It’s Okay to Teach Medically Accepted Facts, Right?

I recently read somewhere (unfortunately I can’t remember exactly where – it may have been an article, a blog or a comment section or some combination thereof) the opinion of a socially conservative Republican on sex education. This particular individual believed that teachers should not be able to share opinions (particularly: favorable views of homosexuality or sex) and “safe” sex should not be taught in schools. They really did put safe in quotes.

While I could go on and on about the effects abstinence-only sex ed has on the sexual behavior of high school students (*cough* none *cough*) or about how great it is to teach students about safe sexual practices, I won’t. All I want to say is: do we not want to teach students the facts?

Put the whole (ridiculous) “teach the controversy” evolution creationism anti-science stuff aside, just briefly. Put the positive vs. negative views of sex aside, briefly. Put all similar issues aside, briefly, and tell me: do we or do we not want to base our educational system off of facts?

STIs and STDs are medically accepted facts. Condom usage decreasing the incidence of STDs/STIs is a medically accepted fact. HIV’s existence and the ways it can be transmitted are medically accepted facts. The rates at which different types of contraception (including natural family planning) prevent pregnancy are medically accepted facts. You do not have to make and share a value judgement about sex to teach medical facts. We teach other medical facts in our schools without controversy – first aid, CPR, how an embryo is formed, how the kidneys work, etc.

Students should learn about the human body. They should learn about sexual organs and their functions because they are part of the human body. They should learn about STIs and STDs because those diseases/infections affect people in their age group, like many mental illnesses that students learn about.

For what it’s worth, I do not recall my sex. ed. teachers giving any sort of opinion on sex. We studied different STIs/STDs, the sexual organs, and the process of ejaculation, ovulation and fertilization. We briefly studied the different forms of contraception and what their purposes were (condoms offer protection against STIs/STDs**** and prevent pregnancy while the birth control pill only prevents pregnancy, etc.). No one ever said, “Sex is good,” or “Sex is bad.”

Most of the arguments that these social conservatives* make are about how teachers shouldn’t be teaching their opinions or values to the students. If this is true, then these people should be in favor of the facts, right? And the facts are everything I mentioned above with the one addition – not having sex, when followed 100% of the time, is the surest way to prevent pregnancy and STIs/STDs.¬† They shouldn’t argue** with the decision to teach facts (especially about which there is no controversy, manufactured or otherwise).***

*I’m specifically talking about social conservatives against sex. ed. (abstinence-only sex ed is an oxymoron so it doesn’t really fall into “sex. ed.”)

**There’s another argument to be had here – that many social conservatives are hypocrites because they say positive views of homosexuality shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in schools, but students should be taught that sex outside of marriage is wrong. In other words, they say the teaching of values they don’t espouse is wrong, but the teaching of their values is fine. Anyway, that’s a topic for another post.

***Some of you may be thinking, “But sex is good, and that’s a fact!” I agree, but I understand that that particular fact is actually controversial since certain religions claim it’s only good between a married couple who are trying to procreate. :p

**** It was pointed out to me in the comments that condoms don’t protect fully against all STDs/STIs, but then I don’t think I claimed that they did. Just clarifying.

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6 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Teach Medically Accepted Facts, Right?

  1. thesecond says:

    With stds, there’s strong evidence they stop HIV and gonorrhea, less good evidence for a lot of other stds, since a lot of them are transmitted via secretions e.g. herpes which may be outside the area the condom covers.

    You certainly don’t present a scientific view of stds. That would require citing a variety of studies on the issue and clearly showing when condoms are effective, when they’re not, and how effective they are in varying conditions (e.g. not with oil based lubes, don’t tend to work so well when you’re drunk or inexperienced) and with varying stds. If you don’t do it, why do you expect a teacher, who may know no science, to do it? They teach with the materials they are given.

    On your other point, social conservatives worry about exactly what you said, teachers saying sex is good or bad. You know the facts about what social conservatives believe, what you disagree with is whether they’re right. I don’t know in general how sex positive sexual education classes are, but I’m sure some people have done science on this.

    • I’m writing a blog post, not educating students. I made some broad generalizations, but I’m not writing a curriculum. I can expect teachers to learn about what they’re teaching before they teach it because it’s their job to do so.

      There is a difference between broadly excepted medical facts and things that are being studied scientifically. I do not think that you could currently make a case on the basis of available studies that it is a good thing to teach either sex-positive or sex-negative curricula. What you can make a case for is teaching medical knowledge about STIs/STDs, contraception, etc.

      • thesecond says:

        You live in Pennsylvania. I’m sure you’ve heard about teacher’s unions. They’re not obliged to work at all if they give 48 hours notice, and they do strike a lot. You seriously think they have any obligation to work accurately? They work with your level of generalizations or below. And it’s very hard to fire them whatever they do.

        You can’t make a case easily whether sex positive or sex negative is better, but you can make a case whether schools in general are sex positive or negative. Many parents worry that their schools are sex positive and teach their young kids to have sex. Is that true in general? Who knows.

        • First off, you are completely off topic. My point is that people shouldn’t have a problem with teaching medical knowledge in schools. I didn’t bother to deal with the practical problems that stem from that because that’s too much for one post.

          Second, I don’t live in PA. Read my “about” page again.

          “and they do strike a lot” is a weird generalization. As I am not from PA and no intention of continuing to live there, I did not involve myself with the politics of Pennsylvania. I voted absentee in my home state because I felt my vote made more sense there than in PA. So no, I haven’t “heard about teacher’s unions,” and that “they’re not obliged to work at all if they give 48 hours notice.” You accused me of over-generalizing, and now you are doing the same thing.

          As for having an obligation to “work accurately,” whether or not they actually make an effort to teach accurate material may be questionable, but yes, teachers do have a moral and social obligation to teach the most accurate information possible. What I can tell you is that in my home state, teachers usually live up to that obligation.

    • rowanwphillips says:

      Using condoms will always offer more protection that nothing at all, teaching young people how to use them properly will increase their effectiveness in all conditions, so why not teach their proper use, I can’t really see any negatives. Teenagers will have sex, telling them how to do it in a way that is less likely to ruin their life has to be a good thing.

      Whats wrong with teaching teenagers that sex is ok? Especially that they’re not dirty or sick or mental for having homosexual thoughts. It doesn’t have to be actively encouraged but mant gay teenagers commit suicide every year because they feel society will reject them if they admit what they feel. Being told that they are normal is important to all young people.

      • I don’t personally have a problem with teaching people that sex is okay or a good thing. Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who do oppose that viewpoint on religious grounds. My point is more that you can teach about contraception without saying, “You should be having sex, it’s great!” And also without saying it’s a bad thing.

        I agree with your ideas about teaching students that having homosexual thoughts does not make them sick or dirty or crazy, but I felt I needed to set that aside for this post. What I was trying to get at is just that you can teach broadly accepted medical facts about contraception without making value judgments about sex or sexuality.

        A lot of problems arise when you bring up homosexuality because people are often very irrational about homosexuality. It is its own issue in need of being addressed separately. The argument for why we need to teach students that having homosexual thoughts doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you is a very different (and far more difficult) argument from the one I made about contraception, I think. Also one I hardly feel organized or qualified to write about. :/

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