Tuesday, 8 July 2008

SexEd from Early Years

It was all over the media on Friday. Plans to introduce sexual and relationship education into the school curriculum from the age of four.

Listening to Newsbeat on Radio One that lunchtime, we heard from very young pupils who attend a rather progressive primary school in Norfolk where children are taught the correct names for their gynaecological parts. The 'willy' and the 'peepee' are no more.

And I wonder if this really is where a lot of the trouble starts. The reluctance of us, as parents, to address our bodies anatomically. All this obfuscation and confusion and secrecy. Refusal to address openly the subjects of masturbation, intercourse and different types of sexuality, other than in terms of innuendo and smut. Closing the door on such matters instead of bringing it all out of the closet so that no one feels odd in their own skin. Making things dirty instead of natural behaviour.

I think you are probably aware that I have done my best to be as open as possible with my children about anything and everything sexual. I have always wandered around naked in front of them. Never hidden my body or its natural functions. The toilet door was always open and questions were answered as and when they arose, hopefully in terms that were relevant to their age so they could grasp the concept without being frightened to death by the details.

It is my greatest regret that I have not been able to provide them with the best role model in terms of a proper tactile, loving relationship between their parents.

If having our children learn about sex in a scientific way from the earliest times can help to stop the sniggering, hole-in-corner, seaside postcard approach that prevails currently, then surely this is a good thing. As adults, we view anything relating to sex with such an immature, comedic attitude that it's hardly surprising that there are children out there experimenting with intercourse at the age of 11 and getting pregnant before they are even 16. How can we expect them to come to us for advice as parents if we keep the subject firmly under the table at all times?

Yes, there will still be accidents. God knows, I am hardly going to start pontificating and pointing fingers but the information about what to do if the worst should happen should be readily available. The saddest thing I heard on the Newsbeat piece was the girl who had to be told what to do in terms of buying a pregnancy test and then going to her doctor or the nearest Marie Stopes/Brook Street by her local chemist because she was too frightened to go to her Mother and her friends didn't have the knowledge to advise her when her period had not arrived and she was putting on weight.

I recall only too clearly a 14 year old girl I was at school with who got progressively fatter but refused to admit it could have anything to do with the sex she had had with one of the lads in our group. By the time her mother actually noticed that her trousers would no longer zip up, she was six months gone and she had no option but to continue and give birth. She kept the baby, married the father and they were miserable.

I also remember, at around the same time, one of the more promiscuous girls in my class telling me, whilst we were waiting in line to go into the gym, that she had had sex in the woods the previous evening but it was ok because she had done it standing up and had a wee behind a tree afterwards so she knew she wasn't pregnant.

This was over 30 years ago but, listening to some of the tales today, it is quite clear that, in terms of sex education, the dissemination of knowledge has not progressed.

Anything that attempts to prevent us from continuing as a nation of judgemental, purse-lipped prudes with one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe has got to be a step in the right direction.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Well said! It's quite disgraceful the way these youngsters go at it like rabbits without even bothering to read the manuals first. I would make them watch videos of really ugly people having sex so they realise how yucky it can be with the wrong person.

Z said...

The main danger of learning from your mates is that your mates often have no more idea than you do. I remember the rudimentary sex education we got as being both embarrassing and giggle-worthy. It's not so difficult to work out the mechanical bits, but it's debunking the myths that really needs to be dealt with - and, undoubtedly, the relationship aspects.

It's tricky finding the balance with your own children - my parents always answered me honestly, but I was shy about asking. Luckily my daughter isn't, and she has no concept of personal space, so even if I'd wanted to be prudish, I didn't have a chance :)

Mickey said...

I remember at school, as a kid, being told 'screwing' was when the woman was on top and turned round and around.

Even then, aged something young, I knew it was wrong.

I don't think sex eductation is a bad thing... I'd rather my kid knew what was what rather than getting some girl pregnant through some bikeshed fumblings.

blue said...

i remember Brian K. regaling us with all sorts of BS in the back of a school bus...ewww.

Riff Dog said...

