A pilot sex education course for Alexandria ninth graders this fall is designed to teach students about all stages of human development, not only about sex, according to school officials.

"Some systems just have plain sex ed, but this is different," said Assistant Superintendent Arlene Moore. "This covers life from birth to death and sex is a part of that. It puts sex into perspective."

The school system has enrolled 50 students, selected at random, in the new Family Life Education course. The class will be mandatory for ninth graders next fall, except when parents request that their children be exempt.

Since the school board approved the course last summer, a committee of board members, teachers, school administrators and parents has been hammering out details of the class, which will include topics such as masturbation, homosexuality, contraception, incest and rape.

Teacher Gladys Pettiford, who devised much of the course, said no textbooks will be used. All course material has been researched and will be presented by teachers as lectures, she said, and students will be encouraged to ask questions and participate in discussions.

"We couldn't find a text, so in a way we simply wrote our own," said Pettiford, who will teach one of the two Family Life classes this year. She said enough teachers will be trained by next year to accommodate all ninth graders.

Despite the label of sex education, Pettiford said, the course will cover all aspects of human development.

"We will go through the stages of human development from prenatal to old age," said Pettiford. "We are just putting the sexuality in where it belongs."

Pettiford said the sex education parts of the course will stress "good, factual information and dispel misconceptions and fallacies." She said the teachers will discuss morals but will not try to impart any specific view to students.

"We are aware that people do have concerns about the students' values," she said. "Our goal is to teach universal values: the right to be loved, respected, nurtured. People in all areas of life respond to those values."

All forms of contraception will be discussed during class, according to school officials. Pettiford dismissed the notion that teaching contraception to teen-agers encourages them to engage in sexual activity.

"We are talking about ninth graders, 15- and 16-year-olds," she said. "According to statistics, they haven't just started thinking about sex. Some of them already have children at this age."

Moore stressed that the Family Life curriculum is not set and could change, depending on the success of the pilot program.

Parents interested in the new Family Life course are invited to attend workshops scheduled this fall, where they will be able to review the course outline and see films presented in class.

"Parents seem enthusiastic about it and are hopeful that it will improve communications between them and their teens," said Pettiford. "And of course the teens are interested in it -- because they're teens."