Not your Mother’s Sex Ed


Do you remember learning about sex ed in school when you were a teen? I do. Not only do I remember the cheesy heavy-handed after-school specials with Tiger Beat heartthrobs, but I also remember extreme mortification when I was excused from sex education class to go to the hospital to meet my brand new baby sister. In my 13 year-old mind, my sister’s birth advertised to all of my friends and classmates that my parents were having S-E-X…the horror!

A million years ago, when I took sex education in Fairfax County, girls were separated from the boys for most of the class, as they still are decades later. Today, Fairfax County students voice that separation during sex education increases suspicion of each other and reduces empathy among students of different genders. Experts like Nicole Cushman, executive director of a sex education program at Rutgers University, says that separating genders for sex education “reinforce[s] the idea that sex is not something to be discussed in ‘mixed company.’”

There has never been a scientific reason for gender-separated sex education, just social taboos combined with an antiquated concern about “natural modesty” of children, as if students weren’t already mortified being taught by (seemingly) ancient adults about “how babies are made” with their peers. Of course, if we stopped teaching everything that made students uncomfortable, there would be little learning to be had. First to go: calculus!

After vigorous discussion among the parents, students, teachers, and health professionals on the Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee (FLECAC), the committee voted unanimously to adopt gender-combined instruction for the human growth and development portion of Family Life Education (FLE) for grades 4-10. Community members of FLECAC felt it was the best way to support the social, emotional, and physical health and safety of FCPS students. Close to half of the FLE classes are already taught in a mixed gender setting already for emotional social health lessons like consent, avoiding abuse, and using social media safety.

Some parents and teachers have expressed reservations about boys’ immature behavior affecting the girls’ learning environment in a mixed-gender FLE class. Is immature behavior ONLY reserved for FLE? Absolutely not. Anything can inspire puerile behavior…even talking about the weather can sound dirty. If we are worried about immature behavior interfering with lessons, then Franz Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” should be thrown out of English class and nobody should graduate magna cum laude in mixed company.

Dozens of FCPS students rallied for gender-combined FLE. Those most vocal against gender-combined FLE seem to be against teaching FLE altogether, despite the fact that comprehensive sex education is beneficial to students’ health and safety by: preventing unintended pregnancy, reducing sexually transmitted infections, delaying initiation of sexual intercourse, and improving academic performance. Gender-combined FLE enables students to have these health and safety conversations together, thereby enabling them to have a lifetime of such conversations.

4PublicEducaton.org is asking you to provide input from now until 12/1/22 4:30 pm supporting gender-combined FLE, which is supported by experts, FLECAC, students, and parents.