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"Sex-ed lessons often reinforce, rather than debunk, sex stereotypes."
September 18, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

From Martha Kemper at RH Reality Check, Vaginas Are Sperm Depositories and Other Scary Things About the State of New York's Sex Ed Curricula, a commentary on the New York Civil Liberties Union's recent report on the state of health education and sex ed in schools in New York state.

A pdf of the full report can be found here: Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students. The post title is a quote from the report. The study did not include New York City schools, but the NYCLU hopes to survey NYC schools in the future.
posted by not that girl (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
“When you practice abstinence, you will not be guilty of having sex with an unwilling partner. You will not be accused of date rape.”

I would make a detailed argument against this crazy kind of inanity, but apparently my torso was drawn up in Paint by a sixth grader, my mind is just plain caught up in trying to make a firm decision on what kind of committed relationship I would like tonight (brie, or chevre?), and it's pretty possible my ladyparts are going to fall out without the anchor of sperm or spawn. No wonder a male acquaintance once asked when much younger whether I actually leaked blue liquid once a month. Thanks, guys.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:17 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


One describes women as hazardous material discovered by “Adam.” The handout suggests that the uses of this new element include “highly ornamental especially when in sports car” and “can be a very effective cleaning agent.” The chemical properties include “reacts well to gold, platinum, and all precious stones.” And, the hazards include “turns green when placed next to superior specimen.”

The only way I can describe the look on my face while reading this tidbit is by using What. Tha. Hell. Cliched, I know, but to find myself reduced to "a very effective cleaning agent" who "reacts well to gold" is such an enormous slap in the face that I want to hunt the writer down and rub his or her nose in that handout. This is being handed out in schools?!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:10 PM on September 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yes, I was very disappointed that the schools handing the brain 'diagrams' and the hazmat descriptions were not cited. I'd have a list of school admins to contact.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:15 PM on September 18, 2012


"a very effective cleaning agent"

They've obviously never met me.
posted by Malice at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


And while we're on the topic of poor sexual diagrams, can we address the fact that most diagrams of the penis in the United States do not include a foreskin, or even mention the foreskin?
posted by Malice at 6:21 PM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the report, only 35% of districts surveyed taught students how to properly use male condoms (80% discussed them in some way but didn't teach proper use). Alan Shore really put it best in a old Boston Legal episode (transcript):
"The condom is arguably the single most important invention of the past 2,000 years. In fact, it has been said without exaggeration that the health of the world depends on them. Now one would think that the obvious choice would be for schools to tell their students as much."
There is absolutely zero excuse for schools that do not teach students basic accurate information about birth control and protection from sexually transmitted infections. The abstinence-only nutjobs are one thing, but it's utterly inexcusable to claim to be offering comprehensive sex education and not provide this information to your students.
posted by zachlipton at 6:24 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


....I have a feeling that the "handouts" described at the end were joke things that got passed around in class by kids goofing off, rather than actual handouts distributed by educators. I've seen those kind of things in the dippy e-mail forwards that got passed around in the 90's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 PM on September 18, 2012


I might agree with you Empress except that the writing has a dated feeling, as though it was written in the 50's. Do kids write like this now? Would they think it is funny to describe women (girls) as effective cleaning agents?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:27 PM on September 18, 2012


....I have a feeling that the "handouts" described at the end were joke things that got passed around in class by kids goofing off, rather than actual handouts distributed by educators. I've seen those kind of things in the dippy e-mail forwards that got passed around in the 90's

The researchers got the materials through Freedom of Information Act requests to the school districts.
posted by not that girl at 6:31 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also the article states: A number of districts have created very interesting handouts: that doesn't sound like she is describing something that was possibly written as a joke by kids and passed around furtively, that sounds like an official handout. I really think that the "jokes" are an adult's idea of humor, some adult that sits on the school board and has enough clout to get these handouts published and available to the pupils.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2012


Once upon a time there the FBI training center was using a list of lame usenet joke-viri as actual training material for what the agency needed to do to respond to computer crimes.

Replace those highly trained federal agents with a teacher or administrator who was saddled with this mostly against there will, wasn't good at writing and/or given proper time to do it, was given a big stack of approved (and terribly dated) material to borrow from and was told to SAY ANYTHING TO KEEP THE KIDS FROM HAVING S - E - X.

Then add a HectoRomney of tone deafness to the mix and this seems about right.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:34 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


God. And this is New York. I wonder what passes for sex ed in Alabama or Kansas?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:35 PM on September 18, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy: I wonder what passes for sex ed in Alabama

There's a 'make the kid herd sheep' joke in there somewhere, I believe.
posted by hanov3r at 7:03 PM on September 18, 2012


“When you practice abstinence, you will not be guilty of having sex with an unwilling partner. You will not be accused of date rape.”

