I have been asked to weigh in on what sex education looks like in older years.
I will start by saying that when teaching middle school, long before my own children got to be that age, my standard message was that there isn't anything you might think to do in middle school that couldn't wait until high school. I was a staunch supporter of the dress code, and when 12-year-olds told me about their Facebook pages, I reminded them that legally you had to be 13 to sign up.
Of course I knew that there was sexual activity among my students (looking at the broader definition of what constitutes sexual activity), but I wanted to be at least one voice in their life that was saying, “Stay a child! You have lots of time to grow up.” As an English teacher, I was not responsible for the cold, hard facts. Instead, I used literature to have students examine characters’ lives—their decisions, their mistakes, their values.
As a mother, I was obviously responsible for making sure my daughter was well informed (I was let off the hook with my stepsons). One of the messages I really wanted her to get was the fact that what you could see on the internet, on television or in the movies was not indicative of everyone’s sexual behavior. Also, I pointed out that what she heard about what other kids were doing may or may not be true and, most importantly, she did not have to model her choices on them. I told her that not even all our adult family friends had the same values when it came to sexuality.
The next message was hard for me. It meant I had to put aside all my fear of the “what ifs.” It meant I had to trust that I had raised an informed, thoughtful, responsible young person. The next message was that sexuality is not easy: It is not cut and dried. Not only would it have been useless to day, “Don’t even look at a boy!”, I wouldn’t have wanted that. I can think of nothing scarier than sending a girl child off to college who has had no practice negotiating romantic/sexual relationships. My biggest concern was/is that as my daughter developed her sexuality that she could look back on her choices--even if they brought some pain--and know that she had really listened to her inner self--body, mind and spirit--to make her decisions. I was such a "late bloomer," as she puts it, that I had very little in the way of concrete advice about what was okay to do when. I just kept reminding her that once you've done something--held hands, kissed, petted, etc.--you can't undo having experienced that and that all I wanted for her at the end of the day was that she had no regrets.
The final tool in my tool belt was to bring up the topic of relationships and sexuality a lot. We talked about news items and magazine articles, research I found, stories I heard from fellow teachers or other parents. All along, I wanted to know what she was thinking, how she was seeing the world, what her concerns were. Lots of times I was uncomfortable with the conversations. I had them anyway.