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Is There Any Room For A Middle Ground?: "Relationship Education"
 

Background

The debate over classroom instruction about sexual education is likely to continue long into the future. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that. This issue, of course, also has implications for the “pro-choice” versus “pro-life” combat, which remains one of the most intense debates in America.

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But, both sides might be able to benefit by a slight alteration of the terms of the debate over sexual education. Some parents, educators, and government officials feel that it is imperative to teach children about contraception when they are learning about human reproduction. Others find that idea abhorrent, preferring to teach only a requirement of abstinence. While neither of these outcomes could fully please both sides, it might be possible to combine a few messages in a way that would mollify many people to a satisfactory degree.

Today, when contraception is introduced in the educational process, it is done in a biological context. The focus is on how to have sex without transmitting disease, becoming pregnant, or causing pregnancy. Abstinence, too, is taught in regards to sex: To avoid pregnancy, just refrain from sex.

Ideas / Solutions

Instead, if a national curriculum were developed that focuses on relationships and love, then these values could be the centerpiece of the discussion, rather than the activities or expression which result. By presenting information in the context of Relationship Education or Love Education, instead of just Sex Education, pre-teens and teens could be steered toward a mindset of love as a prerequisite for sexual activity. It could include readings and discussion on what constitutes love. Doing so would also enhance respect for the opposite gender, rather than the objectification of potential sexual partners.

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Rather than promoting abstinence by instructing pre-teens and teens that they must not engage in sex – which, of course, leads many of them to do what they are told not to do – this approach could lead them toward not wanting to engage in sexual activity. Then, education about contraception can be added in a factual manner, perhaps in the context of marital relations. The message would be tantamount to an afterthought, as if to say, “If you reach that point, through mature reflection and emotion, then it is necessary to proceed safely.”

Preferring meaningful relationships and love over sex is a lesson that many people learn as their lives proceed. By inculcating a preference for emotional connections rather than sex among our pre-teens and teens, many youths will choose not to engage in sex, rather than feel as though a rule limiting their choices is unwillingly being imposed upon them. Those who do feel that their relationship, somewhere down the line in years to come, merits progression toward sexual activity will do so responsibly.

Although this approach aims to bridge the gap through Political Alchemy, it is unlikely to appease all those who are deeply committed to one philosophy or another. But it will be a constructive step, and will likely resonate with a significant percentage of the students to whom it is presented. By steering the conduct of any significant percentage of teenagers, its value will be justified.

 
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