Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: The guidance document "Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content" was developed in conjunction with stakeholders in order to comply with SB656 (2022).
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8/3/22  11:29 pm
Commenter: Andrew Lam

Opposing View from a Primary Care Physician

As a doctor to children and teens, I believe this bill is dangerous on a couple grounds.

First, it is a matter of public health to teach the next generation about safe sex. Effective, age-appropriate sex education needs to impart an understanding about the physical and interpersonal mechanisms of consensual sexual activity as well as what constitutes sexual abuse. Far from sexualizing children, a curriculum that teaches children how to recognize coercive sexual behavior and gives them the words to describe others' inappropriate behavior toward them can protect this vulnerable population from falling prey to sexual assault. In my experience, many parents (through no fault of their own) are poorly equipped to impart this sort of education to their children because they themselves were not the recipients of comprehensive sex education; children who are opted out of sex education classes are often given little or no sex education at home. Based on the wording in SB 656, descriptions of "sexual conduct" and "abuse," which are crucial for clear instruction in sex education classes, would be grounds for parents to deprive children of these potentially life-or-death lessons. 

A second aspect of this bill that may threaten children's lives and wellbeing is the inclusion of "fetishism" in the definition of "sexually explicit content." Many outside the LGBTQ+ community mistakenly believe that sexual orientations or gender identities outside the cisgender, heterosexual identity are perverse fetishes that can pollute children's minds, and including such vague language as "fetishism" in this bill may cause some parents to opt their children out of education about LGBTQ+ topics. However, science has shown no evidence that minority sexual or gender identities are more likely to be adopted by children as a result of their exposure to information about these aspects of human experience, and instead research has shown that children who discover that they belong to one of these minorities are more susceptible to bullying or even suicidal ideation if they are not taught to accept themselves the way they are. Preventing children from learning about LGBTQ+ people can cause LGBTQ+ children to grow up hating themselves while increasing the chance that non-LGBTQ+ children mistreat their LGBTQ+ peers out of misunderstanding, resulting in great suffering or even loss of LGBTQ+ lives.

In the end, a child is going to be exposed to sexual content one way or another, either through structured sex education classes that meet curriculum standards and equip them to engage with sexuality in a healthy way, or through the chaotic world surrounding them, be it the internet, a sexual abuser, or, unfortunately too rarely, from parents who have the courage to educate them. I propose that, unless a child is being abused in a class, if a parent objects to the types of content taught in schools, they spend time at home teaching their child criteria by which to evaluate whether such content is healthy or not rather than pulling their child out of these classes; a child cannot be sheltered from sexually explicit content forever and will have to be taught how to filter such content for themselves.

CommentID: 127105