What exactly is the message that sex education should be sending to children? In school sex education lessons it is not the duty of teachers to take a moral position on sex. Their role is simply to provide the facts so that when their students decide to have sex they are able to come to a fully informed decision.
Some parents seem to have a problem with this approach, preferring to take their children out of sex education classes so that they can retain control over what access to information about sex their children have. In the end, though, most individuals will have sex at some point in their lives, and it makes sense to conduct lessons in a social environment where students are able to discuss sex-related issues with their peers.
Sex education should involve telling children and teenagers about the biological process of sexual intercourse, but should also take into consideration the role of feelings and relationships, sexuality and gender, and how sex is perceived by wider society. Sex education should also concentrate on contraception the contraceptives available, how to use them, and how to cope with any potential mishaps. Students should not necessarily be actively discouraged from having adolescent sex, since teenagers are such contrary creatures that being told not to do something makes it all the more tempting, but they should be made aware that their actions will have consequences.
Some schools, particularly those with a religious affiliation, do not encourage discussion about contraception, preferring to put abstinence at the heart of their sex education programmes instead. Rather than taking a balanced approach to sex education, taking into consideration all aspects of sex, the focus is on the biological act and on discouraging sex taking place outside of marriage. There are plenty of parents who are keen to buy into this message, believing that the less their children are exposed to talk about sex, the less likely they will be to engage in such behaviour.
However, living in a highly sexualised society means it is extremely difficult for teenagers to completely avoid the issue of sex in some form or another, and so it surely makes sense to educate them about the risks of sex and how to cope with the issues that sex throws up. Abstinence-only sex education does not take into account the fact that even married couples may want to use contraception, but will not have the necessary knowledge to make the most appropriate choice for them.
This approach to sex education is very short-sighted, and often does not succeed in achieving its main goal to discourage teenagers from having sex. There will always be teenagers who have sex before they are emotionally ready, whatever kind of sex education they have received. It is simply the role of teachers to lay bare the facts so that teenagers can make the right decision for them, and for parents to reinforce this approach as they see fit.