A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
(If frank talk about sex education offends you, read no further.)
Teaching kids about sex seems like a good idea to me. Like knowing how to be responsible about money, knowing how to be responsible about sex is a really, really important aspect of life that most schools avoid or teach badly.
As a former Sunday school middle-school sex educator, I’ve long been an evangelist for sex education for kids. But after reading Mike Nichols’s column “Dousing a hot rumor about sex,” I’m thinking adults are the ones in need of a little knowledge.
After all, if you're going to teach your kids, shouldn't you know what you're talking about?
Nichols’ grumble comes out of the Elmbrook school district debate about including oral sex in the life education curriculum for middle schoolers (they aren’t). All the talk about middle schoolers having oral sex is pretty much hokum, he says, and it's especially not true for suburban kids in Cedarburg or Elm Grove—or, presumably, here in Wauwatosa.
How do we know ? They aren’t getting pregnant and they don’t have oral sexually transmitted diseases.
“If there is a lot of oral sex among suburban middle schoolers, it would not appear to be leading to intercourse very often and it is not resulting in sexual transmission of disease, which makes me doubt it is happening much at all.”
Let’s start Nichols’ sex education with definitions. Oral sex is sexual intercourse. So is anal sex. There’s penetration, sexual organs, body fluids, mucous membranes, the whole juicy bits shebang. The only difference between vaginal intercourse and those other variations is that you can get pregnant.
And if you don’t believe me, believe the Wisconsin state statutes:
940.225(5)(c) (c) "Sexual intercourse" includes the meaning assigned under s. 939.22 (36) (vulvar penetration with or without emission) as well as cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse between persons or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person's body or of any object into the genital or anal opening either by the defendant or upon the defendant's instruction. The emission of semen is not required.
Nichols isn’t the only one whose thinking is muddied by failure to define terms. For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been conducting the Youth Risk Behaviors Survey (Wisconsin survey 2005 here). For years they’ve been asking kids if they’ve ever had sexual intercourse. The scientists assume that means all forms of sexual intercourse, a researcher long associated with the project told me. But they didn't say that, and to most kids, intercourse only means one thing: the V word. So the results are skewed.
Here’s where abstinence-only education has unintended consequences. If "intercourse" is only vaginal intercourse, then oral sex is a form of abstinence.
Nichols is right about the lack of good evidence. We don’t know the prevalence of oral sex among younger teens. We probably don't know it among adults either, given people's propensity to delude others (and sometimes themselves) about the intimate details of their personal lives. But the evidence that it's not happening isn't the word of two police chiefs who said they weren’t seeing it. Frankly, suburban parents aren’t really big on reporting their children’s misbehaviors to the police.
From the west suburban middle school kids I’ve talked to, I’m guessing that no more than about 10-15% of their classmates have had experience with oral sex. But I’m falling short on definitions, too. We’re not talking about all forms of oral sex: we’re really talking about boys receiving oral sex from girls or other boys. Some things don’t change. . .
That’s not a huge number. But to me, any number of middle school kids playing with any kind of sexual intercourse is concerning. Forget the physical complications: sex has emotional consequences that middle school kids aren’t ready to handle. And that includes oral sex.
Oral sex is sexual
intercourse, and it's an intimate act. It's not abstinence. Your kids should know that. Have you told them? That's how they stay smart. As to the innocence Nichols touts, I'd rather they were innocent of the act than of the knowledge.