One of the most devastating diseases to afflict the human race in all of history is AIDS. Not only is it catastrophic to the individual, but the etiology of HIV has implications and far-reaching consequences for our entire society, and every human being on the planet. The HIV epidemic has caused some very tough decisions to be made, particularly about sex education in schools. Before AIDS was recognized as an STD in the early 80s, there was justifiable resistance on the part of parents to introduce young children to sex education before they were old enough to act responsibly with the knowledge. Today, if we value innocent lives, it seems that we have no choice but to expose young children to "the facts of life" way before their coming-of-age. We seem not to be willing to allow, or seek to prevent that one moment of "natural curiosity" we all have growing up, to cost that child his or her life 20 or 30 years down-the-road.
AIDS is the common factor that ties drugs and sex into an inextricable web of knots. We have been educating kids about drugs for a long time... but nothing was ever said about sex except in high school biology. Sex education was always (in my days) the responsibility of loving parents to teach. AIDS has stolen that duty from the parent, and placed it as a burden on the public schools to teach.
Any child being taught about sex is going to BECOME curious. I'm concerned here with the child who has never given sex a thought, who will become "experimental" in his/her "curiosity" (which occurs naturally), and who does not fully understand the consequences of a "mistake". All of this is exacerbated by the increasingly explicit portrayal of sex in the media, in movies, on TV sitcoms, the NEWS, and even in some cartoons. Kids are not stupid; they are the best detectives in the world, and they have one advantage over us adults when it comes to gathering information: kids have a network of friends, and because the younger ones are too innocent to be embarrassed, they are completely cathartic with bits of information that each of them gathers or knows.
Set a circle of 8 year-olds on a quest for information about sex, and in a few weeks they will know all that is sufficient to take the step to experimentation. I know this not only from my own personal experience growing up, but was able to observe the behaviors (and overheard the knowledge-based jokes) of hundreds of adolescents during my days as a Scoutmaster. On several occasions, I was put 'on the spot' by boys who were comfortable with me in the role of confidant/counselor, and who were not ashamed to ask what adults would consider embarrassing questions.
Turning over a child's "sex education" to the State, is as much a bad idea as having public schools to begin with. To illustrate the attitude of government towards a child's education and welfare, consider the following quote:
"Schools will become clinics whose purpose is to provide individualized psycho-social treatment for the student, and teachers must become psycho-social therapists. This will include bio-chemical and psychological mediation of learning, as drugs are introduced experimentally to improve in the learner such qualities as personality, concentration, and memory. Children are to become the objects of experimentation."
The point I am trying to make here, is that there are no easy answers to the problems we face as a society. In order to gain some peace of mind that our youth doesn't die as a consequence of "innocent curiosity", we try to impart enough knowledge to protect them, without sacrificing too much of their innocence. In effect, what we are doing is metaphorically lighting the fuse on a firecracker, hoping that it will only burn partially, and n explosion won't ensue. We distribute literature that teaches the kids about the dangers, and then tell them, "It is (much) safer if you use a condom. We cannot expect children to be innocent, and then tempt them with the fruit of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Society bombards them with conflicting messages, and becomes the chief enabler for the behavior (they SAY) we are trying to prevent. Handing a 12 year old a condom and expecting him NOT to use it is either terribly naive, or covertly nefarious; it is in effect, tacit consent bordering on covert permission. The unspoken message is, "Use this properly, and you'll be protected when you experiment with sex".
It is a fine line we walk when e choose or allow young children to be taught about such things. Unlike history, math, geography, or social studies, sex is a natural interest and intrinsic curiosity that is part of human nature. Once embarked upon, the education MUST become complete, regardless of whether or not the teacher completes the course. The child will naturally seek to complete his / her understanding of the subject. If we hold back any part of the topic once e start to teach it, expecting to salvage some portion of that child's innocence, and thinking that a rudimentary knowledge will protect them from STDs and AIDS, we are only fooling ourselves into a false sense of security. We are wasting our time and compounding the problem with confusion, and opening the door for misinformation that is bound to filter in through friends in order to fill the 'gap' we left to preserve a spark of innocence, and what we all in our unrealistic fantasies, envision our children to be.
In addition, as a consequence of sex education, we risk the induction of unhealthy sexual fantasies at a point in that child's life where it may be difficult for a child to distinguish between physical expressions of affection and "inappropriate touching". This can cascade into confusion over the two, and the reluctance to be physically close, or the obverse behavior of experimentation with physical (sexual) acts. It is entirely possible that at a young age, for an unfulfilled sexual fantasy to become an obsession that seeks to be satisfied. The etiology of much sexual aberration later on in life has its roots in such fantasies.
