When the Right Helps to Write the Sex Education Curriculum


Under the standard stereotype, liberals produce the sex ed curriculum and conservatives get alarmed at the things their kids are learning. But in many states today it's the right that's dictating much of the contents of those classes and it's the left that's getting unnerved. Salon staffer Tracy Clark-Flory, for example, is distressed at

Sex education: not just for horny muppets anymore.

a Tennessee bill that has the usual aim of abstinence initiatives—to "exclusively and emphatically" promote abstinence until marriage. But the bill ultimately goes above and beyond the usual. It allows parents to seek damages in court if a teacher "promotes gateway sexual activity" to their child. It's unclear what exactly "gateway sexual activity" is because the measure defines it vaguely as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." Critics of the bill have suggested that this could include everything from hand holding to french kissing. The bill also proscribes "implicitly" promoting or "condoning" gateway sexual activity…

Utah and Wisconsin bills share a focus on STIs and unwanted pregnancy as the inevitable result of premarital sex. The Utah measure requires that human sexuality classes underscore "the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases." The Wisconsin initiative mandates that human sexuality classes "promote abstinence and marriage over contraception" and "emphasize that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections" (which is patently false).

Apparently, public institutions created with one set of values in mind can be captured by people with a different set of values. You may want to bear this in mind the next time you find yourself creating a public institution.

Elsewhere in Reason: Ralph Raico predicted way back in 1974 that sex education would take a turn to the right.


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  1. why is either the right or left drafting sex ed curricula, particularly when schools are doing such a miserable job with their core subjects? Hey parents: raise your kids yourself.

    1. ^^this^^

    2. That is the sorry part isn’t it? It used to be conservatives would say “why the hell are they teaching about sex in school?” But eventually as our society became more and more debased, conservatives became just as debased, though not quite as vile, as liberals on this subject.

      1. Sadly, I think it is much easier to shape sex ed curriculum than it is to abolish it entirely. The same goes for most “public policy” as well.

      2. Sort of makes sense, though. Teach you opponents a lesson in the perils of power by abusing it whenever and wherever possible, to the fullest extent.

  2. “abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections avoid pleasure”


  3. These fights over sex ed just prove the need for vouchers. The only reason they are so vicious is because most parents have no choice but to send their kids to the local public school.

    Give people vouchers and liberals can send their kids to the mandatory gay porn at 10 school and conservatives can send their kids to the “never even think about it” school and everyone is happy.

    1. Give people vouchers and liberals can send their kids to the mandatory gay porn at 10 school and conservatives can send their kids to the “never even think about it” school and everyone is happy.

      Not so.

      Like all government programs, vouchers would no doubt come with conditions.

      Before long parents would be given a choice between public schools, using vouchers to send their kids to a private school that conforms to public school standards, or paying out of pocket.

      The only effect of vouchers would be the Department of Education taking de-facto control of private institutions as a condition of their being allowed to accept voucher money.

      1. That is a fair point. It might work that way. But the bureaucrats might have more of a problem doing that than you think. The existence of massive federal funding of universities in the form of what amounts to vouchers, has not resulted in colleges being as uniform as you warn.

        I think vouchers, while not perfect, would do a lot of good and be a massive improvement over what we have.

        1. It wouldn’t be immediate. They’d wait until private schools are dependent upon public money.
          Then the incremental changes would occur in the form of “standards”.
          It would be like NCLB, which has done nothing but dumb down and destroy the already shitty public schools.

          1. I think these fears are wildly overblown. The sheer number of schools that would open to take advantage of a market-oriented program like vouchers would practically prevent the state from having any meaningful standards. And States run their education programs, for the most part, with NCLB providing an incompetent backstop. The DOE is not going to even be able to reach into the literally tens of thousands of new schools and academies that will open in the wake of a voucher program.

            1. So there aren’t going to be some basic standards, like standards for a diploma, attached to the voucher money?


  4. And when the Left gets ahold of sex education, your 3rd-grader will learn about dental dams, fisting, and Rusty Trombones. The author’s point – that when the state controls education, you have to pick your poison – is right on.

    1. which school system teaches this in 3d grade?

