Women's Issues

Camille Paglia’s Problematic Op-Ed About Sex Education Misses The Mark On Teens And Sex

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Camille Paglia Time Magazine sex ed pieceCamille Paglia‘s Time Magazine sex ed piece is causing some controversy for the writer this weekend. I will admit that it makes some decent points on how sex education might improve if some of the focus was gender-specific, such as including lessons on consent for boys (though I think this is also applicable to young women) and how STDs may effect fertility for girls. But it misses the mark on a lot of major issues. In particular I found this part to be problematic:

“Above all, girls need life-planning advice. Too often, sex education defines pregnancy as a pathology, for which the cure is abortion. Adolescent girls must think deeply about their ultimate aims and desires. If they want both children and a career, they should decide whether to have children early or late. There are pros, cons and trade-offs for each choice.”

Again, not all of this is bad. I think more young women taking the reins when it comes to family and career planning can only be a good thing. But to insinuate that current sex ed programs focus on abortion, when many of them are stifled from even discussing birth control options at all (and are therefore forced to focus on abstinence only), is disingenuous at best and an outright attempt to discredit legitimate sexual education programs at worst.

She does go on to make some valid points about the state of sexual education in America, however:

“Unfortunately, sex education in the U.S. is a crazy quilt of haphazard programs. A national conversation is urgently needed for curricular standardization and public transparency. The present system is too vulnerable to political pressures from both the left and the right–and students are trapped in the middle.”

I couldn’t agree more with Paglia on this point. But she loses me again in the very next paragraph with this gem:

“Sex education has triggered recurrent controversy, partly because it is seen by religious conservatives as an instrument of secular cultural imperialism, undermining moral values. It’s time for liberals to admit that there is some truth to this and that public schools should not promulgate any ideology. The liberal response to conservatives’ demand for abstinence-only sex education has been to condemn the imposition of “fear and shame” on young people. But perhaps a bit more self-preserving fear and shame might be helpful in today’s hedonistic, media-saturated environment.”

Yes folks, you read that right. According to Paglia, the remedy for America’s problems when it comes to sexual education is MORE SHAME.

Shaming young women (because it’s really the women they’re shaming here, never the men) does nothing to further the advancement of sexual education. Nothing. Not only that, but abstinence only programs have been proven time and time again to be useless. In fact, states where abstinence only education is mandated have the highest rates of teen pregnancy (I’m looking at you, Mississippi).

I’m not against teaching abstinence in any way. But in addition to abstinence, teens need to be taught the facts about sex and sexual health. No one is advocating porn in the classroom, or “listing the varieties of sexual gratification, from masturbation to oral and anal sex” as Paglia but it. But giving kids the cold, hard facts about pregnancy, STDs,  consent, and choice is absolutely necessary. We don’t need to “put the sex back in sex education,” Ms. Paglia. We need to put the smarts back in sex education.

(Photo: Getty Images)