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Fifth Graders to Learn About 'Birds and Bees'

After years of debate, the California Board of Education adopted a series of sex education guidelines which will be phased-in this year. They require public schools to begin teaching "the birds and be

Fifth Graders to Learn About 'Birds and Bees'

After years of debate, the California Board of Education adopted a series of sex education guidelines which will be phased-in this year. They require public schools to begin teaching "the birds and bees" when students are just 10 years old.

In a two-part series on sex education, KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis explains how local schools are grappling with the issue.


It's after school and a bunch of teenagers are lounging on a big comfy couch at a teen center in Chula Vista.

Cheyenne Burns has short, choppy, bleached blond hair and bright blue eyes. She says she and her friends usually have two things on their minds -- boys and sex. 

Burns: Everybody knows how to use a condom. Really, all you have to do is rip it open and stick it on. It's not that hard.

Cheyenne is 15 years old. She says she started having sex a few years ago, but she began experimenting with it way before then. In fact some of what she shared was too explicit for this story.

Cheyenne and the other students here say sex ed in ninth grade is a waste of time because most teenagers started having sex long before they got to high school. That's why she agrees with state education officials who say sex ed needs to be introduced when kids are about ten years old.


Burns: I know girls who, I hate to say the word, but are skanky. They go out have sex ten, 15 different guys in a month. I know three girls who are 14 and pregnant.

San Diego's Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows the percentage of girls having sex before the age of 13 is small but growing.

It also shows San Diego students between 15 to 19 years old are having more oral sex. They're having sex more often with more people, and they're not using condoms as much.

That's why state education officials say it's so important to start teaching students about puberty and sexually transmitted diseases in the fifth grade. 

Marge Kleinsmith is with the San Diego Unified School District. She welcomes the new guidelines for fifth grades, but due to the lack of state funding, the district will offer it in sixth grade.

Kleinsmith: Kids are engaging in oral sex at a young age, so we really want to get across the fluids that can transmit disease and they need to protect themselves. Because young kids look at sex in a very different way and they don't recognize oral sex can spread disease.

While San Diego Unified has started sex ed in middle school, other districts are more conservative.

Grossmont Union High School District only touches on the biological aspects of reproductive health in the ninth grade. Even then, some parents in the district don't think that's appropriate.

Karin Ingrande lives in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District with her three sons. She says she was mortified after her 11 year old attended his first sex ed class last year, and came home talking about how puberty would change his body.

Ingrande: I was like, 'Oh my God, …this is too young!!

Karin believes teaching elementary school kids about sex strips them of their innocence and actually promotes sexual behavior. She'd rather see state education dollars spent on art, music and even ettiquette classes.

Ingrande: In elementary school, we are feeding them (kids) information, they don't even understand what you are talking to them about. They can't even comprehend why you're describing these graphic topics that will happen to their bodies, now they're nervous about it, raising questions. Its just too much too early.

But the high school students back at the teen center in Chula Vista say parents better get used to kids wanting to know about sex at a younger age. Fernando Diaz says kids live in a completely different world today.

Diaz: Because like, you turn on the TV and what do you see? Beverly Hills 90210, this person is having sex this person, then they're having sex all together. What kind of values are we teaching people when that's what they're watching on TV?

And that's why San Diego Unified's Marge Kleinsmith strongly supports teaching students about sex earlier. She wants to make sure kids get medically accurate information so they can live a healthy sexual lifestyle.

Kleinsmith: Are sometimes parents upset? I'm sure they are. But again, it is not our role to tell students that they should or should not be having sex. Its to give them the tools and encourage them to discuss this with people they trust in their lives.

It may take a while until San Diego Unified phases in sex ed for 10 year olds but Chula Vista is already including it in its adolescence, growth and health curriculum in the fifth grade. The evidence suggests children are maturing younger and younger. Parents and teachers are trying to adjust so can get students the information they need before it's too late.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.