Sex Education in Amherst

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This Feb. 14, V won't stand for just valentine at Amherst Regional High School in Amherst, Mass. The local school board and superintendent last month approved a student request to stage The Vagina Monologues the night before Valentine's Day as part of a national campaign to call attention to violence against women. The theater piece, written by Eve Ensler, has played off-Broadway and in all-star benefits around the country and the world on Valentine's Day for the past six years. But this is believed to be the first sanctioned high school performance of the play, a collection of readings on such topics as homosexuality, rape and various parts of the female anatomy. Conservative critics like Fox News's Bill O'Reilly have joined local residents in assailing the school board's decision. "The girls who will be up there faking orgasms onstage wouldn't even be old enough to see When Harry Met Sally in the movie theater," fumes Amherst resident Larry Kelley, who read the play after he heard of the high school's plans. "But it isn't the orgasms or even the use of the C word that gets me. Rather, it's the favorable description of sex between a 24-year-old woman and a 16-year-old woman. This is inappropriateness squared for high school students." So far, however, this liberal college town — which once scuttled a performance of West Side Story at the same high school after some residents complained that its portrayal of Hispanics was insensitive — appears to be standing firm. At a town-hall meeting last week on the controversy, opponents of The Vagina Monologues were outnumbered by supporters.