Teaching Good Sex

Introducing pleasure to the peril of sex education.
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As good and necessary as the curriculum of Sexuality and Society may be, I see an enormous omission. There appears to be no reference at all to the vast amount of knowledge based on empirical and theoretical work in the field of evolutionary psychology.

Such a more abstract and objective approach is intellectually more challenging, but it offers the opportunity to give the kids a better fundamental understanding of the conflicting emotions they feel, the ultimate evolutionary biological and psychological differences between boys and girls, and the possible longer-term consequences of decisions they make today.

Armed with a fundamental understanding of the underlying issues, they can then properly take responsibility for their own decisions. A lack of such understanding ultimately still leaves kids hostage to societal influence, peer pressure, and chance (even if these influences can work in many ways and directions).

In general, I believe it is true of the education system that there is not enough emphasis on helping kids and young adults to strengthen their ability to make decisions for the long term rather than follow evolved instincts and natural inclinations. Unfortunately the sex-ed class discussed in this article does not seem to break that rule. Has the marshmallow experiment not taught us anything?

Still the course seems to be very successful at taking away some of the shame and mystery that surrounds the topic of sex for teenagers. That in itself is already an important achievement that should make the students more comfortable with their own sexuality. I still feel the class falls short of properly preparing them for the lifelong conflict that sexuality will probably cause in their lives and hence does not significantly increase their chances of a successful, long-term, and--most importantly--happy relationship.

2 2017-08-17 19:45:07 - Bruno
Thought provoking and well done. And this comes from a conservative.
15 2017-06-24 04:50:29 - Stuart

How awful it would have been to have had to sit through a class like this. This man takes the sexiness out of sex. All charm and mystery are stripped away revealing an activity that appears crude and ridiculous with the cloak of love.

1 2017-05-19 02:52:02 - Dee

As someone who grew up Unitarian Universalist and was lucky enough to experience the About Your Sexuality program as a teen I applaud Mr. V's methods and honesty. I wish every teen had the opportunity to be part of a group like this, where they could explore the difficult and wonderful world of human sexuality in an atmosphere of trust and respect!

41 2017-05-06 20:25:13 - Ziya

I went through the UUA's About Your Sexuality program in 1994, and it was wonderful. While I was attending a high school with enough teen parents to warrant an on-campus daycare, the school's sex ed was "DON'T DO IT". I ended up providing a lot of information to people who wanted to know more about sex or contraception but didn't know how to find it (back in the days of Ye Olde AOL Dial-Up). Most importantly, after finishing AYS, I felt confident, both in myself and my ability to govern my sexuality. I felt comfortable stating my limits and my desires, and I was able to use contraception correctly and responsibly. By draping sexuality in shame, we're selling young people short on what is, for most people, a very important and unavoidable facet of life. By teaching young women and men to not be afraid of their own bodies and their own desires, we empower them to take ownership of themselves and be confident in setting boundaries. By teaching effective and compassionate communication, we give them tools to communicate with each other in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.

I understand that it's awkward and discomfiting to discuss sex with your children-- I have a baby who will one day be a teenager or adult who will want to have sex. The best thing I can do for him is to teach him about the facts of sex and contraception (and STIs and relationships and boundaries and everything else that is tied up in sex), while modeling a respectful and loving adult relationship to him. Sure, it's going to be uncomfortable to discuss sex with him, but I would much rather have the minor discomfort of that discussion than the massive shock (to him and us) of finding out he and a partner accidentally got pregnant before they were ready.

6 2017-04-17 07:28:32 - Jessica

I'll post a comment: "Where have you been all my life?"

6 2017-03-24 10:05:51 - Walker

I teach high school and I believe that every high school needs this class in their curriculum. The rate of pregnancies if STILL alarming. He is right high school kids are going to have sex, its pretty natural...teach respect along with it and you have a "grand slam"

152 2017-03-16 06:03:45 - Gerald
Some great comments here endorsing this program and some truly ignorant ones opposing it or acting as though taking a sex ed class is somehow making it impossible for these students to learn math and science at the same time. I'm pretty sure I had at least one sex ed class per year from roughly 5th-6th grade through my Sophomore year of high school - how much time a class like this would have saved!

