V-Bombs and Sex-Ed Fights: Vaginas in the News

February 22, 2008

“School Newspaper Drops a V-Bomb” reads the headline of this L.A. Times story about the confiscation of a high school student newspaper that featured a labeled diagram of a vagina on the front page of the Valentine’s Day issue.

The paper’s editor-in-chief, 15-year-old Richard Edmond, said he was trying to raise awareness of violence against women with a lead story about playwright Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal,” Edmond said. “But they are really upset.”

Edmond said administrators did not explain to his satisfaction why this copy of Le Sabre was unfit for distribution. He said he was told by administrators: “This is not in the taste of the school; this is a high school, not Hollywood Boulevard.”

That didn’t jive so well with the students. The next day, Edmond and others went to school wearing homemade white, black and pink T-shirts reading “My vagina is obscene.” School officials sent home Edmond and two other protesters who refused to change their clothes.

My favorite quote has to be what Edmond told the Student Press Law Center: “My deans said, ‘We understand there’s violence against women, but we have to send you home because that’s our job. I don’t think there should be a ‘but.'”

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This Chicago Tribune headline, meanwhile, promises more bang than the story delivers: “Sex-Ed Fight Began with Condom and Banana.”

No mess here; rather, it’s about a New Jersey peer-to-peer sex-ed course that has drawn the ire of some parents. Indeed, the original headline to the Philadelphia Inquirer story was a more subdued “Sex Ed Led by Teens is Dividing Parents.”

The program involves faculty-supervised juniors and seniors who conduct a series of five seminars attended by freshmen. The New Jersey Teen Prevention Education Program (Teen PEP) is sponsored by the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services, HiTOPS Inc. (Health-Interested Teens Own Program on Sexuality) and the Princeton Center for Leadership Training.

Favorite quote:

“Students listen to each other anyway,” said Alex Van Kooy, 16, a Clearview peer educator. They talk about sex “in the halls and at the bus stop, and we’re just trying to give the correct information instead of rumors and whispers.”

Echoing that point, columnist Michael Smerconish writes in a related piece that everything he needed to know about sex he learned playing street hockey.

“In those teenage years, sex came up just about everywhere,” writes Smerconish. “Playing sports. At the movies. Drinking a Frank’s soda. All over. Except home. And certainly not in any classroom.”

His column includes a number of great comments from Michael Porter, a high school English teacher who also serves as a Teen PEP adviser. Tongue in cheek, Porter says, “When I first started to hear some of the revolting things that were happening in Teen PEP workshops, I was ready to start protesting the group myself, until I remembered that I was in charge of it.”

All joking aside, Porter gets that talking about some subjects may be uncomfortable at first, but it’s far easier than dealing with a sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy.

“I am the father of a 15-year-old girl,” Porter said. “Believe me, I am terrified of the sexually saturated culture that she is surrounded by. I sincerely hope that she chooses to postpone sexual involvement for a long, long, long time. At the same time, as a second-best alternative, I want her to have the information to be safer, should she make a different choice.”

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