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Fathers and Sex Education

How Dads Feel About Sex Education at School and at Home

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Dads all over the world struggle with the idea of teaching their children about sex. It is not an easy topic anyway, and it is laden with risk. How much do we tell? Do we focus on the clinical side of sex? Should we be teaching sex in the context of values? How do we know when out child is ready? Should we have one "birds and bees" discussion, or do we give more information as children get older? Or do we leave the whole discussion to our child's health teacher in school?

A recent comprehensive study of the attitudes of parents toward sex education suggests that fathers and mothers see a need to make sure sex education is accompanied by a discussion about values and moral choices. The Coalition for Adolescent Sexual Health recently hired internationally known Zogby Associates to conduct a survey of parents in the United States to determine their attitudes toward sex education at school.

The survey used actual language from various sex education programs used in public school sex education and health classes to determine how parents felt about the curriculum and the concepts taught in the programs. Questions were taken from both abstinence-based and "comprehensive" or "abstinence-first" programs developed by both federal agencies and non-profit curriculum development groups.

Not surprisingly, fathers surveyed responded in favor of avoiding the purely clinical approach to some public school sex education and making sure that abstinence was the main message of these programs.

The survey focused on "messages" which are delivered by various sex and health education programs. These might translate into curriculum objectives or certain learning measurements for teachers. For example, for a message such as "Proper nutrition helps our bodies and minds grow and mature," 93% of dads surveyed approved of that message for their children at school. Another message, common in abstinence-based curriculum, was "Sexual or physical intimacy should occur between two people involved in a lifelong, mutually faithful, marriage commitment" had an approval rating of 66.5% of all father surveyed.

Some of the messages in the survey were from "abstinence-first" programs which stress abstinence as a preferred choice but also offer contraceptive and "safe sex" alternatives. For example, one message in the survey was "Two people who live together can have the same commitment and responsibility toward one another as married people." To that message, 51% of fathers disapproved of the message, 33% approved of the message at 16% are neutral.

When dealing with public schools teaching about masturbation, fathers took a hard line stance of saying "no." To the message, "Touching and rubbing one's own genitals to feel good is called masturbation," only 6% of fathers approved of the message, and 75% disapproved. And when asked about having their child's school provide him or her with contraception or the procedures for obtaining contraception without your knowledge or approval, fathers disapproved of this message by a margin of 75 to 15.

The Message for Fathers

Make the time to talk to your kids about sex, but put it in the context of your values and beliefs. If all you deal with is the clinical approach to sex, you have missed an opportunity to put sex in a broader context of relationships, love and values! Your kids will get plenty of messages about sex in the media, with their friends, at school and in other settings. Framing the issues of sex by putting it in its proper perspective will make the discussion more important to each of you.

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