Values in Sex Education: From Principles to Practice

By J. Mark Halstead; Michael J. Reiss | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Why values are central to sex education

Values in sex education

The central argument of this book is that values permeate every aspect of sex education in schools. It is impossible to plan or put into practice any programme of sex education without reference to values, though some-times the values may not be brought to consciousness and made the subject of reflection. The selection of aims for sex education involves explicit or implicit value judgements, and so does the selection of content and method. The decision to provide sex education in the first place is based on the assumption that it will be valuable for children. We shall argue further that sex education involves the transmission of values, whether or not this is conscious and intentional on the teacher's part, and whether or not the values are actually accepted by the students.

In some respects, sex education is just like other subjects on the curriculum: it involves the transmission of information; it contributes to the development of personal autonomy; and it seeks to promote the interests of both the individual and the broader society. In other respects, however, sex education is quite different. It is about human relationships, and therefore includes a central moral dimension. It is about the private, intimate life of the learner and is intended to contribute to his or her personal development and sense of well-being or fulfilment. It generally involves intense emotions, to do not only with intimacy, pleasure and affection but often also with anxiety, guilt and embarrassment. In all of these respects, values are involved. We can decide what information merits transmission, what the interests of the individual and of society are, or how to reassure young people, only by making value judgements. Of course, young people recognise this, almost intuitively. As we shall see later, if students are asked what they want to learn in a sex education course, questions of values figure very highly on their lists.

Most serious books on sex education nowadays acknowledge the importance of values, though many give the topic of values in sex education comparatively brief attention before moving on to what they present

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