I'm considering a vasectomy lest my hypothetical kids somehow end up in school. Jesus wept.
posted by kengraham at 8:00 PM on September 18, 2012


I'm finding it really hard to believe this isn't satire. God damn, there's a long way to go.
posted by twirlypen at 8:42 PM on September 18, 2012


i grew up religious and my parents pulled me out of school on sex-ed day. i used to be mad at what fucking prudes they were (i only knew about my period because my lesbian aunt pulled me aside and told me everything) - but now i guess i'm thankful that i didn't get the south's version of this "education."
posted by nadawi at 10:50 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


My sex-ed classes were somewhat different (Manchester, Uk).

Our teacher brought in a rubber mould of a erect penis (complete with testicles) and plenty of condoms. She showed us how to open the condom wrapper without risk of damage and how to put it on the penis. While the class got on with written work each pupil went up and repeated the procedure, talking through what they were doing. You only got a "pass" if you did it all correctly and said the key points aloud as you did them. Several people messed it up and had to repeat it twice or more.

We had similar lessons (but with diagrams and labelled photo handouts rather than a model) for female genitals. I'd seen plenty of porn by that point of my life but those lessons were when I discovered words like vulva and the ever poetic mons pubis.

With hindsight it was a bit "mechanical", but it was being taught in a biology class so perhaps that was appropriate. Three Jewish children from my class didn't attend those lessons. Their parents had sent letters and they sat in the school library and messed about on the computers. A few months later I was in a shopping centre with one of the Jewish boys when a condom company were handing out free samples, of course we got some to keep in our wallets "just in case". My friend's dad found his and he was grounded for a month.

Ill informed, lacking in equipment and without the ability to sensually whisper mons pubis into young lady's ear is no way to live a life. Tragic.
posted by samworm at 12:20 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


As I get older and blatant misogyny, objectification and nullification of women as individual human agents... remains... even among yougsters on whom I had placed some hope for the future, I have often found myself wondering, in the face of Yet Another So-Called "Joke" Along The Lines of "blood donations coming up, eh? They should just put the announcement on the women's bathroom door, bahaha" (actual real-life excerpt from a couple of days ago, said in front of me, a woman), is there someone teaching this kind of thing?? Is someone seriously teaching young people that women aren't even worth considering as human?? Because this sort of shit has to be taught; it just doesn't come naturally to see half of humanity as an object. Sure, a sexist parent or family can have a lot of influence, but if that's not echoed on a larger scale, at least some healthy doubts can be upheld, and goodness knows I had my share of egalitarian teachers and professors who managed to tease out those doubts and encourage reality-based thought surrounding them.

One describes women as hazardous material discovered by “Adam.” The handout suggests that the uses of this new element include “highly ornamental especially when in sports car” and “can be a very effective cleaning agent.” The chemical properties include “reacts well to gold, platinum, and all precious stones.” And, the hazards include “turns green when placed next to superior specimen.”

So. Objectification is indeed being taught. This is how those dumbass "jokes" come to be felt as somehow acceptable. Sigh.
posted by fraula at 12:46 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now really, I call troll. "Any relationship to reality is purely coincidental"?
posted by Gordafarin at 4:29 AM on September 19, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy: "The only way I can describe the look on my face while reading this tidbit is by using What. Tha. Hell. Cliched, I know, but to find myself reduced to "a very effective cleaning agent" who "reacts well to gold" is such an enormous slap in the face that I want to hunt the writer down and rub his or her nose in that handout. This is being handed out in schools?!"

This is not a new "joke." It's been circulated on the Internet since at least the mid-90s. It may go back farther. In the context of terrible jokes that play on moronic stereotypes, it's actually a pretty good example. As a sex ed handout, it's worse than garbage. I am more than slightly suspicious that it was actually used as such.

I'm not surprised to learn that sex ed in the US is near worthless, though. I thought we already knew that.
posted by wierdo at 8:03 AM on September 19, 2012


I used to teach Theory of Knowledge (part of the IB curriculum, so these were grade 11 and 12 students) at a public charter school in a Bible Belt state. I was in the middle of a series of lessons about how unconscious bias was an obstacle on the path towards objectivity.

One day, when my students walk into the classroom, they find a face-down notecard on their desk. When class begins, I tell them to flip the cards and answer the question on it in 30 seconds. Half the cards read: What are the first three words that come to mind when you are asked to describe a man who has had sex with many partners. The other half of the cards ask the same question, but with "woman" instead of "man".

Over the three different years I taught this particular lesson, somewhere between 70-80% of the words about the man were "positive" (stud, player, etc.) and the rest were "negative" (man-whore, etc.). None of the cards about the man had 3 "negative" words, but were always mixed with the "positive". About 95% of the words about the woman were "negative" words (whore, slut). Over three years, this is a statistical sample size of about 120 total students.