      1. I don’t know of any system that waits that long. Most get ’em in kindergarten.

      2. which school system teaches this in 3d grade?

        Most schools in the northeast teach this information starting in the 1st grade. Public school students in San Francisco have to demonstrate proficiency with a butt plug as early as kindergarten. Only on a dummy for now, but legislation is pending.

        1. u actually believe that fisting & butt plugs are “taught” in 1st grade?

          1. u actually believe that fisting & butt plugs are “taught” in 1st grade?

            Well to say that it’s “taught” implies that the information is actually meaningful to kids that age, a claim I find dubious. All I’m saying is that the instruction is provided.

            1. maybe it could sit-in on a local class then report back real info vs radio entertainment

              1. maybe it could sit-in–

                I traffic in facts, son, and I’ll not have the likes of you questioning the veracity of what I’ve said here. I don’t know what corn-fed midwestern hellhole you live in, where you’re taught early on that all sex ouside marrige and for purposes other than procreation is evil, but out here in the real world, people fist. They play rusty trombones. They perform the Screaming Seagull. Maybe one day when they cut that thing off your ankle, you’ll be able to venture forth and see these wonders for yourself.

                1. ahh i see. so YOU would teach those things in 3d grade. got it

                  1. No – in FIRST grade. Pay attention, Urine

  5. This is silly. Everyone knows I should be setting the sex-ed curriculum for the nation.

    1. No. Warty should be.

      1. Warty runs the DARE program. He dares you to have sex with him.

      2. “Now, puny children, behold the unfathomable horror of my taint!”

    2. Your proposal both terrifies and intrigues me.

      Excuse me while engage in some “gateway sexual activity” and think about what could be…

    3. I think sex ed should be like in The Meaning of Life where the teacher actually has sex in front of the class.

      1. I think we need alcohol education that is taught along the same lines as sex education.

  6. Serious question. Set aside for a moment the obvious answer to this question which is that schools should be teaching things like math and reading and writing instead of sex ed. If you have to teach sex ed, which side running it does the least damage?

    I would vote for the people in Utah and Tennessee. Seriously, is it that bad for the school to be telling your kid not to have sex? I can think of a lot worse things schools can and do tell kids all of the time. In contrast, I think handing out condoms to 5th graders is if nothing else in really bad taste and a hell of a lot more of an imposition my prerogatives as a parent than telling them how bad sex is. I am not too worried about the long term effects of the latter. Somehow I think they will figure out sex is just fine on their own.

    1. I think more information is better than less.

      Security through obscurity is a very risky approach.

      1. Well tarran, as a parent you are free to give all of the information you want. If the curriculum is “we will just tell you it is bad”, parents are free to then give as much or as little information as they choose. But if the curriculum is “we are going to tell you and show you everything, parents can’t really unring that bell.

        You may think that more information is better. And that is your right. But it is also other parents’ right to tell you that it is none of your damn business what decision they make.

        1. Sex-ed should be taught just like any other health class curriculum. Wearing a condom is similar to washing one’s hands. It’s a health issue. Honestly, teens are going to have sex no matter what the Jesus freaks want to pretend. So until schools allow porn watching and spanking it during recess, they might as well teach them the safest way to have sex.

          1. Honestly, teens are going to have sex no matter what the Jesus freaks want to pretend.

            Some will some won’t. And what they do or do not do and know or do not know is up to their parents to decide. Sex is the most private issue there is. And parents, not schools, have the sole right to determine what they teach their kids about it. Sex ed is easily one of the most appalling intrusion on personal autonomy their is.

            It is a good issue though for telling real no kidding libertarians from posers. Posers see “Jesus freak” and immediately fall in love with any government program that controls them. People who are actually principled libertarians see it for the affront to personal freedom that it is.

            1. Would you prevent schools from teaching hygiene (cover mouth while coughing, washing hands, wiping runny noses) because Christian scientists are against modern medicine? I doubt it. Teens have sex, condoms prevent the spread of STDs. I don’t have a problem with the wisdom being shared here. You dislike it because it rankles your Catholic sensibilities. Until the entire school system is revamped you have an option to home school and keep you children ignorant. Knowledge and truth are not an affront to personal freedom.

