Parents' perspectives on sex education : nuanced accommodation in a bilaterally constructed world
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Research on sex education regularly presents a polarized depiction of debate, which often puts parents on the defensive and condenses their viewpoints into incongruous, dichotomous camps. This study aims to challenge this rhetoric by presenting findings of nuanced parental viewpoints that frequently get over-simplified, and offers alternative explanations to these complex issues. Positioned within the history of American education in general and sex education in particular, it is further possible to see how vestiges of this history affect current school-led sex education and discussions about it. Through the teasing-out of parental opinions, it became clear that, on the most fundamental level, parents seem to agree that children need sex education. Results indicate that parents’ own experiences with sex education play a major part in how they think of their role as sex educators with their children. Additionally, most parents express a desire to ensure their children are better informed and prepared than they were. Parents find their role as sex educator to be very important, although differences between fathers and mothers and parents of opposite sex children complicated this role. Acceptance of this role is a common theme, some parents more determined than others to educate their children about sex (but all acknowledging the feeling that they “have to”). Parents’ descriptions of their strategies for sex education revealed differences in active versus passive approaches, questions of “how,” “when,” and “what” often complicating their approaches. Findings also show that parents have varying opinions on school-led sex education, but many are concerned with biases that may be conveyed in school. The notion that parents fall neatly on one side of the debate or the other is played with and challenged through the purposeful application of parental tropes. This practice revealed that parents do not precisely or consistently conform to these dichotomous boundaries. Finally, comparisons of New York, New York and Omaha, Nebraska demonstrate how schools can accommodate and assist parents in sex education by offering more complex options instead of either “opt in” or “opt out.” By taking this approach, Omaha Public Schools district may be able to avoid future contentious arguments over sex education, although this remains to be seen. Throughout this paper, alternatives to the current literature are presented as a method of doing away with the common binary of comprehensive sex education versus abstinence only education. By examining parental opinions of sex education at home and at school, new ways of conducting sex education research are presented and justified.
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