CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're like me, the first time your school exposed you to sex was sometime in the fifth grade. I remember the genders being separated, and the boys watched a video with a male teacher, while girls did the same with a female teacher.
The videos were about puberty and what our bodies would soon start doing. Everyone was fine when we were informed that we'd get more hair and a deeper voice, and most were happy to find that we'd get taller. The video then switched to changes in our genitals and how our body would produce sex hormones.
It was around this time that many of us got uncomfortable, especially when the topic of erections was discussed. Obviously many of us were familiar with that from knowledge obtained elsewhere. We were all either snickering or squirming when the video started talking about nocturnal emissions.
Sex is a taboo topic even in today's society, and it's certainly the last thing 10-year-olds want to hear about from their teacher. But it's important that kids are informed about sexuality at an age when their bodies are either just about or have already started to change.
Some parents think sex education should only be discussed in high school. Thankfully the West Virginia Board of Education disagrees.
According to its Content Standards and Objectives for Health Education, one of the main goals of fifth grade health education is to teach students about puberty. From there, the goals naturally mature along with the students. In sixth grade, puberty is discussed again but focuses on mental and emotional changes as well as physical ones. By high school, students are to be taught about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
Students are also supposed to be taught that there is more to sex than just the physical act of intercourse. For example, students should be learning about sex and relationships, how society and culture can encourage or discourage sexual behavior and how personal values play a role in our decisions.
Despite a perceived bias against teaching safe sex, the curriculum in West Virginia is abstinence-based but not abstinence-only. Teachers are expected to make it clear to students that sex is normal, natural and healthy. The goal of sex education is not necessarily to deter students from having sex but to teach them the responsibility that follows the decision to become sexually active and the consequences that might occur of they do.
In a recent survey by the nonprofit reproductive rights group WV Free, 79.5 percent of health educators and administrators reported that students were taught about condom use and its effectiveness, while 74.6 percent said other forms of birth control were discussed.
After reviewing the information provided by the West Virginia Board of Education, it's clear that students are being correctly informed about the nature of sex, including the emotional and mental aspects of being sexually active. So pay attention during health class to enlighten yourself on the subject.
If you have a question about sex that you don't want to discuss with your parents or in front of your classmates, talk to your teacher or school counselor in private. Remember, their job is to educate and assist you. If you feel like you can't turn to your parents or another trusted adult, turn to them, especially before making a huge choice.
If you or your parent feel more information should be covered or other topics should be explored in more depth, contact your county's board of education.