Two years ago I sat in a parent-packed auditorium waiting to find out what our fifth graders would be learning in their first round of sex education. Since our family had just switched from a Christian school to a public one, I wondered what I’d hear.
The night was tame enough, at least from the instructor. She assured parents our fifth graders really got “puberty ed” - all body hair, body odor, erections and menstruation, discussed in gender-segregated settings. Well, it was tame until she opened the floor for questions. Then, plenty of panicked, parental hands shot up to ask just which words would be used, which details shared. One woman’s fifth grader “knew nothing” about sex yet and she wanted to keep it that way. At least until seventh grade, she said.
I laughed out loud at this. What world are these people living in? I wondered.
Turns out, these parents weren’t paranoid because they were out of touch with the world, but because they were very much part of it.
According to recent stories in The Atlantic and The New York Times, globalization and the increasingly varied views among neighbors on how (and by whom) sex ed should be taught has made sex education in our schools trickier than ever. It’s also often more conservative, especially as Muslim populations have spread.
How I wish this wasn't so. Even though I get it.
It’s scary. It’s hard to speak freely - liberally - about sex with our kids. And even harder - and scarier - to have them hearing about it from others, even wise and trusted educators. And yet, they do. They will.
Sex - and our understanding of it - is never beyond redemption.
Rather than resisting this, Christian parents would do well to lead the way through the panic and champion the teaching of age-appropriate basics about sex and reproduction and contraception in schools. We should also discuss it openly - without shame or (too much) embarrassment - in the home. This way, our kids can develop a solid theology of sex for themselves, a theology that recognizes sex as a good thing - a gift from God - and a theology immersed in grace. Such a perspective would grasp that when we - or others - misappropriate or misunderstand the gift of sex, it doesn’t forever tarnish or ruin. Sex - and our understanding of it - is never beyond redemption.
This theology, as well as a broad understanding of and compassion for other sexual views, will allow our kids to be lights in this dark world. Though, the lights I’m thinking of aren’t lights in the way Christians often tend to think.
Our kids don’t need to be beacons of “purity” or “chastity” in a sex-saturated world. Instead, they need to understand the way all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures and religions view sex so that they can be beacons of compassion, of empathy, of understanding, of love in what is, without a doubt, a sex-abusing, sex-confused world. We need to understand other views of sex if we want to engage in a Christ-like manner.
Jesus didn’t run from the Pharisee or the immoral. He didn’t fear. From my take, He sought to understand. To love first and go from there.
I’m not saying we should clam up and say nothing about what our kids learn. Far from it. But I do think we’d do well to keep calm. To know that our kids will learn things of the world - at school, at the playground, on the Internet (*shudder*) - that we wish they didn’t, that we wish we could shield them from. But that’s why we’re in their lives: to help them process, to separate right from wrong, to learn from those with differing views and opinions, to see bits of right even in the wrong.
These conversations are not easy; they’re often awkward. We will have to admit we may not have all the answers. But they also give opportunities to remind our kids that this is God’s world - all of it - and His Son has overcome all its troubles.