Lawmaker, Sex-Ed Advocates Decline to Specify at What Age Public Schools Should Teach Children about Sex

By Nicholas Ballasy | March 17, 2009 | 9:17 PM EDT

( -- Advocates of legislation that would authorize federal funding for “comprehensive and medically accurate” sex education in public schools declined to specify during a press conference Tuesday the age at which they believe public school should begin teaching students about sex.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who are sponsoring the Education About Life Act (REAL), joined several advocacy groups on Capitol Hill Tuesday in a press conference to promote the bill. 
When asked to specify at which age students in public schools should begin receiving sex education, Rep. Lee gave the floor to James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.
“I just think age-appropriate is the key term here across all sex education,” said Wagoner.  “When you’re talking about the younger grades in school it’s really about ‘safe touch, bad touch.’ It’s about keeping young people safe. Then you move through emotions and the like. In middle school is where you’re really talking about contraception and the like. The earlier stages in health education are really about puberty and educating young people about their own feelings and a real emphasis on safety.”

Wagoner said the age will vary depending on the community where a public school is located.
“You can’t say specific age, per say,” he told “You’re talking about a curriculum. Every curriculum is determined by the local community. There is no national sex education curriculum that gets introduced in every local community.”
“This is a bill that has a set of broad guidelines that for anyone to receive federal funds to do sex education, it has to be science-based,” said Wagoner. “It has to be evidence-based. It has to include abstinence and contraception.  That’s the broad parameters that a federal government can set appropriately.”
“As the Congresswoman just said, every local community determines the specific curriculum -- what’s the content that will be involved -- so you can’t have a set answer across the country as it would not be appropriate given the enormous diversity that we have in our culture and our communities,” said Wagoner.
William A. Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), said parents will have the ability to opt their children out of the program detailed in the legislation.
“It’s also important to recognize that all of the groups up here support the ability of parents to opt their children out of this,” Smith told  “This is not imposing any sort of education on any parents’ young people that do not want it. And nearly every school district in this country has the opportunity for parents to opt their children out of programs.”
“So, there are safeguards in place like local control, like opting young people out of these programs if their parents don’t like it,” he said. “This is not about enforcing any values, any framework on anyone who doesn’t want it. The safeguards are there to protect families.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee added that REAL is “critical” for the health and safety of young people.
“And hopefully as we move forward with this bill the truth will be told about the bill, and it’ll be for real because we don’t want those who oppose us to distort what we are talking about because this is just so critical for the health and safety of our young people,” she said.