When I was in my first semester as a college freshman, I took a psychology course in which, for some reason, we were given a questionnaire about our opinion of birth control. I hadn’t thought much about that and I really didn’t believe I had an opinion. However, one question was, “Should people who want birth control information have access to it?” I said yes. I was surprised when, according to the way the questionnaire was scored, this put me in the “in favor of birth control” bracket. I protested, saying, “I am in favor of information. That’s all I’m in favor of. Just information.”
Naively, I believed information was good and ignorance was bad. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be in favor of restricting information. I had never heard of the Comstock Act of 1873 that prohibited using the U.S. Mail to provide birth control devices or information. I also didn’t realize that many states had laws banning birth control. In a subsequently famous case, Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965 ruled against a law that let police enter a married couple’s bedroom to search for contraceptives. Most states began repealing whatever laws they had about birth control in the 1950’s or 1960’s but key provisions of the Comstock Act weren’t repealed by Congress until 1977.
I’ve been thinking about all this because of the recent report that 46% of South Dakota high school students have had sexual intercourse. They are doing this despite our efforts to promote abstinence through “abstinence only” education. This has caused a lot of comment lately, and a lot of concern. The state epidemiologist, Lon Kightliner, noting that nearly 17% of teenage girls in South Dakota have had at least four sexual partners, is alarmed about the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
I suppose there are several reasons why people object to sex education in the public school. Some think a discussion of such matters should be left to parents in their home. Some may feel that sex education will interfere with the doctrines of their church. Because morality is involved in sexual conduct, teaching about sex is a little different than teaching math or English. The teaching of codes of conduct has often been left to churches and parents and their private organizations. But “character education” has recently become a part of the public school curriculum, so apparently we now want schools to help us with developing ethics and moral standards in our children.
Including “character education” in all aspects of school life can certainly be a good idea, but what about offering information, too? It is a fact that a substantial number of children are engaging in sexual activity, whether we like it or not. A startling statistic widely reported in the press is that, nationwide, at least one in four American girls has a sexually transmitted disease. We cannot ignore such a statistic. Even when our kids do things we don’t want them to do, they still need our protection. They should know not only what the unintended consequences of sexual activity can be, but what their obligations are in preventing them. They should know that it is immoral and unethical to be irresponsible in any activity, including this one. We should not give children the excuse of ignorance. After all these years, I still believe that information is good and ignorance is bad.