The latest controversy in my area is another type of fight between conservative parent activist groups and school boards. This time it is not about mask requirements, but about sex education. Two things specifically rile the shouting class this time: (1) Masturbation exists, and (2) so do LGBTQ+ people.

Apparently, there are enough prudes out there to give the school superintendents hell about teaching about masturbation in schools (grade 3-5 specifically, in my case). I’m not talking about teaching how to masturbate, or about teaching that masturbation is a normal, natural thing for people to do, or even teaching that mutual masturbation can be an alternative to sexual intercourse that is far less likely to lead to pregnancy. I’m talking about even saying the word masturbation or writing it down.

The elementary school superintendent emailed everybody in town to clarify that masturbation is not included in my town’s 3rd-to-5th grade sex-ed at all, and proved it by excerpting parts of the curriculum. So all the bother over it, in my town at least, was just noise created by busybodies and crackpots. It is embarrassing to me that sex-ed can’t cover the one thing that the kids, by fifth grade, are probably already doing, and at least tell them it is OK. Instead, they will learn—from each other mostly—to feel ashamed about it.

LBGTQ+ material is also not part of the curriculum, which is terrible. LGBTQ+ people exist, which is not contingent on whether certain parents or people don’t like it or approve of it. Some of the students in every school are LGBTQ+, and they deserve to learn that they are not alone, not weird, have resources available to them if they need them, and deserve to be treated with respect. There was so much homophobia when I came of age (the late 1980s) that, if I had thought I was gay, it would have been devestating to me. And, at the time, I thought of myself as very progressive about homosexuality—I figured out myself that homosexuals must be born that way. If I came of age and discovered that I was gay, bi, or whatever, I would have needed some support from grown-ups and authority figures, and probably would have had no better place to get it than from school.

I would agree that grade 3 is too early to broach these topic and that grade 4 may be too early for most kids. However, grade 5 is the latest that these topics should be introduced, because that is when most of the kids will need help understanding them. Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are all things that teens and adults have to deal with all the time. To sweep some of it under the rug because prudish or religious people think they are improper just underserves our kids and perpetuates the persecution of non-cis, non-straight people.

You could argue that sex education should be handled at home, by parents, and that schools should keep out of it, or only focus on its biological aspects. That may sound reasonable, but it really isn’t. While I agree that parents should educate their children about sex—like my wife and I will—to arm them with information and to help them through puberty without developing unnecessary shame or body horror. The thing is, a lot of parents don’t—and those are the ones who are most vocal right now. We should not let them dictate how much or how little will be taught to all of our kids about the facts of life.