Opting in or opting out
Published October 19, 2023
By Lib Campbell
Former North Carolina Secretary of Cultural Resources, Betty Ray McCain, was also a humorist. She often told the story of coming from such a small town, so small they had to provide “driver’s ed and sex ed in the same car.” The back seat of a car is no place to learn about the birds and the bees. But that’s where sex education in North Carolina is heading.
The title of the WRAL article says it all. “Fewer NC students are expected to receive sex ed. Why that worries health experts.” It should not be shocking that a legislature bent on banning certain books and curricula, who undermine the authority of teachers, and give parents a total right to collar their children in ignorance has now passed a law that confuses the process by which children are enrolled in sex ed.
Senate Bill 49 states that parents must opt in for their children to have reproductive health education. Opting out is now the default selection for schools. Parents who want to opt out of sex ed have always had the prerogative to withdraw their children. Let’s send all the sex talk back to parents. Let’s leave young people floundering in questions about what is happening to their bodies. Objective health education that includes discussion about adolescence, body development, and reproduction gives young people information to help them make better choices.
If I were designing a sex ed class, I would include a section on gender differences. Ignoring the realities of physicality and sexuality can damage the psyche of young people who have deep questions about what is happening to them. I think we have ill-equipped young people to understand that our differences are the one thing we have most in common. All of us are different. Finding our place in the scheme of life is our most important work. As parents, we are charged with affirming our children and opening them to a world broader than a list of dos and don’ts.
When sex education became part of the curriculum years ago, teen pregnancies declined. Simply telling young people “you can’t do that,” is not a solution. Teaching that “nice girls don’t do things like that” leads to dysfunction and failures in marriage.
Some say when you tell children about birth control you open the floodgates of promiscuity. I say that there is a misunderstanding about promiscuity and curiosity being the same thing. Having parented two children and working with youth in the church and in the high school band, I know some of the angst adolescents have. I remember cautioning young people about “purpling.” What I found out was that many of them had deep concerns and questions that a flippant admonition overlooked.
With the influence of sources, like TikTok and other online sites, talking sex may be accurate and healthy or depraved or distorted, we risk losing young people to unhealthy ways of being in relationships. Sexuality is best addressed with sound education about choice, and protection, and it needs to be taught earlier than seventh and eighth grades. Puberty is coming earlier and earlier.
Being prepared for the onslaught of hormones in adolescence is easier when it is understood. Making such discussions taboo cripples young people, too often making them feel like something is wrong with them. I can’t help wondering if lack of healthy understandings about sexuality influences teen suicide.
Bill 49 states that schools can, but don’t have to teach reproductive health before seventh grade, that opt in or opt out is a choice given parents, that families can review instructional materials, that instruction must be medically correct, and that schools must teach about sex trafficking.
While few parents opt out of sex ed for their children, even fewer know they now need to opt in. It seems like a trap that needs to be exposed. I have always thought that knowledge is power. That’s why is seems incredulous that there are decision-makers who want to remove history, literature, and any curriculum that might engender critical thinking and good decision making.
Perhaps the days of “barefoot and pregnant” are on the horizon again. At the same time sex ed is on the chopping block, abortion rights and medical health for women is also under attack. Seems women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Chastity belts may be on Christmas lists around North Carolina this year. I don’t hear anybody raising a flag for eunuchs. Women bear the consequences of unwanted pregnancies.
If parents don’t choose to opt in to sex education, their young people may sail into adulthood rudderless, blind, and ignorant to what healthy adulthood means. Generations that do not understand all the ramifications of being sexual beings are being short-changed by the adults who are charged with helping them grow into whole people. Secretary McCain may have been joking, but the way we are addressing sex ed in North Carolina is no laughing matter.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com