I can’t remember first knowing about sex. I can vaguely remember a few biology classes in Year 9 that were all about basic reproduction by which time of course I already knew about sex. But my parents never sat me down to tell me the story of the birds and the bees and I can’t recall any shocking realisations that my parents indulged in grossly disgusting acts of copulation while I was innocently sleeping.
I do recall having group discussions in Year 11 in RE class and we talked about all kinds of sexual and relationship issues and I honestly and firmly believe that those discussions helped to shape my way of thinking, my attitude and my values.
And so it was that I must have learned about the facts of life from my friends and my older siblings. Yes, probably most of my sexual knowledge simply trickled down to me from my very mischievous older brother and sister, mostly by way of teasing and jokes. Own up folks, who didn’t laugh their socks off at the cringingly terrible Shagerarder joke? Can you believe that timeless gag is still doing the rounds? I should know! My twelve year old daughter came home just the other day crying with laughter and when I asked her what was so funny, she told me she’d just heard a brilliant joke. Yes, it was the Shagerarder joke. And, word-for-word she repeated it to me, between the giggles. And it hasn’t changed a bit. I cringed excruciatingly inside but I hid it well and laughed too. Then I felt obliged to show a bit of parental disapproval but it didn’t work and we giggled some more because honestly, I can remember being her age and finding the joke hilariously funny too.
Anyway, middlie and I can talk about life issues quite openly and so far, there have been no problems. But, she’s a pre-teenager and things could change. Take my eldest daughter for example. In stark contrast, whenever I tried to approach her about such issues, she would just groan and shut me right up . . .
Don’t bother mum. I know all about that. We did it in Year 7.
Yes but what about . . .
Yes, yes, I know. Condoms, loving relationships, self-respect, blah, blah. I’m not stupid!
I know you’re not but are you aware of the . . .
Sure, sure . . . drugs, alcohol . . . lack of judgement. I’m aware mother. I know more than you. Save yourself the bother.
[Sheesh! She got an A* in Sociology and now she knows everything]
Basically, most young teenagers would rather tidy their rooms or dig dirt than talk to their parents about sex. But young children are trusting and curious so surely it stands to reason that an open and honest approach from an early age will prepare them for the more indepth lessons that they will receive when they are older and will provide them with a subtle, general awareness, in a social context, of the differences between girls and boys without bogging them down with all the scientific facts that they are unable to grasp.
So, getting on to the government policy on sex education for five year olds, there has been a mixed reaction and I fail to see what all the fuss is about. Presumably, many parents are angry because they feel that they should be the ones to decide when their children are ready to learn about sex and relationships and that the duty to teach them belongs to them, not the teachers and certainly not the government. Well, fair point if all parents could be relied upon to guide their children wisely but we know that if left to the parents, many children will not receive the balanced and appropriate information they need to take them into responsible and safe adulthood. There are parents who will discuss life issues with their kids and there are parents who won’t. The school system is the only way to ensure full inclusiveness. Yes, five does sound shockingly young but let’s be clear before we make knee-jerk reactions. Our five-year-olds aren’t about to be taught the intricacies and intimacies of sexual intercourse and they’re not going to have their childhood stolen from them. They won’t suddenly lose all interest in their Lego or their Baby Annabell when they’re told that lambs are born because the mother sheep mated with the ram. And they’re not suddenly going to become sexualised because they’ve been taught the word penis to describe . . . yes, a penis.
Children are curious. We know that. And it’s always been my principle that when my children ask a question, they are ready to know the answer and I will answer them honestly – but appropriately, according to their age and ability to understand. I wll also try to find out what they already know before I answer because kids test us too. Of course it’s a different matter if they ask me whether Santa really exists. Then they get threatened with having no gifts if they even dare to whisper the implication that “there’s no such thing”. I know, double standards etc. but seriously, when your six-year-old asks you the dreaded where do babies come from question, what use is it to them if you say it was delivered by some strange bird or that you found it among the cabbages? They’re not asking for the full, gory facts of life, word-for-word. They don’t want to know all that so there’s no need to go into extensive detail but surely some age-appropriate reality should be included.
Kids learn from each other almost as much as they learn from their parents and teachers. The school playground is a whole lecture theatre where they pick up all manner of mixed up kid-knowledge . . . some of it will be correct and some of it will be myths dreamed up by the wonderful creativity of kids minds. So they need guidance.
Listen folks, just as sure as the birds and the bees will mate, so will our kids one day find out about sex. And sooner than you think. It’s natural. We can try to defer it but we shouldn’t underestimate our kids. So, like I said, they need guidance. If they are going to know anyway, we might as well discuss it with them. At least give them some sensible pre-guidance on relationships and friendships etc.. It’s a well-known fact that the sooner we reach them and teach them about responsibility, respect and values, the more likely they are to become well-adjusted and decent adults. Yes, parents have the dominant responsibility, but not all children are fortunate enough to have decent parents . . . or they have parents who simply can’t talk about such stuff. The school system is best-placed to reach all of our kids and that’s why it’s necessary to mandate this.
Making sex a taboo subject, forbiddance, all that kind of thing . . . it’s never worked to restrain adolescents from having sex and so it’s never going to reduce teen pregnancies and the spread of STD’s. However . . .
“Effective sex and relationships education, firmly rooted in good personal, social and health education, empowers young people and equips them with the skills to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their health and well-being,”