving specifics.
Again, a friend of mine was telling me about how she recently tried to explain to her 6-year-old daughter where her little sister (and all babies) came from.
“She came from a special place,” said the mom.
“But where?” her daugher persisted. “She was in your tummy.”
“Yes, but then the baby comes out from the tummy.”
“But how?” her daughter said. “How did she come out from your tummy?”
The conversation went around and around without the mother ever giving a clear, definitive answer.
Then the mom encountered her daughter running around one day with a knife in hand, saying she was going to cut a baby out of someone’s tummy. (She had been watching a Snow White movie, apparently.)
“That’s not how your sister came out!” the mom said, aghast. (This was not a Caesarean birth, in case you were wondering.)
“Then how did she come out?” the daughter asked.
Finally the mom settled for, “She came out of a special place.”
I understand the awkwardness and embarrassment many parents can feel about this topic, but I think it’s misplaced. It may be a hangover from the Victorian era, but we have clearly passed out from that era into the other extreme where our society talks about sex constantly.
At any rate, I don’t see this kind of sidestepping in how the Bible approaches sex education. Just read Proverbs chapters 6-7, and you’ll see how open they were to discussing sexual topics with their children!
3. “Teach Them Diligently” sex education approach
This seems to me the most Biblical approach to sexual education. In other words, we call it as it is. We describe the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of sex (but hopefully focus mostly on the good parts!).
I got the inspiration for this name from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (Berean Study Bible):
These words I am commanding you today are to be upon your hearts. And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Now granted, this was in relation to the greatest commandment that God gave the children of Israel – to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind. But I think the principle also applies to sex education in that we are teachers of our children throughout their youth.
I also think the way we use our bodies can be one more expression of showing our love for the Lord our God – certainly with our mind (how we think about sex) and our physical strength.
When our Lord tells us explicitly to honor sex by keeping it within a marriage covenant, then teaching this to our children (and obeying this commandment ourselves) is one more expression of our love for the One Who made us.
Like any method, we can abuse this approach by over-focusing on the bad and the ugly, without emphasizing enough of the good. And there are numerous challenges to a Christian sex education, as I’ve detailed more in this blog post. But at least we are doing our best to teach it.
What do you think of these approaches to sex education? Can you think of anything I’ve missed? Let me know in a comment or message!