              1. Shoving your vision of the world down people’s throats and telling people what they should be teaching their children about sex and morality is an enormous affront to personal freedom.

                We get it, you hate religious people. Good for you. That is your right. But where you go astray is you think that it is okay for the government to fuck with people as long as they are fucking with people you don’t like. And that makes you just as bad as the statists you claim to hate.

                1. You over state my dislike of religious people as my Catholic wife would attest to. I’m looking at it from a purely biology / health education stand point. We have schools (that isn’t changing anytime soon), we have parents that are either incapable or unwilling to teach their own kids about major health issues (that’s not changing either), we have an out for those who disagree (its called home schooling / Catholic schools)…so really its not a statist issue.

                  1. we have parents that are either incapable or unwilling to teach their own kids about major health issues (that’s not changing either), w

                    So fucking what? That is their problem. I couldn’t care less. Freedom means the freedom to be wrong. The government has no authority to go and try and fix that. If can fix those “wrong views” then what views can’t it fix?

                    It is not okay for the government to coerce people just because you like it.

          2. Wearing a condom before extramarital sex is like insisting on filtered cigarettes before you light up a cigarette. It makes sense if you’re going to do it anyway. But though there are teens who are going to smoke and have extramarital sex (and they can figure out the condom thing without the benefit of a school class), there are other teens who do neither, and who can be discouraged from it.

            The schools would never adopt a “harm reduction” strategy for smoking – “limit yourself to a few puffs of a pipe every evening” – so that indicates that they somehow see premarital sex as less harmful than smoking – an ideological, not a scientific viewpoint.

            1. That is a really good point and applies to pretty much every other do gooder campaign. Kids are going to drink, so why not teach them to drink responsibly. Same with heroin. Teach them how to tell a bad batch and cut it properly to end over doses.

              1. Teach them how to tell a bad batch and cut it properly to end over doses.

                There was actually a teaching aid for that a few years ago.

              2. Why not actually? If you are going to be principled then we would allow that, not by government but by private campaigns.

                It isn’t even as outrageous as it sounds. “Kids” already can legally drink in Europe, and can even purchase alcohol in a few countries for example.

                In fact, there would be competing campaigns, information about many things would be free flowing, advocacy for or against things would be coming through thick and fast, like a case of dueling billboards. I’d imagine a “Just Say No” vs “Just Say Yes” vs “Just make up your own mind, but don’t come crying” ads.

                Problem is of course, people left and right would complain and always want to state to step in for the goddamn children.

          3. “Honestly, teens are going to have sex no matter what the Jesus freaks want to pretend.”

            And who cares if they do? I’m still waiting for somebody to give me a rational reason why kids shouldn’t have sex (outside the obvious disease/pregnancy – both of which can be controlled). I suppose there’s a “they won’t care about school” argument in there, but also I’m pretty sure that’s not what’s fueling the abstinence crowd.

            1. What is fueling the abstinence crowd is the government trying to dictate what they teach their kids about sex. Get the government to leave people alone and the problem goes away.

            2. Really? You not only don’t see a downside to premarital sex – by children – but you can’t even see why parents would object to it?

            3. Exactly. While I will be extremely nervous once my now 9 year old daughter becomes sexually active (hopefully not for another twenty or so years), I won’t freak out. She goes to a Catholic school so my wife and I will have to teach her real sex education. But doing so will be far better than the idiotic abstinence only BS she learns in school. Unfortunately, many parents aren’t willing or able to tell the truth about sex. Just like many parents don’t know enough about calculus to teach it, many parents can’t teach proper sex ed. I don’t have a problem with schools doing so.

              1. No snark intended, but what about the local Catholic school inspired you to prefer it to the local public school?

                1. Nothing what so ever. My wife insisted that the children go there so they don’t have to attend classes on Sunday to do whatever it is Catholics do. I love her more than I dislike religion so I said fine. I then spend my time as the stay at home dad reteaching my kids those topics where I feel they need a broader education.

            4. I’m still waiting for somebody to give me a rational reason why kids shouldn’t vote.

              I’m still waiting for somebody to give me a rational reason why kids shouldn’t join the military.

