Poster fuels debate: How should teens be taught about sex?

SHAWNEE, Kan. - A poster meant to be used in a single middle school health class lesson on human sexuality has fueled a week-long debate over what kind of language is appropriate when teaching teens about sex.

Friday, the superintendent of the 27,000 student Shawnee Mission School District sent a letter to the parents of each student, informing them he had suspended use of the poster indefinitely pending a "detailed review" of its use.

At issue, the language on a poster that asks, "How do people express their sexual feelings?"

The poster lists 17 activities, ranging from the benign like "kissing," "hugging" and saying "I like you," to explicitly sexual activities up to and including different varieties of intercourse.


A parent of an 8th grade student at Hocker Grove Middle School, where the poster was used in a lesson last week, complained to the district on Wednesday. An ensuing debate pulled in parents from both sides, including Jennifer Wantland, whose 13-year-old daughter was also in the class that discussed the poster, and who said on Friday she believes the language on it is appropriate in an educational context.

"In a classroom-like setting, if it's educational, absolutely. She needs to know the correct terms," Wantland said. "My opinion on this is we need to stop living in a 1950s dreamland, honestly. We can't be leading our children into this world with blinders on."

Wantland's daughter Lyssa said the class's initial reaction to the poster was laughter, but that she and other students felt the lesson contained information they needed to know.

"We all started laughing obviously because of the terms," Lyssa said. "We all know them. We're 13. We need to know anyways."

The district's letter to parents reminded them that the parents can review curriculum material at any time, and can opt their children out of human sexuality discussions by filling out a form.   

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