A Character-Based Approach to Sex Education

A Character-Based Approach to Sex Education

No discussion of moral and character education can exclude sex education. More young People, I believe, are at risk from the destructive consequences of premature, uncommitted sex than from any other single threat to their healthy physical, emotional, and moral development. To consider just one dimension of the physical dangers: In the United States, according to the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, about a third of sexually active teenage girls are now infected with human papilloma virus (the leading cause of cervical cancer) and/or chlamydia (the leading cause of infertility). Recent medical studies show that condoms provide virtually no protection against either human papilloma virus or chlamydia.

Unfortunately, our children are growing up in what Boston University’s Kevin Ryan calls a “sexually toxic” environment. This environment trivializes and debases sex and leads young people into patterns of short-lived sexual relationships that undermine their self-respect and corrupt their character.

There is fortunately now a growing effort to bring sex education into line with the principles of good character education. That means adopting an approach to sex education that develops character traits of good judgment and self-control, and guides young people toward morally sound conclusions about how to apply the values of respect and responsibility to sexual behavior. And this means helping students understand all the reasons why sexual abstinence is the only medically safe and morally responsible choice for an unmarried teenager.

“The core problem facing our schools is a moral one,” writes William Kilpatrick in Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong. “All other problems derive from it. If students don’t learn habits of courage and justice, curriculums designed to improve their self-esteem won’t stop the epidemic of extortion, bullying, and violence; neither will courses designed to make them more sensitive to diversity.”

Good character is what our children need and what our society needs. “Character,” the Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserted, “is destiny.” If we wish to have any hope of reversing our nation’s downward moral slide and building a moral society, we must make character education our highest educational priority.

Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist, professor of education, and director of the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (Respect and Responsibility) at SUNY Cortland. His books include the Christopher Award-winning Educating for Character:How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility, Raising Good Children, and Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision, a book for teenagers written with his wife Judith and William Boudreau, M.D.





Article is taken from the website of

the Center for the 4th & 5th R’s,   Cortland, State University of New York