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The amount of mythology and misinformation that teachers encounter is considerable, even among the apparently sophisticated. After decades of reassurance, boys are still concerned about the putative effects of masturbation: does it really cause baldness, blindness, mental retardation, physical debility, or hairy palms? The relief at learning that none of these is true can be profound. Says a 13-year-old New Yorker: "When you find out that every other guy in the class does it and it's not all that unhealthy, you don't feel so bad any more." Homosexuality is currently a major concern of youngsters of both sexes, though most programs try to postpone extended treatment of the seamy side of sexVD, abortion, perversionuntil a positive image has been established in the youngster's mind. Girls tend to worry about the risk of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth ("Can't we just adopt a baby?" they often ask).
Probably the toughest question about sex education is whether it should be straight information or have moral direction. "Adults sure have different goals," observed one New York teen-ager in a recent survey. "They don't look at sex education as teaching us to understand sex. They look at it as a way of controlling our morals." And a lot of them do. Says Anaheim School Superintendent Paul Cook: "As soon as you start to lecture the kids, they turn you off. They just won't listen to people telling them what to do. We try to just give them the objective facts and tell them the decision is up to them."
The "objective facts" include consequences. Despite Superintendent Cook's well-taken strictures against moralizing, the shapers of the Anaheim program were obviously interested in morality and social values. Cook, who used to teach the course himself, tells how it tries to prepare both sexes for the "traps" of dating. The message to the boys is that they need not make a pass at a girl to prove themselves masculine, and to the girls that they need not say yes to remain popular. Says Cook: "We try to give them answers for all the old con games." Without explicit moralizing, the course relies heavily on cautionary tales about venereal disease and the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. A typical deterrent story concerns a boy who could not go to college and had to become a garage mechanic instead to support his baby. Says an observer of the Anaheim program: "The implicit moral is 'If you play, you'll pay.' There is no talk of hell fire and damnation, of course, only of the various kinds of social hell that can happen if you are not careful."