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July 22, 2010 / lezebelinchief

Penises, Vaginas and Fingers! OH MY!

I was perusing Facebook last week for the usual summer trip and photo updates from my friends when something exploded on my Newsfeed. Apparently, Helena, Montana is considering the adoption of a new health curriculum that includes a human sexuality component. As an educator originally from Montana, I had a hard time believing the sensational headlines could be true. Here’s one example of what showed up on my Newsfeed:


First-graders would learn about gay sex?!? In Montana?!? That can’t be right, I thought.  So I did a little investigating. The controversy lies in the details of the proposed curriculum. Various news sources have inaccurately described the content of the curriculum as teaching kindergartners about gay sex, and fifth-graders how anal penetration works. Bill O’Reilly threw his hat into the ring last week with this obviously well-informed piece:

The Fox News article from above states that kindergartners would be taught such terms as penis, vagina, breasts, nipples, scrotum, etc. (which is clearly a rehashing of this article from the AP). Incidentally, when I went back to a friend’s Facebook page to track down the original Fox News link that came up on my Newsfeed, I discovered they changed their headline to something a little less sensational (and inaccurate). Another area of the curriculum that is taking heat: the teaching of “erotic art” to high school students.

The truth is, the document in question is a 62-page K-12 Health Enhancement Curriculum in detail. The human sexuality component is only five pages of this curriculum. If you’re interested in reading the whole curriculum for yourself, here it is. The Human Sexuality portion of the curriculum is on pages 45-50.

So let’s address some of the controversies people have highlighted in these various news stories.

1) Teaches kindergartners the correct anatomical terms for the human sexual anatomy.

FALSE: The topics covered in kindergarten are: a) decision-making regarding clothing, toys, and friends, b) that children need adult help to make some decisions and c) a healthy relationship has respect and boundaries.

2) Teaches first-graders about “gay love.”

TRUE: The curriculum states that children will “understand people can love people of the same gender, or of another gender.” (Emphasis mine.)

3) Teaches fifth-graders the different ways in which people have intercourse.

TRUEish: The actual language of the curriculum is not nearly as sensational as it would appear. By fifth grade, students should “understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to, vaginal, oral or anal penetration.” Now, I could see how this might ruffle some feathers. However, from reading the entire human sexuality component of the curriculum, I surmise that intercourse is mentioned briefly in fifth grade, but not explained in detail until sixth and seventh grade, which seems quite normal, considering the age at which sexual maturation begins.

4) Teaches high school students about “erotic art.”

NOT EXACTLY: This one perhaps gets me hottest under the collar. The misrepresentation of what the language of the curriculum actually means here is outrageous. High school students should “understand erotic images in art reflect society’s views about sexuality, and help people understand sexuality.” Do you see what they did there? The creators of this curriculum are attempting to address that how we see sex portrayed in the media effects what we think about sex. Instead, it’s been misconstrued by “reporters” to say that teenagers will be learning about porn at school. Give me a break.

5) Teach about sexual performance anxiety.

Well, now this one is just ridiculous.: As close as I can tell, this one came from the standard that states high school students should “understand seeking professional help can be a sign of strength when people are in need of guidance.” I assume this standard is actually referring to identity issues and/or rape, which leads me to what is really AWESOME about this proposed curriculum.

The human sexuality component, though a very small portion of the overall health curriculum, does delve into some extremely important issues not otherwise covered or discussed with students. Here are my favorite areas of the curriculum:

1) Teaches second-graders that making fun of people by calling them “gay,” “fag,” “queer,” “homo,” etc. is disrespectful and hurtful. (No comment needed on this one.)

2) Teaches third-graders that the media presents “an unrealistic image of what it means to be male or female, what it means to be in love, and what parenthood and marriages look like. Now Suzy, who lives at home with her single mother and three cousins, no longer feels like the outcast. And Tina, who thinks Edward Cullen is OMG!!1! TO DIE FOR!!1!, understands that perhaps that really isn’t what falling in love looks like.

3) Hammers home the concept of consent from seventh grade on!

4) Teaches sixth-graders that sexual identity is part of one’s personality, and that coming out is a difficult journey.

5) And my favorites: teaches high school students that sexual abuse is not limited to touching and intercourse, but also includes being forced to see things you don’t want to see, and that coercion is not just physical, but also emotional and mental.

My list of favorites could actually go on and on. The curriculum appears to pretty extensively cover issues of contraception, STI & HIV prevention, women’s rights, laws, etc. Am I surprised that this is drawing such outrage from parents in Montana? Absolutely not. I do take umbrage with O’Reilly’s stereotyping of Montana. Montana is a conservative state, this is true, but it is also one filled with people who believe wholeheartedly in an individual’s right to live however he or she wants to live (within reason, of course). And we’re realists. We know teenagers have sex, and we know they need to learn how to do so safely. Did I get some double and triple looks when I walked down the streets of Bozeman hand-in-hand with my girlfriend? Of course I did. But that was it. No name-calling, threats, shameful looks, or the general ass-hattery I’ve experienced in the “liberal” state of Washington.

I understand if some of the curriculum is tamed down a bit over the coming weeks, but I hope the majority of it stays as is. It is a science-based curriculum that follows State and National Standards concerning Health & PE curricula. I hope the Big Sky State I know and love will ignore the criticism and media attention from the outside, and focus on what’s best for Helena’s students.



Leave a Comment
  1. fictitious / Jul 22 2010 2:40 pm

    Very interesting. I love the guidelines you highlighted in green; what incredibly important things to be striving to teach. Too bad they’ll lost in the “public schools will make your children watch porn!” claptrap.

  2. NefariousNewt / Jul 22 2010 3:00 pm

    It sounds like a thorough, efficient, cogent, and potentially effective curriculum that could lead to children having a better sense of who they are, what respect they are due with regards to sexuality, and how to approach the subject with sensitivity.

    It must be banned.

  3. StarHen / Jul 22 2010 9:02 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to debunk those outrageous claims and highlight some of the proposal’s best parts. I wish we had had such a curriculum when I was in school. And I hate that “mainstream” media outlets have the potential power to not only block or undo the wholehearted efforts of education professionals to teach these vital lessons, but also further polarize opinions about certain segments of the population.

    I agree with you that the 4th is perhaps the most outrageous. This topic is so rarely discussed in wider circles and at such an age, and tackling the portrayal of sexuality and romance in popular culture fits perfectly with the larger mission of teaching kids and teens to think critically. How can we urge students to carefully analyze works of historical literature without also helping them read the texts–visual, aural, and written–of contemporary society?

    My toes are crossed hard for the success of this!

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