I’ve been reading with interest about the depopulation problem in Denmark and the ways different groups have been trying to tackle it. From a marketing perspective, there’s a travel agency using the crisis as an opportunity to encourage people to “Do it For Denmark” and use their holiday as a sex-cation. The country has shifted its sex education classes for children to include pronatalistic attitudes. In many ways, the country has been forced to make discussion about sex an open, public, and necessary conversation.
What’s been particularly interesting to me is contrasting Denmark’s moment with my own experience of sex education in the U.S. When I was in public school thirty years ago, my health classes would separate the boys and girls for “the puberty talk.” Later, we would have co-ed health classes that emphasized abstinence. My son, now ten years old, recently joined the other boys in his class to watch a short film on puberty. I’m wondering if it is the same one my male classmates saw many years ago?
How has sex education changed in thirty years? How does it conflict with the much more open communication our country is having about gender? I spend time teaching my children and students about notions of gender fluidity and places where sex and gender discussions are problematic, but then the boys and girls are separated for lessons on puberty. My son seemed relieved to be with “just the guys,” but does making the other sex a mystery lead to more problems down the road and further perpetuate gender/sex divides? And what about those students who do not identify their sexuality in such a binary way? How can their needs be accommodated when classes are divided into “boys” and “girls?” How much of puberty is hidden in our culture, and for what reasons?
With two daughters who soon will enter this stage of education, I’m also curious specifically about how girls are taught about menstruation. For some girls, is the first time they even have an interaction with menstruation going to be with a health film at age ten? Some of the newest birth control pills actually prevent woman from having periods more than once or twice a year, if at all. A former colleague of mine, Giovanna Chesler, made a film on this topic called Period: The End of Menstruation. How are these possibilities and issues dealt with in schools, or are they ignored completely?
We have made some good progress as a society on beginning to discuss gender identity, but where does sex education fit in with these advances? Are there any educators reading this post who study or teach about these issues? How do you see sex education changing? How should it?
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