Should masturbation be taught in schools?

(This is rude)

Carlos from the US asked [all of two years ago now; I have spent a lot of time researching this question]:

I've always been bitter about the forced resignation of former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for her frank opposition to abstinence programs and the censure of masturbation. At the same time, her suggestion that masturbation should be taught in public schools seems... extreme. Do you really trust schools to handle this well?

First I should point out that here in Britain 'public schools' is how we refer to what you in the US would call private schools. And in that sort of public school, I gather that not only masturbation but a wide variety of other interesting sexual practices has long been an unofficial part of the curriculum.

As to the main point, the idea has been proposed here too but I am not sure it is a master-stroke. Not to beat about the bush but I don't think it's been thought out properly. For one thing, the homework burden of pupils is big enough already with the traditional subjects. Are they ready to cope with this extra load? How are teachers to check that their parents aren't doing it for them? My guess is that progressive educationalists may decide against this idea as they will conclude that middle-class children would have an unfair advantage over the more underprivileged due to the greater privacy at home and higher likelihood of finding high-quality literary erotica about the house. As a teen the most arousing book I could find at home was a 1976 Ford Granada owner's manual. Even today when I think about that smooth, shapely carburettor... but I digress.

Another important question is grading. What marking system should be employed? Who passes, who fails, who must try harder? Do you judge by speed, duration, stamina, or do something involving a tape measure or a high-jump bar, even an archery board? Would you award extra points for ambidexterity? For stealth, cunning, guile, the ability to sneak a quick feel through the trouser pocket while rummaging for change?

Is there to be standardization of method taught? It would be a shame to lose the idiosyncratic and the baroque technique. One boy at my school, for example, used to swear by an unusual wheeze involving flock wallpaper. In later years he was arrested in a Home Bargain shop. How would classes actually be conducted - would you raise your hand to answer a question, or what? Would the teacher divide the class into study groups or assign partners? What if some won't pull their weight?

What would exams be like? What would pupils be allowed to bring in with them? Would it be cheating or just creepy to look at your neighbour's work? How much time would be allowed and what would the invigilators say in place of 'Pens down'? At the final bell would you be allowed to finish what you were working on or would it be snatched out of your hands? Would there be a written component? Would there be 'How long would it take a man to fill a bath' -type questions?

There have been calls for more holistic schooling with greater integration between disciplines. It is easy to see how this new subject might be combined with, say, History. For instance I myself once came across, that is to say I found, some pictures of naughty Roman centurion girls. And once, rather disturbingly, a study of how Abraham Lincoln might have looked had he been born female and gone about in nothing but a stovepipe hat. It wasn't rails he was splitting. Combining theory of onanism with lessons about Jethro Tull and his seed-drill might be attention-grabbing but ultimately confusing. Geography too has possibilities. As a youth I found the curvaceous bits of both Africa and South America to be unbearably arousing and the shape of China to resemble nothing so much as a pair of breasts in a halter top, while the very mention of Cape Horn could give me one. And there is a town in Rumania called Brasov whose produce, population and salient features I could still recite for you today, so often did I find myself compelled to look it up. But Home Ec, I feel, should be kept strictly separate, and it would be asking for trouble to combine self-abuse with anything involving Bunsen Burners, or, in spite of the potential for wordplay, woodwork tools.

As you can see I have raised more questions than I have answered and much more thought is required on this sticky matter. I could argue the toss all day but personally I feel myself pulled two ways. In Britain nowadays many pupils leave school unable to read properly; it would be a shame to increase the number due to an epidemic of blindness. But frankly I think the sheer creepiness of a teacher encouraging you to masturbate would tend to make teenagers as pure as saints.

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October 24th 2009