Expectations of Each Gender in Comprehensive and Abstinence Only Education Thesis

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Sex Education

Gender Bias in Sex Education: A Review

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During the 1920s, education began to be viewed as the cure-all for social problems. One of those social problems was a lack of correct sexual knowledge for school-age children and adolescents. Thus, "mandatory, state-sponsored" sex education was implemented (Carter 2001, p. 212). At first, teachers' lessons in sexuality were abstinence-based. Students were taught that sex before marriage was both immoral and dangerous. Furthermore, a fear of sexually transmitted disease became paramount among society, used as both a motivator for adolescent chastity and as a scapegoat for declining rates of procreation among whites and impetus for the increasing divorce rate among this population (Carter 2001, p. 212-214). Though it was always controversial, sexual education created even more controversy as parents and society began to worry that increased sexual knowledge would create increased promiscuity on the part of the students. For this reason, sexual education was taught in a highly academic manner (Carter 2001, p.215-220). As attitudes toward sexuality began to change, comprehensive sex education, or sex education including birth control methods, was introduced. These programs were primarily introduced to combat the increasing number of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in young people. In fact, the American Psychological Society currently recommends comprehensive sexual education based on the large number of HIV-positive young people (APA Counsel of Representatives 2005). In addition, education involving female birth control was instituted to combat teenage pregnancy (London 2008). The issue continues to create much controversy today, as many school districts put into place abstinence-only programs, although many contend comprehensive programs are necessary.

TOPIC: Thesis on Expectations of Each Gender in Comprehensive and Abstinence Only Education Assignment

Since this very beginning of sexual education, Gender has been an important factor. In fact, because of the nature of sex education, differences in gender education have often been cited. London (2008), in her "history of birth control" recounts that women were typically tasked with bearing the burden of birth control methods on their own. In fact, London (2008) suggests that women used folk methods, drugs, and intrusion methods to attempt to abort unwanted pregnancies. The author seems to carry the same stereotype in the contemporary era, as she recounts the following description of an encounter with one of her students:

In the Lee Parenting Program classes I devote one session a month to in-depth contraceptive education. Naturally there is always one student who, upon entering the classroom and seeing the birth control materials, complains, "Not this again!" To motivate this student, I may invite her to consider her age (say, 15 years), her birth control method (perhaps the Pill), and to calculate how many years she'll need to be concerned about contraception. Fifteen to forty-five. Thirty years! I remind her that during her lifetime, she'll probably have considered and perhaps used every available method. As a woman, friend, sister and mother -- she must be consistently well informed and self-aware. And so must I" (London 2008).

London (2008) also includes the male gender in her study, suggesting that while condoms were developed in the 1800s, they were generally marketed as a way to prevent STDs, and were not used widely until after the First World War. Other methods of male birth control included biological methods such as withdrawal and testicular pressure. Additional research suggests that stereotypical male sexual roles can be enhanced by certain types of sex education (Wilkie 2005). Thus, sex education has been an important matter in public schools for over a century. Throughout the history of sex education, however, gender has always been an important variable. While biology and psychology allow for different treatments of men and women during sex education, this paper aims to consider whether sex education is sexist. That is, does sex education place an undo burden on women to manage birth control or an undo burden on men to remain abstinent? In what ways do comprehensive and abstinence-only sex education compound or detract from these concerns? This paper suggests that comprehensive sex education places an over-emphasis on the female's duty to be responsible while abstinence-only education does the same for males. An exploration of current theories and perspectives on the issue and research data, will allow the authors to discuss the expectations of each gender in both comprehensive and abstinence-only education to determine the gender-bias in sex education.

Current Theories and Perspectives

Although little research has been done specifically on the topic of gender bias in sex education, many mainstream and scholarly articles have implied that some believe the bias exists. First, an examination of comprehensive sex education, or discussions on birth control, target straight women, suggesting that a gender bias is at work. London's (2008) work echoes this bias when she recounts a history of birth control as female-based, and discusses her own conversations about birth control with her contemporary female students, implying it is their duty to be vigilant. Edward S. Herold and Marilyn Shirley Goodwin's 1981 article is the pinnacle of this gender bias. In their study, the researchers interviewed only women, and found that women who felt guilty about their sexual activity were less likely to obtain birth control. The study's lack of consultation with men exemplifies its gender bias. In 1998, the debate was furthered by growing female frustration that the male drug Viagra was covered by insurance companies, while birth control was not (Goldstein 1998). Once again, these public outcries not only suggest a prevailing attitude linking birth control and comprehensive sexual education to women's responsibility, but also a frustration with that idea.

While the perceived female gender bias in comprehensive sexual education and discussions of birth control have been inherently accepted by these scholars and members of the public, some argue that the gender bias does not exist or is at least fading. This view is motivated in part by rumors of male birth control pill. Voiland's (2008) contribution to U.S. News and World Report made knowledge of the pill public. This option comes along with other male birth control methods, including an injections and devices that allow men to check their sperm levels. Those who believe that birth control-centered sex education is female gender biased believe that these methods will not easily make it onto the birth control market. Voiland (2008) argues that plenty of males and females are urging developers to finalize these new male contraception methods because of the rather significant failure rate associated with traditional brands of male contraception and the frustration that many men experience with women in control of birth control methods. These new methods of birth control will certainly increase boys' birth control education in the future, but many remain convinced that comprehensive sex education's focus on birth control remains gender biased. Scholars have implied this through their study subjects; teachers have implemented it through their conversations with girls about their contraceptive responsibility. Still, some suggest this type of education is not so biased, especially those, like the activists in Voiland's article, who argue that men are aching for knowledge and new methods of birth control.

Although scholarship and prevailing viewpoints argue two sides to gender bias in comprehensive sex education, the sides are similarly split when it comes to gender bias in abstinence only education. Prevailing viewpoints in such education conjure the images of innocent girls being told to "just say no" to pressuring boys. Williams and Stein (2002) argue that "the quality girls' ideal love has [not] changed or become more sexual, more passionate, or more desirous, but...male peers often insist on, provoke, or encourage girls to have sex" (150). Media images have long supported these viewpoints -- pregnant teens left by loser boyfriends and violent teens who make their girlfriends feel like they can't say no. A 1999 study by a. Furham and T. Mak suggested that gender-role stereotyping was indeed present in commercials on five continents. Scholars suggest that traditional abstinence-only models of education follow these stereotypes. For example, Mark W. Roosa and F. Scott Christopher (1990) describe several abstinence-only programs in their study, "Evaluation of an Abstinence-Only Adolescent Pregnancy Program," many of which confirm these attitudes. In fact, one of the programs, called "Success Express" was concerned primarily with issues of self-esteem, peer pressure, and learning how to say no (364). These types of lessons are consistent with a portrait of males as the aggressor or persuader in teenage sexual relationships, and further the stereotype of the male as the responsible party in teenage sexual relations. Another abstinence-only program studied by the researchers found that all middle school aged children, but especially boys "were more likely to increase their pre-coital sexual behaviors" during the course (1990, 364). Thus, these programs tend to verify and further the male gender bias of males as the party responsible for sexual activity in adolescent relationships. These attitudes make males out to be responsible for sexual activity, while females are simply the innocent victims on the other hand, Sam de Brito's (2006) Sydney Morning Herald blog does an excellent job of suggesting that male stereotypes are unfair. This would account for the popular view that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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