And to the commenter who said that it's not possible for Mr. Vernaccio to be both a practicing Catholic and in a gay relationship: you're right, it's an insult... to Mr. Vernaccio. He has more moral authority in his little finger than can be found in all of Vatican City. It sounds like these kids are learning how to be realistic, respectful and sensitive to their partners and themselves. Oh, the horror.
242 2017-02-13 19:34:34 - NS

I don't understand why some of the comments here seem to think that sex ed is less necessary than advanced mathematics, or other academic subjects. How is someone who gets pregnant when she's 16 because she never learned about how to have safe sex supposed to have time to do advanced mathematics when she has a kid to raise (unless the pregnancy is aborted, thereby leading undoubtedly to emotional pain that might preclude academic achievement)? Of course, such a situation could easily implicate a boy's life in the same way (unless he abandons the girl he impregnates).

To be a productive society, we need more than high quality academics. We need to learn how to relate to one another in a healthy way. Sexuality is part of many human relationships, so reasonable, productive sex ed is necessary to encourage good health in this very important part of human relationships.

418 2017-02-07 02:10:57 - istriachilles

Now, at the age of 43,and looking back, I wish I had a really thorough sex education because I did not receive any information from home - and ended up paying for it. I don't know why everyone is so afraid of talking about sex. Everybody has it, needs it even. I just remember being 15/16 years old and my hormones raging out of control - and needing to satisfy that rage - if you will, and I naturally gravitated to boys. I got pregnant at 18. In looking back, I wish someone sat me down and explained the sex act, condoms, birth control and babies. You know you can get pregnant. But at that age, you don't really understand how easy it is. At least I didn't. I wish I did though. I really do. There was a sex education class that I took in high school and that is where I got most of my education from reading the book, but it still was not enough. When my parents saw that I had a steady boyfriend, or even that boys were calling, etc..I wish they had a talk with me and took me to get birth control.

10 2017-01-29 03:31:40 - wish I had thorough sex education

I graduated from Friends' Central in the 80s. I've been asked off and on what Quaker school was like, and now, when I get that question, I'll refer to this article. At its best, this is the Quaker tradition as I experienced it. Open discussion without hysteria, frankness without pandering to childish squeamishness. Honestly I can find nothing to fault in the class as it is described in the article. Another commenter lamented a supposed lack of space for those who were not ready for sex. I find this to be strange and presumptuous. The discussion in the article certainly focused on those who discussed their own experiences and preferences, but I saw nothing whatsoever that would make a student choosing not to be sexually active feel uncomfortable. On the contrary, all views seem to be welcomed and given their due, as is proper. I salute the teacher and his students alike, for giving one another the respect of assuming the best of one another. I can't think of a more enriching approach to education.

17 2017-01-17 08:07:18 - Peter

Parents are understandably protective about their kids. One of the hottest taboo topic for parents is sexuality. Many parents are too embarrassed to teach their own kids about sex, but even more uncomfortable that another adult is going to do it for them.

Parents also have rather unrealistic demand on the behavior of the teachers. Even outside of the school ground, teachers are imagined to live like monks and nuns, ideally as virgins. Even people invited to read to the little kids are scrutinized for their past sexual history.

The result is generations of Americans having unnatural paranoid about sex. There is way too much ignorance about the physiology, psychology, and sociological issues of sexual behaviors. Being the most religious people among the first world nations does not help either.

Luckily in the age of internet the kids might be able to get some correct information on the net. The downside is that there are also bad information out there.

When well-qualified and sympathetic teachers can guide young people through their turbulent teen years with the support of the parents and the school systems, then there will be a reduction in problems such as teen pregnancies, spread of STD, depression and suicides due to sexual identity issues.

4 2016-12-31 07:18:38 - Observer

Great and inspiring article, kudos to the magazine and especially to Al Vernacchio. But Laurie Abraham writes that "this sex-ed class may well be the only one of its kind in the United States." Not so: Debbie Roffman teaches sexuality very similarly in Baltimore, and travels often for workshops across the country. I heard her twice give talks in NYC, and her approach is as fantastic as Mr. V's.

20 2016-12-16 01:49:34 - WonderF.

"In previous generations, it was the norm not to have sex until marriage, so clearly it is within our ability to choose."

Or at least it was the norm to deny that you ever had sex before marriage if you were a woman.

66 2016-12-13 20:11:36 - John in the USA

Still, so much ignorance in these responses. Religious zealots who insist on yet ANOTHER issue where their way of living is the only way - all else is wrong.

