Radnor’s sex-ed curriculum is woefully insufficient, Radnor students report

“The sex-ed curriculum has failed in teaching about sex for today’s generation,” reported an anonymous RHS senior. “Radnor’s sex-ed is awful and we need to be taught about not only heterosexual sex but sex with the same sex,” said another. According to students, the Radnor high school sex-ed curriculum remains outdated and inadequate. The Radnor Health Department declined the Radnorite’s request for an interview.

The RHS health room and textbook

The RHS health room and textbook

Ellie Davis, Editor-in-Chief

The latest Radnor culture war, mirroring similar conflicts across the county, targets books in the RHS library that include sexual interactions. Nation-wide and local controversy swarms around Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, which include consensual and non-consensual sex, raising questions of what level of sexual content is appropriate for teens in the young adult fiction on the library shelves. Discomfort with sex in fiction, even safe and consensual sex, demonstrates a general discomfort with the mention of sex in school, including in the health classrooms that are meant to help prepare students for healthy intimate relationships throughout their lives. Though Radnor touts an “abstinence-plus” curriculum, many current and past RHS students say that they feel like Radnor has provided an insufficient, and in some ways harmful, sex education.

In 2019, Morgan Wisehart, Abigail Lenhard, and Estelle Atkinson offered their perspectives on why sex-ed curriculums with information beyond an abstinence-only approach better prepare students for navigating their personal sexual relationships, and how Radnor’s sex ed curriculum fails in this department. 

In fifth grade, health teachers introduce students to the changes of puberty and the “basics of human sexuality.” Class discussions are squarely framed around the biological mechanics of reproduction, removing the human element of personal relationships. Fifth-grade health was “helpful in having a good 5th-grade curriculum with co-ed lessons on both male and female anatomy,” reported an anonymous sophomore. “Looking back, I am grateful that they taught us about HIV/AIDS at such a young age because it showed me that STIs were something real and dangerous, and it debunked myths such as contracting the disease from a toilet seat.”  

In seventh grade, health class revisits the topic of sex, to talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) “as well as the risk associated with sexual pressures.” In an interview, one senior described this curriculum as “a very biological lens of sex, learning the mechanics of sex… how babies are produced, but never really any serious discussion of the social aspects of sex. The ramifications of sex on an adolescent psyche was never really discussed.” This topic accompanies discussions about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco — “Refusal skills will be practiced to help students refrain from these dangerous risk behaviors,” reads the curriculum guide. The conversation around sex was presented as similar to drugs and tobacco, stressing that it’s best avoided and that abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.  

The content overview of the RHS health textbook. See Chapter 13 for discussions of “Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS” and Chapter 24 for “Understanding Sexuality.” hips in the teen years.” 

In eighth grade, the discussion around sex still focuses on STDs, reproductive mechanics, with the addition of “the development of healthy relationships in the teen years.” As the Radnorite authors previously pointed out, the degree to which elements of healthy relationships are talked about is unclear. which, focuses squarely on “Sexuality, STDs, HIV, and AIDS,” does little to discuss healthy relationships. One anonymous sophomore reflected, “We were educated on STDs and STIs and their symptoms, but not how to prevent them, besides not having sex.”

The beginning of the “Understanding Sexually” chapter of the textbook, with student graffiti. No students reported discussing the material in this chapter.

 The district website makes no mention of sex-ed in the ninth-grade health and wellness description, and for tenth-grade health, the website simply lists “sexuality” as one of the topics within the curriculum. For most students, this discussion, again, zoomed in on STIs. To credit the health textbook, it does include lessons on “Understanding Sexuality,” covering topics such as puberty, the process of questioning one’s sexuality, masturbation, and gender identity. Few students, however, reported ever addressing the topics in this chapter, let alone reading these sections of the textbook. “In my tenth-grade health textbook, abstinence was emphasized as the best and only way to prevent STDs and pregnancies,” reported an anonymous junior. “To me, that wasn’t helpful because sexual interaction is a normal part of a teenage relationship, and the desire for sex is normal for teenagers in general. It’s not realistic to believe that every teenager, especially those in a relationship, will just be abstinent.”

The beginning of the “Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/AIDS” chapter of the health textbook, which, as students report, is the main focus of the high school sex-ed curriculum.

The textbook’s “Understanding Sexuality” chapter, for all the valuable information it provides, still builds to the conclusion that abstinence is universally the best decision for teenagers, including “refusal skills” to avoid “sexual pressure.” As discussed previously by Radnorite reporters, the term “pressures” implies that “no sexual activity engaged in by students will be voluntary, but rather forced upon them. The portrayal of sex in a negative and alien light further develops the stigma around it and perpetuates the fear surrounding sex. Avoiding the idea that safe sex is possible makes the subject even more taboo.”