A Kansas middle school's sexual education program is coming under scrutiny this week after a photograph of a controversial program poster went viral. The poster listed things such as “grinding,” “touching each other's genitals” and “anal sex” as answers to the question, “How do people express their sexual feelings?” The school claims the poster is being taken out of context and is actually part of their district-approved health and science program.

If you haven't yet seen this poster from Hocker Grove Middle School in Shawnee, Kansas, you may want to go take a look. It's OK — I don't mind waiting. Back? Good. Now let's have a conversation about what you just saw. That poster was hanging on the wall of an 8th grade class. Twelve and 13-year-old children didn't just glance at that poster as they walked by — they were taught about it. It was from the school's sexual education program. Lesson plans included it as part of "district-approved curriculum" for health and science classes. According to the Shawnee School District spokesman Leigh Anne Neal, it is "in line with curriculum used across the country to promote abstinence" and needs to be seen in the context of a "teacher-led discussion." If I sound a little appalled, it's because I am.

Anal sex as abstinence?

Call me prude, but I don't consider "anal sex" abstaining and I really wouldn't want a teacher talking to my tween about it in a "teacher-led discussion." Parent Mark Ellis thought it was a joke at first, and contacted the school Principal Scott Sherman after his daughter showed him a photograph of the poster. Ellis was surprised to hear it was approved "teaching material" and doesn't agree with it being included in sexual education class. And I'm right there with him.

Reproduction? Yes. Sex? No.

I don't trust our schools to stick to the basics, and there are many sex-related topics I'd rather my child not learn about from school at all.

Admittedly, I'm on the fence when it comes to teaching sex-ed in school at all. On one hand, reproduction is a perfectly clinical topic that surely comes up while talking about health and science. Children are naturally inquisitive and I would never expect a teacher to shirk from a question like "where do babies come from" with a route of "I can't teach you that." But I don't trust our schools to stick to the basics, and there are many sex-related topics I'd rather my child not learn about from school at all. Especially at 12.

Not every child is ready at the same time

Kids need to learn the science behind how babies are made, I get that. But that science can be explained to them incrementally as their age and maturity level allows, and that maturity level is going to vary from child to child. For me, that is where sex-ed in schools is bound to fail. When schools move beyond the basics into things like the intimacy surrounding "expressing sexual feelings," they are making the assumption that the children they are instructing are emotionally ready to handle this information. Some may be. Some probably aren't. And there's no way a teacher can temper the topic properly to be sure it's hitting the right chord for every child.

We don't teach math to the top of the curve, forcing calculus on a kid just learning to add — why is sex-ed so different?

I had friends at 12 who were already fully functioning in the sexual arena, friends who were nowhere near taking that plunge and friends at every stage in between. While the more advanced ones may have benefited from discussing "grinding" as a way to express your sexual feelings while keeping your virginity intact, the others had no use for that conversation whatsoever. We don't teach math to the top of the curve, forcing calculus on a kid just learning to add — why is sex-ed so different?

Yes, it is "troubling"

Thankfully the school board Superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson appears to agree with me. He said the school board did not approve the poster and that he personally found it "troubling." "I find that language offensive, I really do and so when we're teaching human sexuality, again, there's a balance. What's appropriate at what age level? What's not appropriate? It's a really difficult decision," Dr. Hinson said. The poster has been removed and the district sex-ed curriculum will be reviewed.

As far as parents like Mark Ellis, he will be left to wonder what else is being taught to his child without his knowledge and consent. Hopefully the school will be a little more forthcoming when teaching sensitive topics like this and exercise a tad more judgment in what they teach to 12-year-old kids.

More on kids and sex

How to talk to your teen about safe sex
Give teens access to condoms
Parenting a gay teen

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