              I’m still waiting for somebody to give me a rational reason why kids shouldn’t enter contracts.

              I’m still waiting for somebody to give me a rational reason why kids are entitled to financial support from their parents until age 18.

              In all seriousness, we can debate lowering the age of majority to say 14-16, but it must be set somewhere. It needs to be established that individuals under a certain age are not yet capable of functional adulthood. Therefore they are entitled to care from their parents/guardians, with the corollary that they are legally subject to obey those guardians.

    2. Indeed – I don’t get the moral equivalence here.

      Of course the more liberal parents should have vouchers/tax credits/charter schools to escape the insidious wait-until-marriage messages of the regular schools.

      But where is the opposition to vouchers/tax-credits/charters coming from? Not from the kind of people who support abstinence education.

      If anything, had the left allowed the abstinence education people and other dissenters an escape from the regular schools, then they (the left) could have had the regular schools to themselves and wouldn’t have to worry about “right-wing interference.” If they choose to keep the right-wing parents in the regular system, the left has to face up to the fact that these parents will want to vote for the curriculum they prefer.

      So there’s a second example of phony moral equivalence right there.

      1. But it never occurs to liberals that anyone but other liberals should be allowed to have a say in their own lives and education.

        1. But liberal sex ed has been so successful! Why would anyone want something different for their kids?

    3. Where did they say handing out condoms? The Utah method I can understand, but not the Tennessee bill that makes teachers liable for damages for what the state ambiguously determines “promotes gateway sexual activity” and “encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior.”

      In the end I don’t see how one is better than the other, at all. The voucher method is also very flawed and just like the universities, creates a huge system that once in place is impossible to undo.

      Personally I would prefer not only school choice (only ensured by privatization) but also course choice.

      1. I could see if the legislature provided that the school board would have to hold a disciplinary hearing (with due process) upon receiving credible evidence that a teacher was directly or indirectly trying to undermine the abstinence curriculum. Some sort of precaution, I think, is needed to make sure a law like this isn’t a dead letter.

        Standard disclaimer that school choice is better than a one-size fits all etc.

  7. is masturbation considered abstinence?

    1. “gateway sexual activity”

      BUSTED! No.

      1. I always thought gateway sexual activity was that which occurs in an airport lavatory.

        1. Or a Burger King bathroom.

          1. I thought it meant you could only get off in the St. Louis Arch.

  8. So does this mean my idea of a computer-based Sex Ed class – “Facialbook” – is not gonna get a warm reception in TN?

    Damn…maybe New York and Minnesota will be more receptive….so to speak.

  9. Apparently, public institutions created with one set of values in mind can be captured by people with a different set of values.


    Me today, you tomorrow.

  10. RE: The image.

    “The demonstration will begin with Bert and Ernie followed by Kermit and Miss Piggy.”

    1. They can watch this video, which I posted yesterday.

      Kermit shares his Treyf fantasies:

  11. I somehow managed to miss having to take any sex ed/health classes in high school, so I don’t know what was taught even then.
    But I think it is quite appropriate to teach in school at least the basic mechanics of how it all works. This is basic biology and could be covered in a week in biology class. Pointing out the advantages of using condoms seems like a no brainer too, but there is no reason it needs to be taught in school.

    1. Teaching it as biology makes sense.

      1. Hey, that’s what I said and you bitched at me. Sure I may have inferred that you were a “Jesus freak” but that was just in keeping with the insult comic theme that permeates the Reason comment pages.

        1. Teaching what sex is and making a statement positively or negatively on its morality are two different things.

  12. “…abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections” (which is patently false).

    It’s not patently false if you apply the Precaution Principle.

    “Even though tests that Chemical X cause cancer are inconclusive, why take any risk? It should be banned.”

    “While condoms are highly reliable, they are not 100% effective. Children should be taught the only perfectly safe alternative.”

    That said, I’m in favor of chemicals and against public schools. Sex I’m still undecided on.

  13. I’m surprised that this article doesn’t have the numbers showing how much higher the teen pregnancy rates are in states with abstinence-only sex “education”. The difference it makes is astounding.

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