Food For Thought

Who Is Responsible for Your Child’s Sex Education?  
By John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Contributing Columnist:  
Professor, George Mason University

The Good Old Days

How many of us have heard their children say, “It just isn’t done that way today”?

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

When it comes to the topics of sex and sex education, I can certainly agree that things have changed since I was a child. My father, an Italian immigrant who waited until the age of 38 to get married, never mentioned the word “sex.” I can’t imagine him ever discussing the topic with me as a youngster. My mother was reared at Saint Paul’s Orphanage for most of her young life. Teachings on sex education were obviously not a part of her early education.

These simple facts of home life left my education about the “birds and bees” to the neighborhood rascal. One day while playing in the back yard he informed me that I was not delivered by the stork and proceeded to explain the process of creating human life. His revelation left a lasting impression — I still remember his descriptions some 50 years later.

I can remember the time my sister came to me seeking some help. She had witnessed two dogs in a compromising position and wanted to know what was happening. She said, “I asked Dad and he said, ‘Get out of here.’ ” She came to me seeking an answer. I forwarded her to my mother. To this day I don’t know the response Mom gave her, if any. Times were different back then.

A few unmarried girls did get pregnant. They usually married and then sometimes ended up falling down the stairs, thus bringing on an early delivery designed to hide the fact that the child may have been conceived out of wedlock. In the old days there was no honorable status for single parenthood.

Trying to grow with the times and not repeat the mistakes I believe my parents made led me to develop a more liberal approach in discussing sex with my children. But I also made my own mistakes. One incident stands out.

We were at Grandma’s house in Pittsburgh, celebrating the Easter season. I was in the living room watching the local educational TV channel that happened to be doing a special on reproduction. The program began by showing how weeds and flowers reproduce. I immediately thought, what a great opportunity to introduce the reproductive process to my 10-year-old daughter. I quickly called her into the room to watch the program with dad. Well, to my surprise, the reproductive process quickly shifted from plant life to human life and my daughter saw the actual delivery of a child. We were both stunned. I turned to her and said, “I guess you now know you didn’t come from a stork. Do you have any questions?” She had a blank look on her face and responded by saying, “No.” I had failed to follow a simple rule that’s taught to every prospective teacher. Review all material before presenting it to your students. Mom and Dad revisited the subject at a later date.

Today’s Challenges

The challenge of providing children with a proper and healthy view of the reproductive process is far more formidable in today’s environment. With all the media attention on the subject, kids will probably be prematurely exposed to the topic of sex. You don’t have to worry about making the mistake I made with an educational channel, because almost every TV show openly discusses the subject of sex. The key question is how will your child be informed about sex and whose responsibility is it to inform them? My results from a telephone survey of parents have shown that parents’ views on the subject have changed since I was a kid.

Sex Education Should Be Part of the School Curriculum? Parents Respond.  

In the survey, 285 parents were telephoned and asked to respond to the following question, “Sex education appropriate to the child’s developmental level should be included in the curriculum.” They were asked to use the Lickert scale — Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. The research statement used the word sex and not family life to more narrowly define the contentious topic.

The graph shows that parents overwhelmingly support including sex education in the curriculum for all children. Eight out of every 10 either agree or strongly agree with the concept. Another 10 percent are undecided, while 11 percent disagree that schools should include sex education as part of the curriculum. Males and females have similar views with the females being more supportive.

The schools have always responded to needs to help find solutions to many societal problems such as driver education, ways to stop violence, and drug education. My only concern is that too many people think that just adding another sex education course in schools will solve a problem. It will not. The responsibility for maintaining a healthy view of sex and other values is centered in the home.

No Replacement for Parents

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Certainly, churches and schools can and should help, but they can’t act in place of the parent. Legislatures continue to pass laws that require schools to offer all kinds of programs. Seldom are sufficient funds and personnel provided to successfully implement these laws. Maybe we need more laws for the parents.

What to teach is another concern. The research study didn’t ask this question, but I’m sure the response would vary greatly. It would be difficult for a school to develop a program that satisfies all parents. This is the main reason I believe the only way to implement a sex education curriculum that goes beyond basic biology is on an elective basis. The simplest solution to the problems associated with the unwanted consequences of sex is abstinence until marriage, but that approach may be somewhat unrealistic. Young adults are waiting longer before committing to marriage, increasing the likelihood of premarital sex. In addition, have you seen how youngsters dress lately?

Knowledge and responsibility are the key concepts if society wants a decrease in the unwanted consequences of sex. It’s up to you, the parents. We educators are here to help, not replace, your role in the learning process.


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