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Sexuality Education

The Family And Marriage

The family and the institution of marriage have changed dramatically throughout the world in the past few decades due to social, economic, technological, and medical influences. The traditional "nuclear" family of western nations where neither parent had ever been divorced, there were two to four children, and they lived in a different geographic region than their relatives, is a thing of the past (Greenberg, Bruess, and Hafner 2000). One out of every three children in the United States now resides with a stepparent. People getting married now face a 33 percent probability that the marriage will end in divorce. Gay marriages are the subject of federal litigation in various states, and court cases emerge regularly concerning which parent owns embryos, sperm, and egg donations. A child in today's society could theoretically count five "parents": legal mother and father, sperm and egg donors and the surrogate mother who carries and delivers the child. Children in Africa routinely see their families deteriorate as siblings, relatives, and parents die from AIDS. Amidst this complex and threatening landscape children must somehow be educated on the foundations of healthy human sexuality.

Schools cannot and should not be held solely responsible for this part of their education. U.S. schools, for instance, have eliminated much of their traditional sexuality education curricula (safe sex, condom use, birth control methods) and have replaced it with programs that pledge abstinence only (Hazelwood 1993). Federal funding guidelines, stemming from the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, prohibit many programs from providing students with information about contraception and contraceptive access (Sheer 2001). The debate over the place of moral and behavioral norms in sexuality education, and particularly how they influence family and marriage continues to be contentious.

In Europe, with the exception of Britain, this debate does not generate much controversy. Most European countries acknowledge that portraying sexual relations among young people as shameful makes contraceptive use also shameful. The result can only be that students will not be protected from unwanted pregnancy, HIV, and STDs. Such outcomes most certainly harm marriages as well as the family (Furedi 2001). Britain conversely does have a conservative and vocal representation and has many of the same family and morality debates as the United States. In India, with its population crisis, the State Institute of Education stipulated that children need "scientific knowledge of the process of growing up, drug addiction, bad effects of population explosion, family life and quality of life" (Indian Express 1999). While family integrity and the sanctity of marriage is a top priority, the population problem has caused Indian authorities to relax religious restrictions in order to control the birth rate and its harmful effects on the quality of life.

The specific effects of sexuality education on the institution of marriage are not fully documented. There is evidence that young, newly married couples that are able to plan their families (skill in contraception) experience greater success in avoiding divorce and economic hardship (Fielding and Williams 1990). Because couples who are skillful in negotiating the emotional stresses of early marriage will have a greater chance of remaining married, previous exposure to effective sexuality curricula or programs that help prepare youth for these challenges may foster a more successful marriage. Around the world, societies which support respectful, caring, and thus stable marriages also tend to produce these same types of families. Such families subsequently foster in their children these same traits. Ultimately, young people with these traits increase the quality of life for all members of the society.


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Other Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). "Reducing the Risk: Building the Skills to Prevent Pregnancy, STD's and HIV." Available from http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/rtc/curric3.htm.

Furedi, F. (2001). "Sex Education Without the Prejudice: Why the Government-Sponsored Sex Education Campaigns Have Had No Impact on the UK's High Rate of Teenage Pregnancies." Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/UK/Education/2001–01/sexed110101.shtml.

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India Express Newspapers. (1999). "Adolescents to be Educated on Sexual Development." Available from: http://www.expressindia.com/ie/daily/19990429/ige29157.html.




Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesSexuality Education - Sexuality Education And Development Stages, Contexts And Types Of Sexuality Education, Approaches And Controversies In Other Countries