Health Textbook Gets Banned for Being Too Sexy

imagegenAs of Wednesday, August 13, 2014, the Fremont Unified School District (located in Fremont, California) has decided to shelf a health textbook after parents deemed it as, “equivalent to pornography.” By Wednesday afternoon, there were about 2,500 concerned parents who had signed a petition to ban the textbook. In a 3-2 vote, the school board decided to continue using last year’s textbook in freshman health classes, despite the fact that the book contains inaccurate and outdated information. The book, Your Health Today, is targeted for college students but according to a district statement, the publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, and school officials will work together to modify the textbook’s content to meet the district’s needs and address concerns about, “the appropriateness of its content for high school students.” There are many people, including high school students and teen moms, who believe that the content in the textbook should be taught to ninth graders. Michele Harmangruber, the campus supervisor at Irvington High School, cautions parents that “It’s happening, and it’s happening in the corners, in the bathrooms, in the cars, in the parks and even on the 50-yard line in front of everyone. You have to educate at the ninth-grade level.” Fremont schools should include this textbook in their curriculum because it includes a lot of important information about sexual health that teens should be aware of, such as consent.

Disturbed parents have described this textbook as “borderline pornography” and “a how-to for sex.” A commenter who signed the petition argued, “If all the teachers and the superintendent think it’s okay to show bondage, etc. to a 9th grader, then they are all perverts. This book is clearly targeted for college students. One has to ask why are the teachers so interested in getting kids exposed to these ‘advanced’ sexual material?” Asfia Ahmed, a parent and school district employee, has threatened to sue the district if it decides against removing the book. She states, “There’s a section that tells you how to talk to your prospective partners about your sexual history. How does that relate to a 14-year-old kid? I don’t see it at all.” Ahmed may think that this has no relevance to ninth graders, but surveys have shown that 16% of teens have had sex by the age of 15, and 71% of teens have had sex by the age of 19. Parents are worried because the sexual health chapter of Your Health Today includes themes such as: sexual fantasies, sex games, bondage (including ropes and handcuffs), sex toys, oral sex, vibrators, and how to use a condom. Parents say that the textbook is too explicit because not only does it bring up “age-inappropriate” topics, it also includes labeled drawings of sexual anatomy. There is a page devoted to the “human sexual response model” with drawings of the different stages of male and female sexual organs during arousal. The textbook also includes “information and safety guidelines regarding dating websites, descriptions of sexual positions and a section on ‘atypical sexual behaviors and paraphilias, or sexual mental disorders.’” This textbook is already being used in a few high schools around Texas, but no other California districts.

On the other side of the fence, there are parents who feel that the content isn’t as bad as other parents were describing. Becky Bruno, a parent, stated, “I was expecting to see explicit pictures, expecting controversial information, and I didn’t find that in the book. Yes, there is a section on sexual health, but the pictures are drawings of anatomy and would be the same thing they were exposed to in elementary and middle school. I didn’t see anything that would be categorized as pornography, and that’s what some of the parents are saying.” An example of “controversial content” in the book is “erotic touch” which is dryly described as, “a sensual form of communication that can elicit feelings of tenderness and affections as well as sexual feelings. It is an important part of foreplay, touching that increases sexual arousal and precedes sexual intercourse.” It goes on to list the areas of the body that are sensitive to touch and why. School board President, Lara Calvert, admitted that the book talks about masturbation, but the reason for approving such a candid textbook is because, “We really want them to have a safe place to get facts about their bodies and how to handle things and how they need to be mature to deal with these things.” Experts suggest that kids should be taught accurate information about sexuality from a very early age because research has shown that most teens don’t receive formal sexual health instruction until after they have already started having sex. Surveys in the Fremont area have shown that many ninth graders have already have sex, and Calvert believes that “Ninth grade is the last time when we have an opportunity to help educate our students on how to be physically and emotionally safe.”

According to a 2013 Bitdefender marketing study including over 19,000 parents worldwide, kids start watching porn from as early as the age of 6, and begin flirting on the Internet from the age of 8. Many of the disturbed parents are concerned that the content in the textbook is not relevant to their children because it is too mature and that it resembles too closely to porn, but in actuality, according to the aforementioned survey, many of their children have been exposed to pornographic material long before ninth grade. On top of putting effort into looking up porn sites, there are sexual images all over the media that kids cannot avoid. Board member, Ann Crosbie, admitted “It may be that it is early for some students,” but added that “that’s when we want them to have the information: before.” More important than teaching teenagers how to safely participate in sex and how their bodies react to it, the textbook teaches the importance of consent. One of the topics discussed in the chapter is bondage. The textbook defines bondage as “restriction of movement (e.g. using handcuffs or ropes) or sensory deprivation (using blindfolds or masks) is employed for sexual enjoyment.” Other than just educating students on what bondage is, students are cautioned only to do what “they are comfortable doing.”

