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SHARE In spring , parents in the normally progressive Bay Area city of Fremont, California, started a campaign to get a book removed from the 9th grade curriculum for the five district high schools, arguing it was inappropriate for their 13 and year olds. They hired a local lawyer and put together a petition with more than signatures. It offers the traditional advice and awkward diagrams plus some considerably more modern tips: And then there was this: Most sex games are safe and harmless, but partners need to openly discuss and agree beforehand on what they are comfortable doing. She needs to know how boys feel. They argue that even relatively modern sex ed has even not begun to reckon with what kids are now exposed to in person and online. The singer Rihanna, for example, has legions of young fans. Everyone is feeling a little awkward. The book has been shelved, at least for this year. The Fremont showdown is a local skirmish in what has become a complicated and exhausting battle that schools and parents are facing across the nation. How, when, and what to tell kids about sex today? TIME reviewed the leading research on the subject as well as currently available resources to produce the information that follows, as well as specific guides to how and when to talk to kids on individual topics. How—and when—to talk your kids about which subjects. The average American young person spends over seven hours a day on media devices, often using multiple systems at once. A national sample study of 1, 10 to year-olds showed that about half of those that use the Internet had been exposed to online porn in the last year. Or where, in a major news story, it becomes apparent that wholesome girls from teen adventure movies send naked photos. Or where primetime TV shows—the kind you often watch with your family—not infrequently make reference to anal sex? Uncensored media is not harmless. Longitudinal studies suggest exposure to sexual content on TV and other media in early adolescence is linked to double the risk of early sexual intercourse, and young people whose parents limit their TV time are less likely to partake in early sexual behavior. They also appear to be more comfortable showing skin. While many parents think that explaining the consequences of sending out explicit images will get teens to stop, they may be missing the point. The national pregnancy rate is at a record low and it appears teens are waiting longer to have sex, and those that are sexually active are using birth control more than previous years. But these numbers only tell a tiny snippet of the story. At some point you would think adults would come to their senses and say hey we have to counteract this. Before we pat ourselves on the back, we should acknowledge that we still have the highest rate in the Western World. Or, if they did, it was only to discourage them from being sexually active. I was like, what? School-wide sex education largely ignores gay men and women. Given the fact that recent CDC literature shows Yet completely reshaping the sex education landscape is currently almost impossible, not just because of disagreements like the one in Fremont, but because schools lack resources. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education. And few states really take a critical look at sexuality in the way kids encounter it, through TV shows, movies, and yes, even pornography. They also need to overcome the desire to lecture, and kids need to understand that the conversation is less about rules and more about guidance. All of this while having a conversation about what is usually a very private matter. See a gallery of vintage sex education books from the 19th Century to now: Sex Education Through the Ages. Some experts believe that many of the obstacles can be overcome by approaching the adolescent in his or her own habitat: As do other websites like StayTeen. Laci Green has made a name for herself by providing frank and funny videos that answer common questions young people have and dispel myths. Some health departments and community groups in states like California and North Carolina have established services where teens can text their sex-related questions to a number and receive a texted response in 24 hours, allowing for anonymity. Since the launch in May this year, there have been a total of , conversations. Should parents really cede sex education to the digital realm? Given that an incredibly high number of young people go to the Internet for information on sex anyway, directing them to quality material that appeals to their age range may be the one of the better ways to circumvent poor education at school. When we are watching movies together or discussing current events that may touch on this topic, we talk about it. In the age of Innocence vs.
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