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In the school system of Washington, D.C., for instance, first-and second-graders learn about their bodies, third-graders study breast feeding. Not until the fifth and sixth grades does the course take up menstruation and reproduction. In Anaheim, Calif., whose program is considered one of the best in the U.S., instruction begins in the seventh grade, covering parent-child and sibling conflicts, physical changes in adolescence, and masturbation. The eighth grade takes up more physical changes, "problem-solving techniques" and dating. The ninth grade discusses going steady and premarital intercourse. The tenth grade deals with engagement and readiness for marriage. Eleventh-graders take up sexual relations in marriage and the causes and effects of divorce, and the twelfth grade continues with the adjustments necessary in having children. Like most sex-education courses, to the chagrin of some critics, the Anaheim program avoids talking about contraception and sex techniques.
The teachers at Anaheim permit classroom use of four-letter words in order to strip them of their forbidden-thrill value. But most of the time, the language in the more advanced sex-education classes is straightforward and clinical, with the result that parents are sometimes staggered by breakfast-table mentions of seminal emissions or clitoral excitation. However startling, such language is a vast improvement over the flights of icky imagery about the "mystery of growth" and the "joyous miracle of motherhood" that can still be heard from time to time.
In the classroom, teachers try to make the subject matter as specific as possibleespecially in the elementary grades, where they commonly assign children to model the male and female genitals in clay or make drawings of them and their workings. Some instructors use plastic manikins from which the exterior genitals can be removed to reveal the apparatus within. One sex educator in Detroit demonstrates the stretching of the uterus with a rubber ball inside a sock, and the growth of the human embryo by soaking beans in water until they swell and sprout. Teachers get much help from movies in schools that can afford them. From the fairly tame animal films on the kindergarten level, they range to Human Reproduction, featuring body models with all organs clearly labeled; Phoebe, the story of a lovely girl and what happens to her when she becomes pregnant; Fertility and Birth, a cartoon depicting sexual intercourse and subsequent hospital delivery, which is supposed to be used only in "emergencies," meaning when children specifically ask about fertilization.