Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Sex Education and Yeshivas

At work recently, some of my coworkers were expressing in a public forum how they feel about sex education, namely, how important it is and how abstinence-only education is a crock and how the religious nuts who refuse to accept that their children might want to have sex before marriage are backwards.


It's nothing I haven't heard before, but these conversations always make me queasy. My Ivy League-educated self is nodding along. But my yeshiva-high-school-educated self is shaking my head no as vigorously as possible. 

I am the product of a religious environment that preaches that marital sex is the only type of sex one should be having--and I believe in that value. It is halacha.

In school, we didn't really have abstinence-only education; we didn't have any form of sex education because it was assumed that we would wait until marriage to have sex, wait until marriage to even touch (though that was more questionable at my Modern Orthodox school). Nobody taught abstinence; it just came with the territory. 

And I am not so naive as to think that no Orthodox teenagers are having sex. Of course they are (though I would like to think in much lower numbers than the general teenage population). But that means there is a huge risk in not teaching sex education, and can yeshivas really ignore that risk?

I guess sex-education conversations in the outside (the bubble) world make me queasy because I know a lot of what they say is legitimate. And I do not know how a religious school could address the issue without seemingly approving of relationships the Torah prohibits, but that's not a reason to ignore a problem. (It is yet another reason to make me happy I am not in the field of Jewish education.)

One of the biggest problems with the Orthodox community is that we like to pretend we are immune to problems that afflict others. If we don't acknowledge that girls are starving themselves, maybe anorexia won't exist. If we don't acknowledge that teenagers are having sex, maybe they won't get STDs.

I like the way I was raised. I like to think that I have a relatively healthy--if conservative by secular standards--view on sex and marriage, and I am happy I was taught those values. But I just don't think the solution is to hope the values stick and let those who don't accept them loose without the knowledge they need.

5 Comments:

At 12/24/08, 9:19 PM, Blogger Kul Tora said...

"how the religious nuts who refuse to accept that their children might want to have sex before marriage are backwards"
well, the chassidim don't refuse to accept it - they recognize it and have you marry early. outside of this - is it true normal parents whom have normal libidos actually don't think their children are interested..? i find it hard to believe if its true.

But that means there is a huge risk in not teaching sex education, and can yeshivas really ignore that risk?
Can't one get sex education from Chumash? see Vaykira 19:2, Devarim 23:18, etc. :)

But I just don't think the solution is to hope the values stick and let those who don't accept them loose without the knowledge they need.
Let's ask the secular world something. Most normal people are prone to a little road rage - but society's response to this normal human behavior is "don't do it, ignore the rage, don't get aggressive, etc". So according to the secular world, by road rage its ok to educate abstinence, but by sex its not? If they condoned road rage the way they condone sex perhaps in the defensive driving classes they would teach "its ok to get angry and aggressive when you're driving - we know it will happen - so just when you do it please make sure you have a working seat belt on and you have good medical insurance."

 
At 12/25/08, 4:39 AM, Blogger K said...

Driving and having babies: two rather different scenarios.

(I think, btw, that this post is thoughtful and interesting and wonderful. And versions of it might go elsewhere.)

 
At 12/25/08, 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why do yeshivas have to be the one to provide sex education because of the individuals who need it.
Why isnt that the responsibility of the parents to provide the individual child(ren) that they see may head down that path.
Some responsibility falls on the parents head, we cant expect yeshivas to provide everything.
besides whatever yeshivas provide (and for that matter all schools) are tailored for the needs of the average student or a group of students but not for the needs of each individual. Parents can tailor everything for the needs of the specific child

 
At 12/25/08, 4:19 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Here's the thing Kul Tora: It's not like road rage because we don't preach lifelong abstinence. We don't view sex as a necessarily bad thing; we want it in specific parameters. And yes we could say "Just stay away until you're married," but my point is that's not going to totally work, and I am not convinced we should just let the kids who don't listen go without the knowledge they need. Yes, it is a conclusion I am more than a little uncomfortable with but one that I cannot ignore.

And yes, Anonymous, parents should always be part of the solution and should know best what their kids need and should be able to give it to them, but especially concerning this issue, I find it hard to believe that parents will be aware and willing to acknowledge. And I just don't think it's something worth taking a chance on.

 
At 12/25/08, 6:23 PM, Blogger Scraps said...

Personally, I got The Talk when I was relatively young, certainly not at an age at which there was even the slightest chance that I was going to be engaging in such behavior. (In fact, I was so grossed out that for years I swore I would adopt. :-P) And the day school I went to gave sex education in the fifth and sixth grades - not because they thought that we would be doing it, but so we would be informed.

I am not in favor of withholding information about sex in the hope that doing so will make people not have it. Teenagers aren't stupid, and they have too much access to information not to find out what their parents and teachers don't want them to find out. It is beyond naive to expect them not to. (Only possible exception - there actually still are some chassidish girls who find out the night of their wedding. Ouch.) And honestly, I think it is irresponsible and dangerous not to inform kids of the dangers of engaging in risky behavior, including sex. Telling them how it's done does not mean that they will immediately go out and do it!

Now, I'm not advocating handing out condoms along with the class. That would be seen as condoning such relationships, no mistake about it. But age-appropriate sex ed, in an appropriate setting? I think it should be done. Obviously, whoever was teaching the class would stress that the Torah does NOT condone premarital sex, but let the students know that the class is being given so that they know the consequences and risks of such behavior.

(Eli7, did I surprise you?)

 

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