(8/12/13) Sex education in America has made a lot of progress since the early days of Kelloggs (yes, the Corn Flakes flakes–errrr, folks) and the Boy Scouts touting their views on the alleged catastrophic consequences of masturbation. We’ve even managed a few steps forward since the Clinton administration’s summary dismissal of U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, for suggesting that masturbation be included in sex education programs. But let’s face it: Sex ed is still too divisive as a political hot potato to say that it’s anywhere near where it should be today.
A quick peek at some key indicators might put the current situation in focus. Less than half of American states require sex ed in their public school curricula and even fewer mandate that, if taught, it be factually and medically accurate(1). Political and moral arguments aside for a moment, whether you believe that a comprehensive versus abstinence-only approach is best, the fact that over 3/4 of a million young women between 15-19 in the U.S. become pregnant each year–and that over 80% reported their pregnancy was unintentional(2)–should be enough of a wake-up call. Factor in that young adults account for about half of the almost 20 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases annually(2) and it’s pretty easy to see that any so-called progress hasn’t even closely equated to a viable system yet.
Here’s the rub: Kids having kids or proliferating STDs are only symptoms, not the problem. Whether by using children as perpetual pawns in never-ending political, religious and social chess games or simply through a basic failure in leadership, the responsibility for not adequately addressing the obvious need for effective sex education lies solidly among adults. Are we (collectively and generally) really that unwilling to come together on this for the benefit of our youngins? Or are we just unable to for various reasons, whether legitimate or rationalized?
Let’s be optimistic and presume good intentions for a moment regardless of individual politics, et cetera. Given the severe stigmas and historical hang-ups associated with such a basic and natural element of the human experience, it’s not unreasonable to think that many adults genuinely don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to the intricacies of sexuality. This would explain a serious vacuum that’s exponentially amplified when it comes to competently teaching all of the ins and outs to a younger generation or being fully capable of participating in a process for devising a cohesive system to address it all. The good news, however, is that this is America–and whenever a serious vacuum exists, you can bet your buns that capitalism will find and fill it. Hence, the rise of what we will hereafter call, “The celebrity sexpert.”
The notion of a sexuality expert with widespread appeal isn’t necessarily new, but its acceptance has taken quite a while to pick up steam and grow. To put it in perspective, the Jackie Robinson of celebrity sexperts was Dr. Ruth Westheimer. While the infancy of uninhibited and straightforward sex education for adults was marked by mostly sterile and clinical approaches, “Doctor Ruth” became a bona fide rock star by racing upstream against all currents and relating to people on their own terms. Her pint-sized stature and ethnic, motherly demeanor (“Don’t be afrrrrrraid of ze PEE-nissss!”) probably afforded her more than a few free-passes when it came to potential opposition (after all, who in their right mind is going to beat up on a little old lady, right?), but it was her solid expertise and sincere compassion that solidified her as a significant resource in adult sex education. She was a tough act to follow–and for a while, few did. Replicating her unique appeal was almost impossible, but her success did open the door for a new generation of shtick-savvy subject matter experts. It also illuminated a significant need along with the opportunity to turn the tide favorably.
At this stage, most blend in rather than lead from the point, but the number of modern celebrity sexperts is now growing steadily and a broad, solid foundation is emerging when it comes to quality adult sex education. It’s a key trend that needs to be encouraged, embraced, supported and nurtured. A positive surge in developing better understanding and tearing down outdated and ridiculous stigmas will increasingly influence adult attitudes until the tipping point is reached–finally benefiting our younger generations and those to come.
Rather than feed out what’s likely to be an incomplete list of current or rising celebrity sexperts, we’d like to hear from you. Who do you think is the rising star in adult sex ed and what do you think makes them a leader in the field? Let us know!