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Fifty shades of sex ed

Parents say it’s too sexual, but they should rethink

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Sex Ed

Hawai‘i public schools will be required to offer sex education classes starting in 2016.

Major controversy arose in August 2014 when the San Francisco Fremont Unified School District announced that they would be adopting a new freshman health textbook, McGraw-Hill’s “Your Health Today.” The book includes topics from anatomy to disease, and of course, sex. However, flipping through the text left some parents concerned. The new textbook details several controversial topics in its sexual health chapter, including sexting, sex toys and sex games.

What really got parents hot and bothered? The McGraw-Hill textbook reads, “[One] kind of sex game is bondage and discipline, in which restriction of movement or sensory deprivation is employed for sexual enjoyment.”

At a glance, this may seem too racy for high school freshmen. But with input from the highly sexualized media and entertainment industry, teens today are not the same as teens of the 20th century. While many parents are furious with Fremont schools, the district is not wrong to provide this information to high school freshmen in a safe, informative space.

A sexualized entertainment industry

Let’s not pretend that high schoolers are unaware of the hit movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Racking up major box office sales, the sexy “bondage bonanza” film was ranked Universal’s highest selling R-rated movie of all time. Despite its R rating, odds are some high schoolers know it exists through Internet sources and have seen clips or the full movie.

Forty years ago, this was not an issue. However, it is only fair (and expected) that sex ed follows up with what is being shown to students everywhere, whether parents like it or not. It is the duty of health curriculum to address what kids are seeing today, in a straightforward, informative manner. 

Following the passage describing bondage, the McGraw-Hill textbook reads, “Most sex games are safe and harmless, but partners need to openly discuss and agree beforehand on what they are comfortable doing.”

Slate writer Amanda Marcotte had a point when she said, “‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is doing plenty to teach young people that bondage exists, but it’s up to responsible educators to tell them not to do that unless they like it.”

The digital age

We have welcomed the digital age with open arms, and young teens have followed suit. As Internet use and social media continues to rise in popularity, sex ed curriculum  developers should keep in mind what students may see on their smartphones and the internet.

While the act of sexting was not discussed among sex ed classes that our parents took, it is a relevant part of sexual culture today. It is important for students to learn about these things and their repercussions in a safe space, so that they can make informed decisions when put in such situations.

Empowering girls and teens

Many parents are concerned about the fact that Your Health Today addresses pleasure in sex. However, doing so puts girls in charge of their bodies and what they want.

“Telling kids, ‘You should only have sex if everyone involved is having fun,’ is a straightforward and easy lesson,” Amanda Marcotte said in her article. “It’s a far better strategy than what happens when you ignore the pleasure component, and discourse about consent devolves into pointless and tedious debates over how far a man can push a woman who isn’t into it before it becomes legally actionable.”

While many parents are concerned about the fact the the text highlights some controversial topics in sex, it caters to the evolving generation of teens, letting them know that their relationships should make them feel good, instead of being pressured, guilt-tripped or feeling like sex should happen at a certain time.