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sex education overview

Although our 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 sex.

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:

     1. From parents/family.

     2. From school/teachers.

     3. From friends and personal experimentation.

     4. Incidentally, 'along the way', based on snippets of information          garnered from 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.



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