Other people think there is only time in school to learn two subjects, English and Math - or this is a "waste of tax-payer dollars" (Perhaps they missed the private school part?).

Perhaps they agree with Rick "abstinence works!" (ad nauseum)Perry, despite Texas having the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country? Clearly, teaching our children to communicate with one another and express what they want and don't want is worthy of some teaching?

How many teenagers will be in a position where they are about to have sex or are being asked to have it - perhaps teaching them to think about what they really want before that moment arrives might be good?

Go back and re-read the article, and focus on what some of the children and their parents said, please. How happy they were, to have Professor Vernacchio there because sometimes, parents and children could not communicate with one another! Tell me, do you think a young impressionable adult is going to be satisfied with the dogmatic repetitious barking "abstinence works!"?

57 2016-12-02 09:06:08 - Sesquey

I was absolutely inspired by this article. As a graduate of Friends School of Baltimore and a current teacher at Whittier Friends School, I think many of the ppl commenting do not understand how their comments do not relate to this article. The students of Friends schools are not the science dropouts who end up pregnant at 16 and can't do math. Instead, they are the future activists and scholars who end up making a difference in the world and their communities. It is classes like this one, that delves into the importance of human relationships that make Friends students compassionate members of society. The academics at these schools are rigerous and I'm sure interviewing their parents was just one of the many assignments these students completed. These students are learning skills of communication, which will help them grow into healthy, responsible, caring, informed adults. There is absolutely room in this class for people who want to wait until marriage as much as there is a place for those who choose to become sexually active as soon as they are biologically ready. Like many of the others piping in, I would love more information on this topic to help me create a similar curriculum appropriate for younger students. And on a final note to those complaining about taxpayers dollars etc. don't worry, this is a private school, none of your money is paying for this program.

17 2016-11-29 20:50:13 - AAA

Perhaps it is the only way to increase the birth rate among European-Americans who seem to be dying away because of their meager birth rate.

4 2016-11-13 23:51:45 - Chuck

Not a word on morality. Basically the concept is that we are just animals subjected to the tyranny of our instincts. In a hyper sexually society the only answer seems to be, lets keep with the current. Since sex sells lets do it too but in a more knowingly way. There are many intelligent young students that have to have posse the question, what is then the difference between an animal and me? The higher order in which we are on top of the scale of evolution is then nothing more that we olso follow blindly our instincts but we know better how to perform. The concept of responsibility does not exist. What I believe is good and all I need is to do what I am entitled to do. If we extend that way of thinking not only to sex but to the society at large, then tell me what is the difference with the rational to the Holocaust, or making an abortion or euthanize an elder o wipe a population because they are causing some kind of trouble and all that in the name of It is good because I think is good to me". Without the concepts of responsibility, sacrifice, love, yes LOVE, concern for each other, altruism, etc, we are no more that animals that have intelligence to do what we want, when we wanted and for the reasons that we choose to believe are good for us. The lessons from the Greeks,the Romans, just to name a few are ignored. We will pay dire consequences for that.

9 2016-11-07 10:10:36 - ED
I am a teenager I am 17 but I believe that people need to treat sex more seriously and romanticize it, because the new trend that is being shoved down the throats of future generations by pornographic media on television and the internet is telling us to give into this act like it is some form of exercise, and that is a downright lie when you take into account the mental, emotional, biological (std's), and moral degradation that is rapidly getting worse in the society around us. Classes like this teach us to go buy a pack of condoms at your local drugstore with your partner and some birth control pills and reverts our moral compass of what is pure and innocent into sex being as convenient and casual as going out to lunch.
4 2016-10-30 01:25:42 - Troy

Control of women's sexuality(and it's always women's) is rooted in patriachy and inheritance of property (men didn't want their property going to another man's children). There's nothing wrong with sexuality per se. The problems and tragedies arise when it gets tangled up with power, coercion, abuse and perversion. My husband and I never suggested our sons shouldn't have sex. As much as falliable humans can we emphasized love, caring and responsibility in living a good life. The rest took care of itself.

If we had more teachers like Mr Vernacchaio, not only would our children be better prepared for the real world, my guess is that there would be far fewer date rapes and unplanned pregnancies. It's crazy to raise children in a hypersexualized world then expect them to say "no" ?

49 2016-10-19 17:29:17 - Cy

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