Of all the places you could take a group of middle-schoolers to on a field trip, “sex store” probably ranks third to dead last, right behind “ISIS camp” and “active war zone.” The concept of bringing children as young as eleven into a den of pornography, bizarre fetish oriented sex toys, and not only allowing them to see these items, but to ask questions about them and even purchase them sounds utterly inconceivable.
But that’s exactly what The Gaia Democratic School did, to the shock and horror of parents.
If an adult wants to visit a sex shop, that’s his or her prerogative. In fact, it’s normal, healthy even for married couples to go together and purchase things such as lubricants, condoms, and scented massage oils to aid in creating a romantic atmosphere for their marital relations. A sex shop called “The Smitten Kitten,” which brands itself as a “progressive sex toy store for everyone,” and caters heavily to fetishists and LGBT persons, is absolutely no place for children. When you consider that the school did not require parental permission to attend the traumatizing field trip, nor did they even notify parents where their children were going, the story just gets worse.
It’s not as if one rogue, overly liberal sex-ed teacher threw some eleven year-olds onto a bus without really notifying administration, either. The organizer and chaperone of the trip was none less than Starri Hedges, the executive director of the school. This incident of gross misjudgment has many parents and fellow educators questioning her fitness to be in the presence of children, let alone run a middle school. Hedges has refused to issue an apology or even admit that taking preteens to a sex shop was wrong on her part. The only hint at regret or taking responsibility for her actions comes in her statement that she “should have communicated properly with parents.”
Many parents of these scarred-for-life students claim that had they been warned in advance or asked permission, they would have refused to allow their child to go on the trip. Lynn Floyd, the mother of eleven and thirteen year-old daughters who were both taken on the trip, immediately withdrew both kids from the school feeling that her daughters should not have been exposed to such material. She fears psychological harm to her children, stating that, “You just cant erase those images,” from their young, fragile minds.
Hedges believes that The Smitten Kitten is a “safe place” to learn about sex, and that taking children to attend one of the “educational” workshops the sex shop offers in addition to pornography and sex toys would give them a “safe and welcoming” environment in which to “explore human sexuality.” She stated that, “What I saw happening on that trip: I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear.”
That in and of itself is cause for alarm: Why should eleven to thirteen year-old middle-schoolers be perfectly comfortable asking an adult stranger how to correctly use all manner of sex toys or have anal sex?
Although the workshop took place in a back room, the children were encouraged to peruse the products and ask questions about their use afterwards. Perhaps most shockingly, they were permitted to make purchases. Hedges told a local newspaper that some students bought condoms while they were there, with her blessing.
Many parents felt that this goes far beyond the acceptable reach of a school and consider it a serious infringement on their rights as parents. Should not a parent be the one to decide whether his or her preteen should be permitted to purchase condoms? Most parents would balk at the idea of an educator enabling their child to have sex by helping to provide contraception. For those parents who raise their children to maintain the virtue of abstinence before marriage and refraining from pornography or other materials that encourage sexual thought or action, this school has grossly usurped their parental parents.
In most middle schools sex ed requires a signed permission slip and teaches only what the children must know to understand reproduction, their own bodies, health issues, and peer pressure. Often the classes are split so that boys are taught about the male body, while girls are taught about the female body. Topics covered generally include what to expect from puberty, the menstrual cycle (for girls), the basic mechanics of sexual intercourse, STD’s, and how a woman becomes pregnant. Certainly not the details of penetrative sex toy, fetish gear, and literature regarding “swinging,” polyamory (dating more than one person at once), and all other manner of odd sex acts. At the high school level, information about various methods of contraception may be offered, including their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STDs and even how to correctly apply a condom. Again, these lessons almost invariably require parental consent if the child is under eighteen.
Not only was this trip traumatic to students and wildly inappropriate, but it may have been illegal to boot. In Minnesota, where the school is located, if a store has “explicit adult material in plain view,” children should not be present in the store at all. Minnesota law states that, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly sell or loan to a minor any picture, drawing, fill, etc which depicts nudity, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse which is harmful to minors. It is also unlawful to exhibit this material where minors can see it.”
Another state statute states deems it illegal to allow minors to enter any place where any form of media, including the cover of a package, is depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse. Considering that the packaging of a BDSM harness, whips, lingerie, gags, anal toys, and explicit literature is certainly not G-rated, simply exposing children to them is a crime. The Smitten Kitten is currently under investigation.
Meanwhile in Missouri, a school is being sued for allowing students with parental permission to go to the Christian sports venue they chose as a reward. Attendees say that no religious exercises, teaching, or evangelism took place during the event.