Now, I'm not going to go into the rest of that lesson. Although, I can tell that many of the male students (and some of the female students) are recognizing the double standard for the first time and having an "aha!" moment. Instead, I'm going to tell what I did with this data after seeing 3 years of the same thing. I took the data to the grade 9 health teacher (who's responsible for sex ed). Now, this teacher is new to the school, so she wasn't the health teacher for the students I had. I asked her if the sex ed curriculum reinforced this double standard. The answer she gave me is essentially the advice advocated for at the end of the linked article.

She told me that if the teacher of the health class is uncomfortable (or has limited knowledge with discussing sexuality), the temptation to fall back on and reinforce simplistic stereotypes becomes greater: these cultural stereotypes are the path of least resistance. There are teachers who do go into full detail about sexuality, but the parents loudly complain, and the administration of the school has to go into damage control. She went on to tell that she tries to expose and undermine the double standards that are built into the sex ed curriculum. If the teacher questions the curriculum, it makes it easier for the students to question it. Apparently, the health teacher at my school before her did not question the curriculum and I ended up with students with unquestioned double standards.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:19 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is not a new "joke." It's been circulated on the Internet since at least the mid-90s. It may go back farther.

I knew I'd seen some of them in that context before!

In the context of terrible jokes that play on moronic stereotypes, it's actually a pretty good example. As a sex ed handout, it's worse than garbage. I am more than slightly suspicious that it was actually used as such.

I also doubt that it was handed out as a serious educational part of the curriculum. A teacher may have handed it out as a ham-handed attempt to "be lighthearted", though (I think everyone had at least one high school teacher who thought they needed to "pal around" with their students and was just seriously clumsy and old-fashioned and square about it).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on September 19, 2012


> A teacher may have handed it out as a ham-handed attempt to "be lighthearted", though

It's also at least possible that some of these could have been handed out by good teachers as "This is what I'm talking about. This is the kind of objectification/stereotyping shit you may run into" bad examples. Whether there's much hope of that being the case I don't know, but written material obtained via FOIA requests have necessarily been stripped of whatever context they were originally presented in.
posted by jfuller at 11:00 AM on September 19, 2012


I see the problem with many of the examples cited in this article, like neglecting the spread or treatment of HIV, but I'm confused why the author is so outraged about the vagina and uterus explanations when similar presentations are found in much more reputable sources than high school handouts and, more importantly, when those explanations sound like pretty good five-words-or-less summaries of the functions of those organs.

I have the 10th edition AAOS orange book in front of me right now (basically the standard textbook for EMTs in the US), and it says "The vagina receives the penis during sexual intercourse, when semen is deposited in it. The sperm in the semen may pass into the uterus and fertilize an egg, causing pregnancy. Should the pregnancy come to completion at about 40 weeks, the neonate will pass through the vagina and be born. The vagina also channels the menstrual flow from the uterus out of the body."

Okay, so maybe this presentation was chosen for an EMT textbook because for that audience, the relevance of lesbian sex pretty much starts and stops at venereal disease, and by and large venereal diseases tend not to be medical emergencies except as the sum of their symptoms.

But, besides the argument to authority here, don't these just seem like reasonable explanations of what uteruses and vaginas do?. If you want me to explain the uterus in five words or less, it's going to involve babies, and if you want me to explain the vagina in five words or less, two of those words are going to be penis and semen. This does not seem like a patriarchical atavism to me.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:59 PM on September 19, 2012


It occurs to me that this may be one of those topics that historically causes MeFi threads to go horribly sideways, so maybe I should mention that I taught sex ed for a while at the University of Chicago (hardly a bastion of neoconservative Bible-humpery). Please read my previous comment as genuine confusion (and slight concern that I might have been doing it wrong) rather than any defense of the handouts in the article.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:02 PM on September 19, 2012


Oh my God, I swear that was supposed to say "thumpery". As in, I was making up a noun form of Bible-thumping.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:03 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh my God, I swear that was supposed to say "thumpery".

Best. Freudian slip. Ever.

The fact that your last name is "wang" makes it EVEN BETTER.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:12 PM on September 19, 2012


d.z. wang, I will not try to answer your questions about the vagina and uterus per se except that the overall submissive/accessory tone always applied to the vagina and uterus and never applied to the penis is part of it. Why is the penis not described as the organ 'enveloped by the vagina'? The penis is given a role to do; the vagina has something done to it. Part of this is understandably the fact that it is a channel, but that ignores the fact that it is also muscular. I'm not a lesbian, but my vagina actually does quite a lot in the absence of my husband, and it more than just passively 'receives the penis' when he is around.

Anyway, what always galls me about many of these descriptions is the equation of the penis to the vagina, and no mention of the vulva. Which is also a big problem with that picture of the baby hanging out of the quite literal 'lady-hole'.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:01 PM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why we need sex ed, for real
posted by homunculus at 10:27 PM on September 19, 2012


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