At my son's preschool, the boys all used the appropriate term, "johnson," when talking about their penises.

In our area, I think the education is pretty much there. How much good it does, I don't know. But at least any girl getting pregnant knows why.

Globus said...

z makes a good point here, and you are right that being upfront and, well, frank about it, is probably the way to go.

Isabella Snow said...

Got the full sex talk at 5 because I made the mistake of asking my mother to explain something I'd heard at school. I was the only one in kindergarten who knew what it meant to both "go fuck yourself" and "get fucked".

Still wish I hadn't asked!

Walker said...

There has to be some sex education at an ealry age. I don';t know about 4 though.

Early knowledge of sex and the consequenses is important to prevent teen pregnantcies and deseses that could be tramsmitted sexually.
Now a days its a matter of death to knowing what you know from pedophiles aswell.

Ms. Inconspicuous said...

8 Years ago, but not that far behind the times in terms of misinformation. I'm amazed at the pervasive attitude that to teach abstinence is to prevent pregnancy (no, it only prevents knowledge).

Brian said...

Countries with comprehensive sex education have far lower teenage pregnancy rates.
If parents are prudish, how about another form of "opt out"? That is if your Mary gets pregnant or your Johnny gets a girl pregnant the parents have to pay the child welfare, and not the tax payers. Seems only fair. :-D

having my cake said...

GB - But then you're going into a whole different territory about what is considered ugly and they all start having body image issues :)

Z - My daughter was the same. My son is not so forthcoming so I have to throw out bits here and there willynilly so to speak and hope Im covering anything that he's too afraid to ask.

Mickey - I think they do learn the rudiments once they get to senior school but it really is the bare bones. And Im not sure that they deal properly with sex as part of a proper relationship.

Blue - That Brian K! Honestly!

Riff - As I said, often they know but they're still too shy to insist on the condom.

Globus - Part of writing my blog has been helping me to call a spade a spade in terms of sexuality. Oh stoppit! No, Im not getting into gardening equipment. It's just about being honest about the things that can go wrong as well as when they go right.

Isa - Yup, this is a definite problem. My Mum told me quite young and my younger sister was listening and went off and told the neighbourhood. Cue my mother getting lots of irate phone calls from other mums. As I said, I tried to tailor the answer to the age of the child in question and Id like to think that there would be a similar attitude in the curriculum. However, this doesnt mean that the onus should be on the school rather than the parents.

Walker - Im not sure Im advocating the full sex talk at 4. I think just talking about body parts with their correct names and not being embarrassed about it would be a huge step in the right direction.

MsI - I think that's something that is pretty peculiar to the States. I havent come across anyone teaching abstinence over here... but then I do live in Essex ;P

Brian - Can you imagine the civil rights over that? DNA tests and litigation and the like. I think the school should do their thing but parents still need to be involved. Far too many just seem to be too embarrassed to talk about something which should be so bloody natural.

Anonymous said...

I've always admired your very open attitude towards talking about sex with your kids. I think it is definitely the best way to handle things... openly, honestly, factually. Now that I have a child old enough to be having sex, I'm happy I kept the lines of communication open. He doesn't exactly regale me with the details, but he is also able to ask me questions when he has them. It's reassuring.

Bulldog said...

say what you like, I bet that chick (who peed behind a tree),didn't get pregnant though, that works!

Ro said...

The key point I always bear in mind when this debate opens (and, boy, it opens regularly enough) is that the countries which educate children about sex early and openly are the ones that have the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.

I remember, oh, four or five years ago discussing this very topic with Son (then about 12) who had just seen a news item about a Scandinavian country that taught the use of condoms in schools to primary-school children as part of a full curriculum on sex and relationships. It made me think then how sensible that was ... and I've not changed my mind since.

Redhead Editor said...

Well, you know where I stand on this issue. Having been a sex educator, I am amazed, appalled, and saddened by the state of affairs in the US.

The only thing that breaks more often than a condom is a vow of abstinence!

Thinking that carrying a condom will make teenagers want to have sex is like saying carrying an umbrella will make it rain. It just makes you prepared.