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learning about sex at home

Sex, in the context of human relationships, should be seen in all its faces, not as something secretive to be hidden away in Mum and Dad's bedroom.  This can only be achieved within the home and in family relationships.  If parents never hug or kiss in front of their children, there is no role model for positive marital love and love-making.  Sexuality (but not the sex act) should be as much a part of family life as eating an evening meal together, or washing the car on the weekend.  In this way, sex is accepted for what it is — a perfectly natural, perfectly ordinary component of love, marriage, family life, and life in general.  Guilt over sex always starts in childhood and poor education is the cause.

The problem with haphazard learning about sex is the high possibility of picking up the wrong facts, finding out only the physical details and adopting misguided attitudes.  Once a child is armed with the basic facts, he or she can go out into the world more safely, equipped with a foundation of understanding to make good choices when the time comes.  Some educators are now advocating that even toddlers should be taught freely about sex, that nudity be practised in the home and that parents make love openly.

I certainly agree that, from day one, a baby should be in a home where sexuality is an essential part of life, for the simple reason that we are each born a sexual creature.  Any denial of that fact is suppression, and so, by logical progression, cannot be healthy.

Parents often bathe with their children, kids frequently hop into bed with their parents and snuggle up, and family members of all age groups are seen naked or on the toilet.  It's all part of living in close proximity with other human beings, and is all healthy and good.  If a small girl points to her father's penis when he steps out of the shower and asks, 'What's that, Daddy?  I don't have one of those', it would be the most natural thing in the world for him to explain that it's called a penis and only boys and men have them.  Depending on the age of the child, the discussion can be left there, or further details added as appropriate.

I believe that sex education should be given at the child's pace and never imposed by the adults of the family.  It will arise from natural curiosity and need not be undertaken in any formal way.  Good books on the subject can be made available and finally, and most importantly, values should be taught as part of the learning process.

Parental reluctance to talk openly about sex can stem from their own upbringing, if they themselves came from homes in which sex was regarded as a taboo subject.  Or maybe they feel inadequate to the task and are genuinely embarrassed.  Or maybe they are not comfortable with their own sexuality.  Attitude is always the crucial factor.

It is usually considered preferable for mothers to talk to daughters about sex and fathers to instruct their sons, but there are so many single-parent families today that it's not always possible.

I remember a single father phoning me and asking for advice on how to tell his teenage daughter the facts of life.  He was concerned that the absence of a mother might disadvantage her in matters such as her menstrual cycles, dating boys, choosing the right bras, etc.  I told him to get hold of pamphlets from such places as the Family Planning Association and the AIDS Council so that he had the correct information, buy some good sex education books suitable for teenagers, and then just talk to her honestly and simply, without hedging or employing euphemisms.  Kids can pick up a hang-up from ten paces, and they also have inbuilt lie-detectors.  They're not easily fooled.

Sex education cannot be just the doling out of factual information.  It needs to be sensitive, multi-dimensional and seen in action.  In an adult lifetime, most sexual activity will take place in the home.  That's my strongest argument for sex education to take place in the home — it can be absorbed in the context of family life, it can be value-based and it can be demonstrated.



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