This week, dozens of parents in California squashed the opportunity to help their middle school–aged children become better informed about sex and STIs. According to local news outlets, more than 150 parents came out to a Cupertino Union School District board meeting earlier this week to protest a new sexual health education curriculum that would have—scandalously!—defined anal, vaginal, and oral sex. As a result, the updated curriculum failed to pass the board.
"The data in it was explicit; it was extremely provocative," one parent told the school board Tuesday night. "It was written with too much suggestion. The entire approach was all about perform, not about inform. The entire assumption made by the (curriculum) that we reviewed was that all our children are already sexually active."
More than 4,300 people signed a Change.org petition calling for the new curriculum, published by Health Connected and called "Teen Talk Middle School," to be suspended. In part, the petition reads: "The chosen textbook is age inappropriate and has detailed, graphic description of oral, anal, and vaginal sex. These are taught in a mixed-gender group and activities require explicit topics to be explored and discussed among seventh graders. The scenarios described in the curriculum are designed to increase curiosity on different sexual behaviors in immature minds."
Barbara Wooley, a 20-year educator and member of the group tasked with updating the district's sex education offerings, told The Mercury News, "We hope with every fiber of our being that our seventh-graders are not sexually active, but we also know in reality, it's going to come to a point where they need to know this information."
The Cupertino Union School District was working to update its curriculum in response to a new law adopted in California last year: The Healthy Youth Act, which requires comprehensive sex education be taught at least once in middle school and once in high school. According to the district, the current curriculum, from 2003, does not meet the standards of the law and therefore can no longer be used.
"All of our old curriculum our videos were very heterosexual oriented," a local teacher told the local CBS affiliate. "Not just heterosexual-oriented, but very male-female. One of our movies literally that I showed in seventh grade last year implied that boys were only looking for sex and girls needed to protect their virginity."
One of our movies literally that I showed in seventh grade last year implied that boys were only looking for sex and girls needed to protect their virginity.
Chitra Panjabi is the president and CEO of Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. "We take the position at SIECUS that parents need to be involved in their children's sexuality education," she told Broadly; however, she pointed out, the descriptions of the three sex acts the parents in Cupertino had objected to were actually "pretty factual." Furthermore, according to the Future of Sex Education's National Sexuality Education Standards, by the eighth grade, students should be able to "define sexual intercourse" and "compare and contrast behaviors, including abstinence, to determine the potential risk of STD/HIV transmission from each."
"When you look at how the lessons have to be developed around STI prevention," Panjabi said, "young people actually need to understand what sex is before they can understand how it is they can prevent STIs or protect themselves from STIs. I understand where the parents are coming from, but I also think it is important for us to consider what young people need in terms of information in order to make these decisions."
Nicole Cushman, the executive director of Answer, an organization that offers sexuality education resources to adults and teens across the country, agrees. She says that another concern she had from surveying the Cupertino school board protest was that "the parents seem to be under the impression that teaching this information was going to encourage the kids to go out and have sex."
"We know from decades of research that that's simply not true," she says. "The more we can arm young people with information, the more likely they will wait to have sex."
Because curriculum changes were not approved for Cupertino schools, the school district will most likely be forced to continue offering students antiquated, heteronormative sex ed materials for another school year. Panjabi says there's a danger in that. "One of the things we learned from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2015 was because we often don't have curricula in schools that is reflective of LGBTQ youth's needs, we're seeing that there are higher rates of STIs, higher rates of sexual violence and suicide ideation."
"What that says to me," Panjabi continues, "is that we're doing a terrible job in supporting those young people in giving them the resources they need to live a healthy life."