Sexual education is so rare in public school systems that there are no significant findings for its effects on youth, said sexual education researcher and author Jonathan Zimmerman.
“Sex and school do not play nicely,” said Zimmerman. “There is astonishingly little sex education around the world.”
Zimmerman, the author of “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education,” has spent a significant amount of time studying the origins and effects of sexual education around the world, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. He said that although Americans have pioneered sexual education, they have not figured out how to do it effectively.
According to his research, American public schools spend between five to 10 hours of a given school year educating students about sexual matters and astonishingly most of it is still done by gym teachers.
The lack of focused sexual education in the U.S. stems from its long negative connotations in society.
“We have a very hard time acknowledging what I call the pleasure principle,” said Zimmerman.
He explained that America was the first country to introduce the concept of sexual education in the early 20th century as a way to stall the outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. However, programs that were started as a way to deal with the unwanted side effects of sex have hardly progressed in a meaningful way, said Zimmerman.
Teachers will tell kids that sexual urges are a product of peer pressure or wanting to fit in, but no educator wants to tell a student that sex feels good, said Zimmerman, “that has always been a taboo.”
In the past, America was greatly divided on the issue of whether or not to teach about sex in public school, said Zimmerman. But since the AIDS-outbreak in the 1980s, Americans are under the consensus that students need to be educated in sexual matters, but no one can agree on how it should be done.
Zimmerman cited that Americans need to realize that young people are learning very little about sex in school, but glean most of their knowledge about it from the media they consume and through their peers.
“The vast majority of adolescent boys in America view internet pornography,” he said. “I am deeply troubled by that.”
School age children spend more time in front of screens than they do in a classroom, said Zimmerman. “This is a fact that we can all agree on.”
Although the data for school-based sexual education having a significant impact on children is few and far between, Zimmerman stated that there is hope to be found in his research.
“We are having more open discussions about sex education… The debate itself is hugely salutary to us going forward.”