Parents argue that their children won’t have to learn about taboo topics such as sex games and how to buy and use condoms yet, but they are sadly mistaken. Sexual themes are everywhere, and children will no doubt have questions. For example, the book 50 Shades of Grey, was so popular when it was originally released in 2011 being marketed as an erotic romantic novel for women. It became so popular that it has been made into a movie that will be released in 2015. A very strong theme in 50 Shades of Grey is bondage. Because this specific title has become so mainstream, it would be no surprise if young high schoolers have also read it. Teenagers are already exposed to this type of bedroom play by means of the media, and those teenagers need to understand that even this genre of seemingly violent sexual intercourse needs consent. Teenagers may choose to participate in sexual games whether or not they have been taught it in school; at least with this textbook, students can learn how to experiment safely. This sexual health section just provides teenagers with healthy advice on what they should and shouldn’t do during sexual activities and answers more personal questions they may have about their bodies.

Parents should not be alarmed if their 14-year-olds are being taught how to buy and use condoms, they should be relieved. Regarding parental concerns about teaching kids about sex, Hartmangruber stated, “I want to let everyone know, if you think sex isn’t happening with your freshmen, you need to take your blinders off.” Knowing how to use contraceptives is essential in sex education because even though the teen pregnancy rate has been declining in recent years, America continues to have one of the highest rates in the developed world. Every year in America, about 615,000 women aged 15-19, become pregnant. The reason why the rate has declined is because of the use of contraceptives.

I can see how this book could cause a lot of debate because of the nature of the content discussed. That being said, out of half a dozen health textbooks, the school district’s health teachers unanimously decided that this book should be adopted in all six high schools in the district. That means that educators felt that this book would be the best option to educate students. Superintendent Jim Morris stated, “Our administration and staff believes this textbook will be an asset to our health curriculum in that it provides current, accurate, factual and relevant information our students need to make responsible decisions about their health.” This book is also preferred because it addresses other important topics such as online safety, e-cigarettes, gay marriage, and the latest information on nutrition and fitness. However, due to the uproar, Your Health Today has been shelved and in its place returns the outdated textbook that students were using before. Proper education should not be compromised because of a seemingly over-explicit sexual health section.

Kaitlyn Fujihara

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2 Comments to “Health Textbook Gets Banned for Being Too Sexy”

  1. I myself found this topic is very interesting. I am from Japan and went to a Japanese junior high school. From what I remember, I never had any sex education lessons in school while I was in Japan. I am not sure if it was only my school that did not teach sex ed, but I think most schools in Japan don’t teach it, something to do with cultural reasons. Talking about sex is taboo in Japanese culture. Even with my family, we don’t talk about sex intercourse, safe sex, or STD’s.
    I believe educating children about reproduction and safe sex, especially young teens, is very important to help reduce teen pregnancy and STD’s. When I was 12, I remember some of my classmates were already talking about how they were curious about having sex with their boyfriends. I don’t think they knew anything about HIV and other sex transmitted diseases and how dangerous they are or about the consequences of teen pregnancy. If I were a parent and had kids, I would want the school to help educate them about reproduction and safe sex as part of a general health type of course. It’s completely natural that humans are interested in sex, that’s how we reproduce, evolved and leave offspring for thousands years. Keeping away knowledge about sexual health is very difficult since soon or later they are going to be interested in sex. It is dangerous and irresponsible to withhold this information from our society. And I would feel very embarrassed if I were Andy from 40 Year Old Virgin and do not know how to wear condom properly!

  2. I think this issue comes up frequently in the here and now. I found this topic very interesting and completely agree with you. I have never received any formal sexual education class and I think it would’ve benefitted me to have known more about it. I feel like it is important for the children out there to be informed and educated about something like this. Most people assume it is just for pleasure but there is so much more to it, such as the STDs. 9th grade is definitely an appropriate age to allow them to be exposed to that text book.

    Safe sex is important. Children who are entering high school will have so many questions about sex and everything that has to do with sex. They will be shy and embarrassed about asking their friends or family, so a textbook is the best thing to have. No one will have to know they are curious about it.

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