The XX Factor

Is NYC’s New Sex Education Curriculum Too Risqué?

Does New York’s new city schools sex-ed program go too far?

Photograph by Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images.

The New York Post reported over the weekend that parts of the city public schools’ new sexual education curriculum are causing some parents to blush. Starting next spring, students will be required to take a semester of sex-ed in the 6th or 7th grade and then another in the 9th or 10th grade. While the NYC Department of Education maintains that the curriculum pushes for abstinence as the best preventer of pregnancy and STI transmission, the lessons don’t shy away from sexual reality either; condom use, alternatives to vaginal intercourse, and other safer sex methods are presented as well.

As someone who received hardly any sex-ed in school (thanks South Carolina!) beyond the mysterious “your body is changing” spiel, I’m predisposed to be supportive of just about anything short of showing porn. However, as a childless person thus far, I also don’t presume to know where my comfort zone with my own kids would actually be. Still, looking at the list of supposedly offensive coursework, I can’t really see the problem. For example, the Post notes that high school students will be asked to “go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.” Considering that shopping for contraceptives can be an awkward experience even for seasoned adults, teaching teens that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and, moreover, that there are important distinctions to be made in terms of a product’s appropriateness and efficacy seems like a fine idea.

Safer-sex-alternative coaching and information about health clinics doesn’t strike me as odd either. In fact, the only part of the curriculum that gave me pause at all was the reference to Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice website, which, according to the Post, “explores topics like ‘doggie-style’ and other positions, ‘sadomasochistic sex play,’ phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.” I’m familiar with the site, and while it’s certainly geared toward a more college-age crowd, I don’t think singling it out is entirely fair. The main mission of Alice is to provide a forum for solid, professionally moderated health advice on any sexual issue, from the most vanilla encounter to the deepest dungeons of kink (not to mention its wide-ranging coverage of non-sexual issues like nutrition, exercise, and stress management). In other words, your kid could do a great deal worse on Google.

But, as I say, I’m not a parent. Do you think these lessons cross the line?