children and young people are fed a regular diet of ads about safe
sex, condoms, tampons and sexual activities on the television, and
have easy access to violent and erotic videos, many parents still
prefer to relinquish the responsibility of talking openly about
It is no longer appropriate
to have the 'birds and the bees' talk with kids, as the statistical
age for first sexual experiences is getting younger every year.
Most teenagers could probably tell their parents things that would
make their hair turn instantly white! However, when we get
past the 'plumbing' aspects of sex, there's a lot that parents could
share about their own experiences, such as emotions, communication,
orgasm, the differences between male and female sexuality, etc.
Unfortunately, many adults
are themselves unable to express their needs or concerns in these
areas, and therefore are not equipped to discuss them with their
children. Many families operate solely on the understanding
that the parents are non-sexual. Sex is not freely mentioned
and, in some cases, is a taboo subject in the home. How can
we possibly expect healthy attitudes to develop from this background?
Mind you, excessive expression
is not healthy either. My mother told me all the basics about
sex when I was 10, and that was great. But she was also a
very sexual person who confided in me, her only child, about her
needs and feelings. I felt very uncomfortable about this but
was powerless to ask her to stop.
I remember finding some
pornographic magazines in her wardrobe once. They aroused
me and I felt very 'dirty' about that. As an adult, this pattern
of interaction continued, with my mother wanting me to tell her
about my sex life with my husband. I couldn't and wouldn't
do it. It's to her credit that I am very open and accepting
about sex and all its ramifications, but I still believe it is a
private thing that should only be shared as it feels appropriate
for the person(s) involved.
So, in most families,
it's the line of least resistance that wins out in the end. Say
nothing and hope for the best. I would have to say that in
the case of sex, poor education is not better than none, because
of the damage misinformation can cause. The best kind of sex
education is the kind that is offered naturally, as part of a child's
curiosity and search for explanation about a thousand things every
day. These questions come out in homes the world over every
day usually in the form of a very blunt enquiry, such as,
'What's a cock, Mum? Can I have a peanut butter sandwich?'.
Here, the parent has
a golden opportunity to address the child's question in a simple
and natural way. The worst possible reaction is shock and/or
anger because that implies a transgression and signals a warning
not to repeat the mistake. Should that happen, the child will
soon be wary of asking anything at all, whether about sex or not.
The curiosity will still be present but it will be suppressed
and eventually rechannelled. The first ingredient for learning
is curiosity and it would have been stifled by such a response.
Later, if the child hears the word 'cock' at school or in the street,
it will have far greater significance than if it had been quietly
explained in the first place. It may also have a negative
connotation because of the response it elicited.
There are basically four
ways for a person to learn about sex:
From friends and personal experimentation.
Incidentally, 'along the way', based on snippets of information
the above three sources.
The fourth method is
by far the most common, and the least satisfactory. I would
opt for a combination of one and two as being the 'perfect' mode
of sex education for our society.
Love and the basics of
human sexuality should ideally be taught in the home, and the more
practical issues of health, biology and contraception can be tackled
in a school program. If these topics were only discussed at
home, there would be a lot of gaps in the information because the
average parent can't be expected to be up with the latest on safe
sex, STDs, etc. On the other hand, if the subject of sex has
never been raised in the first five years of a child's life, it's
difficult for even the most comprehensive school program to supply
the necessary knowledge and correct attitudes.