Last night, Bill O’Reilly pretended to have a conversation about sex education with my dear friend Debra Haffner. She’s the co-founder and director of the Religious Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice, & Healing.
The faux news hook was Barack Obama’s comment supporting sex education in kindergarten. The show’s producer helpfully cued the audience with a visual of condoms and oral contraceptives—completely irrelevant to the discussion, but predictably inflammatory. And that, not informing people, is the show’s mission.
O’Reilly criticized some abstract “them” for injecting too much fear into the cultural dialogue about childhood sexuality—without, of course, noting that his show and his network lead the galaxy in gratuitously terrifying people about sexual danger.
So he told Haffner that he agreed with her about the need to teach kids about sexual danger and safety (not at all Haffner’s central message), and the value of teaching them basic stuff like families, boys-and-girls, bodies are cool, etc.. But this was merely a genteel prelude to the Big Game O’Reilly was hunting. He created the chance to vehemently disagree with Haffner when he asked her how she’d tell kids where they come from.
When Haffner replied like a reasonable adult—she’d tell them babies grow inside mom in a place called a uterus—O’Reilly found his target. He believes that certain magic syllables can “destroy” childhood and childhood innocence (which he believes are synonymous). When Haffner suggested that six-year-olds understand the word “elbow” and the basic concept of the heart, O’Reilly said “uterus” was “beyond their capacity to understand.” This simply makes no sense. It’s also a ridiculous leap to say that a kid who’s told a baby grows in a uterus and doesn’t understand this somehow loses his “childhood innocence.” Why this is isn’t true when kids don’t understand subtraction or thunder or “i before e” he didn’t say.
And that’s a key issue—the belief that “too much” history or “too much” math doesn’t damage kids, but “too much” information about sexual biology does. “Too much” information about the heart, lungs, ears, or nose is just boring, but “too much” information about the penis or vulva somehow hurts. “This is your brain. This is your brain on certain syllables…”
Such people say “sex ed” belongs only in the home. They’re wrong. Education—that is, information presented in an age-appropriate manner—belongs in an educational institution. If parents want to undermine this information with judgments, beliefs, and proscriptions, home is the place to do it.
We know the second is occurring daily. O’Reilly and other religious terrorists should stop blocking the first.