For someone who has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, Charles Herbster certainly has a lot of thoughts on how to teach appropriate sexual behavior. “We’re going to take sex ed out of schools and put it back in the homes where it belongs,” said Herbster, who failed to win GOP nomination for governor of Nebraska Tuesday, said at a rally with former President Donald Trump this month.
Herbster may have lost, but judging by the cheers in this video, it was clearly a message that resonated with the fans. It’s not entirely surprising. Herbster’s attack on sex education in schools joins a snowball growing in size and speed as conservatives draw together disparate areas of fearmongering into a giant moral panic.
The attack on sex education in schools joins a snowball that is growing in size and speed as conservatives draw disparate areas of fearmongering into a giant moral panic.
Like so many elements of this panic, the attacks on sex education are framed as a matter of parental choice. Although Herbster’s comments got the most attention, they are roughly in line with the opinions of his opponents. Agribusiness owner Jim Pillen, who won Tuesday’s primary election against Herbster, writes on facebook last year that “Nebraska shouldn’t have state sex-ed standards — those are decisions that should be made by parents, not bureaucrats.” Earlier this month, his campaign told KMTV from Omaha that Pillen “believes that sex education should be the responsibility of parents, not the government”.
This is not to say that this conservative strategy is new in the way that attacks on critical race theory are. The war on sex education has its roots in the 1960s when the right fringe took it over as further evidence of the communist menace lurking in American schools. In 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union warned against far-right groups “opposed in principle to comprehensive sexuality education in public schools. They argue that such upbringing usurps parental rights and encourages “immoral” sexual promiscuity before marriage among young people.
Despite their continuous efforts, since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention“Most adolescents have received formal sex education before the age of 18 (96% of girls and 97% of boys).” This brings us to three major issues with the demand that schools leave the teaching of sex education to parents.
First, rather than sparking an orgy of teenage decadence, sex ed classes seem to have had the opposite effect. With a recognition that correlation is not the same as causation, since the 1990s the rate of teen pregnancy has fallen nationwide. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, births per 1,000 American adolescents aged 15 to 19 fell from 61.8 in 1990 to 17.4 in 2018.
Rather than sparking an orgy of teenage decadence, the sex ed classes seem to have had the opposite effect.
Similarly, we have seen a decline in the number of unmarried adolescents having sex: in 1988, 60% of boys and 51% of girls said they had had sex at least once, according to CDC reports; in its 2017 report38% of teenage boys and 42% of teenage girls said they had had sex at least once.
Second: For the most part, conservative parents have already won this fight. According to the Guttmacher Institute, sexual and reproductive rights think tank, “40 states and DC require school districts to involve parents in sex education, HIV education, or both, and of those, “25 states and DC require parental notification that sex education or HIV education will be provided. “Thirty-six of these states allow parents to withdraw their children from these classes, and another five states require affirmative parental consent for students to choose to take sex ed classes.
On the contrary, the battles the Conservatives have won have likely prevented the number of teenage girls having sex or giving birth from falling further. The push to promote abstinence-only material continued apace, KFF wrote in a 2018 analysis, despite evidence that “young people who received information about contraceptives in their sex education programs had a 50% lower risk of teenage pregnancy than abstinence-only programs. Likewise, teenage birth rates are much higher in the states who have the most restrictions on abortion and who have abstinence-only sex education.
Finally, the moral aspect of this crusade is flawed at best. The fear that children are encouraged to have sex before marriage is a lie. So does the accusation that sex education teachers “prepare” children to be abused. As writer Talia Lavin ably explained, leaving teens deliberately ignorant of sex is the most fertile ground for grooming and abuse.
In his speech, Herbster drew on a fear shared by parents about the general lack of control they face over their children’s lives. Focusing on the public school offers the mirage of control. But at the end of the day, protecting children from the concept of sex is not the panacea that conservatives want it to be. And to claim that it is sex education that leads to negative consequences is not true. The best parents can hope for is that their children have the information they need to make the best and healthiest choices when they begin to explore sex – a less likely outcome if they move on. a place of ignorance, shame and fear.