“What if our kids really believed we wanted them to have great sex…What if they really believed that we want them to be so passionately in love with someone that they can’t keep their hands off them? What if they really believed we want them to know their own bodies?” -Al Vernacchio
Taking Sex Education out of the dungeon that it has lived in over the last 30 years is an epic step towards wholeness in our society. One courageous teacher, Al Vernacchio, is doing just that in his class Sexuality and Society, at a small private school near Philadelphia. He may well be the first teacher in this county that has taken the bold step to go beyond the fear/disease-based instruction model built on the abstinence training which dominates our schools and has allowed pornography to become the only readily available form of sex education for our youth. Vernacchio’s ground-breaking curriculum explores both the depth and breadth of sexuality issues that most teens grapple with, including how to recognize and form your own values, understanding sexual orientation, discussions about safer sex, sex in relationships, sexual health, and the emotional and physical terrain of sexual activity.
Offering these kinds of sexual conversations to our youth is revolutionary and is at the heart of the deepest healing that needs to happen on this planet; making peace with our erotic selves. It isn’t just the kids that need this education either. The vast majority of adults in this country have never been exposed to the healthy, provocative and open discussions necessary to understand how our mysterious sexuality works, how we attribute meaning to it, as well as how to experience more pleasure from it. Our collective shame and fear is choking our ability to nurture and sustain healthy intimate relationships and a recent study in the Harvard Medical Review rightly condemns our silence and denial of sexuality as “a betrayal of our next generation, which is desperately in need of knowledge, conversation and resources to negotiate the delicious and treacherous terrain of sexuality in the 21st century.”
It is important to realize that our current forms of abstinence training are relatively recent developments in the history of sexual education. Interestingly, it was Progressive Era reformers like Sears and Roebuck’s president Julius Rosenwald and the President of Harvard, Charles Eliot, who believed sex education was an essential means of eliminating venereal disease as well as the double standards that kept women from achieving equality. They taught both the rewards of sexual intimacy within a marriage and the hazards outside of marriage. In fact it wasn’t until the social contract shift in the 1960s that sexuality outside of marriage was widely entertained. The backlash of this opening happened in the 1980s when comprehensive sex education was replaced with abstinence-only education models. Among many other issues that divided the political right and left, the moral majority won the sexuality battle and everyone lost the basic right to sex education.
Imagine what life might look like if we all had a good solid dose of sex education. Imagine shame and guilt, the two constant companions of countless sex drives replaced with curiosity and wonder. Pleasure of all kinds would become a welcome respite and our capacity to combine long lasting relationships with our own personal language of intimacy would thrive. I daresay, if our kids believed we wanted them to have healthy and vital intimate lives, parents too might be enjoying the same with more frequency. Great sex could be celebrated as part of the journey of growing up over a life time. Maybe porn would get boring and clandestine affairs seem not worth the price. A little sex education would go a long way to revolutionizing how we love. Sign me up.