Yes, it is a difficult decision for a parent to make, and oftentimes parents don't have a clue of how to impart this information to their children. If the parents are not informed, then they cannot make intelligent decisions about their children. More importantly, and perhaps more significant in this vein, is the parent's ability to comprehend the seriousness and the complexity of the problem. All the information in the world won't do any good, if the average American can't understand why the problem should even concern him. That, in my opinion, is the major hurdle in the way of education. However, despite all of our effort, the pandemic is already beyond our control. Even if an inexpensive "one shot cure" is found tomorrow, there are not enough financial or logistical resources at our disposal to bring the cure to everyone who is HIV infected. These diseases tend to spread exponentially, and the statistics are staggering. In the next few decades, the loss of human life due to AIDS-related opportunistic diseases will be astronomical; far exceeding the death toll of Bubonic Plague and Swine Flu. The way is paved for more of the same, because in all of human history, NOT ONE disease that is caused by a virus has ever been cured... not a single one!
There is a very interesting theory that was proposed years ago, more commonly known as "The Six Degrees of Separation". It is postulated that any one person on the planet is separated by (at most) six people, from any other person on the planet, chosen at random. If this is the case, then every one of us knows someone who is HIV-infected. More importantly, our potential interactions with those people - intimate or otherwise - are potential for exposure to the infection.
In strict geometrical progression, where one person who is infected with HIV has unprotected sex with just one partner in a monogamous relationship and uses IV drugs with just one other find, the mathematical extrapolation of he consequences in terms of how many people can become infected by one "Typhoid Mary" are staggering. If all the people in the "chain of contagion" share the same behavior, the death toll follows the pattern:
1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16386, etc.
It is easy to see where this leads.
So you see, over 16,000 people can be exposed in the span of just 14 "days" or iterations of sexual (or body fluid) contact starting with ONE person (who may not know, or may not care that he is infected). Obviously, and fortunately, there are a number of limiting factors; otherwise, the entire planet would now be infected. The point is that anyone who engages in high-risk behavior over a protracted period of time is at 100% risk of contracting the AIDS virus.
High-risk behavior is precisely the hallmark of youth, because young people quite simply believe that they are invulnerable against misfortune. Again, we must come to the decision about whether or not to tell young children about these things, or risk the chance of losing them in the prime of their lives on account of sexual, experimentation done in their childhood. Bringing it to the point of objectivity, a child's "innocence", even at a young age, will not be compromised by honesty, and true loving concern. They know much more than you think, and when information is lacking, young minds fill the gaps with fantasy.
I've heard it argued that a child is at low risk, because sex partners are usually the same age, usually not infected, and the "experimentation" at young age usually does not involve penetration, or exchange of body fluids. NONSENSE! Let me tell you that if your child has been "sex-educated" in school, they know more than they let on. You are fooling yourself if you think otherwise. You risk your child's life by maintaining your own idealistic perceptions of him / her in the face of proven fact.
In NO WAY do I advocate turning over the sexual education of children to a horde of DSS
Hick-Farmer Sigmund Freud Wannabes. These people, because of their zealous hidden agendas and gross incompetence, do more harm than good. Neither do I condone keeping a child in the dark bout a real and present danger that is easily avoided by simply abstaining from certain behaviors.
You, as a parent, have the ultimate burden of responsibility. Opt your child OUT of "sex-ed" if he / she attends a school where it is taught, and don't let them tell you that the class is "required". Make a covert audio tape of your conversation, and if your child is forced to attend these classes, there is not a civil rights lawyer in the country worth his sheepskin, who could not win a lawsuit for you in court.
By all means, talk to your children, but before you do, know what YOU'RE talking about. You cannot afford to lose your credibility. Only YOU can give the love and caring and genuine concern that is required. Please do it... do it before it's too late... don't wait or depend on the school or a teacher; whatever their agendas are, you can bet based on the earlier quote from NEA, that you cannot trust them. What you DON'T know, may KILL your children.
 NEA report on "Education in the '70's" - source: "The
Unseen Hand" - Ralph Epperson ISBN # 0-9614135-06 - Id at 383
 "Six Degrees of Separation" - See: Discover Magazine, Dec. 1998 pg. 84 "From Muhammad Ali to Grandma Rose".
 DSS- Department of Social Services