Monday, 13 October 2008

Let's talk about sex education

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the topic of sex education was covered in a reasonably sensitive manner by the SST. Instead of the ohmygodthekidsarehavingsex, there was a concern that sex education in this country was failing to grapple with the early onset of puberty.

I count myself as very fortunate to come from a crazy liberal background when it comes to sex ed. I knew where babies came from at the age of six after my three year old sister saw two dogs fucking and wondered out loud what they were up to so my parents explained it. If my brother hadn't been bought into this world by c-section, my sister and I would have been with my mother when he was born. In fact I would say that my parents stumbled onto the best form of birth control for young girls, watching a live birth. Because after watching many a video of the birthing process while waiting for mum at the outpatient ward during her pregnancy with Brother of ExExpat, both Exexpat sisters not only made it through to our teenage years without a pregnancy but still have no plans for procreating in our late 20s. Hmm perhaps my parents sex ed worked a little too well.

If repeated viewings of women experiencing the agony of labour weren't enough to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, then my friendly high school sex education teacher made sure I had the technical know-how to avoid pregnancy as well as STIs by getting us to practice putting condoms on wooden penises (or should that be penisi?) during fourth form. As you can imagine this part of the curriculum always caused a stir with some parents who weren't at all happy with their little girls learning how to do this during school hours.

As the student member of the Board of Trustees, I had to listen to an irate mother who was appalled at the comprehensive nature of the sex education at the school. The chairperson, who happened to be a no-nonsense midwife, thanked for contribution and said that while half of the girls who start high school do so clutching their teddy bears another half had hormones raging through them and she was far more interested in stopping them from getting pregnant than upsetting peoples morality or something along those lines.

But I can't say that my school's thorough approach to sex ed is replicated around the country and it is one area where parents can and do pull their munchkins out of class for if they don't feel that the lessons are appropriate. I've always wondered why parents have still have that 'right.' To me learning about the birds and the bees is as fundamental as maths and reading. If children grow into young adults without that knowledge, they run not only the usual risks of becoming pregnant or contracting an STI (which in both cases New Zealand has shocking high rates of) but the information vacuum also creates a healthy environment for sex abuse because the abusers are setting the tone for what is 'normal' sex.

Unfortunately we still seem content to put sex education into the 'too hard' basket because it might make parents, and for that matter teachers, uncomfortable with what needs to be taught. It should go without saying that if you actually want teenagers to use contraception in order to avoid getting pregnant, then they actually need to know how. While condoms are easy to apply once you've learned the art or application, they do take some practice and the best time to practice isn't in the heat of the moment.

But perhaps more important than scaring teenagers about the dangers of sex is teaching them vital relationship skills so that if they decide to have sex (because not having sex is a valid choice), it is a decision both of them make in order to make the experience safe and even *gasp* pleasurable for both parties. But the groundwork for that type of sex education starts far earlier than the teenage years and does require parents/teachers to swallow their embarrassment on the topic.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

My 5 year old has a good basic grip on "the facts" after seeing her baby sister born at home last year and all the questions that ensued. This has caused some fuss amongst her friends (and parents) as she explained it all in some detail at kindy at the time.

I had NO sex education at all as a kid at home. My first period was a quite a shock. Personally I believe in education in the home and reinforced by straightforward and practical education at school. I simply don't understand why you wouldn't want your kids to know this stuff.

The ex-expat said...

Personally I believe in education in the home and reinforced by straightforward and practical education at school.
That's my thinking on the subject too. The problem is that some parents don't at home and many of the schools are doing their job either.

I simply don't understand why you wouldn't want your kids to know this stuff.
Because ohmygodtheymighthavesexandgetpregnantargh!

Anonymous said...

why don't people get that the likelihood of kids getting pregnant is higher if there is a lack of education?

Trouble said...

Heh, I remember as a six year old hearing one of my classmates' morning talks brought to a screeching halt by the teacher, as she veered towards a fairly graphic explanation of some of the messier aspects of childbirth.

Alison said...

I was introduced to the basic mechanics of sex and conception and pregnancy when I was young, via age-appropriate books, when my mother was pregnant. At the catholic primary/intermediate school I attended, I received puberty education, and got more of that, plus very limited sex ed, at my co-ed high school, age 13 and 14. In-depth sex ed was sadly lacking, however, because I was in a top band class at high school, and took 6 academic subjects come fifth form rather than 5 academic + PE/health. In hindsight it strikes me as odd that health and sex ed were lumped in with PE this way, so a fair proportion of us missed out.

Despite being introduced to the basics of sex so young, and subsequently being educated in what to do if I did have sex, I don't think there was really enough follow up on how to make safe, confident decisions about when to have sex (and I had a long and guilt-ridden time working that out!). It seems to me that might be best taught in the home, but I'd have been just as uncomfortable about discussing it with my parents as the next teen. Teaching what makes a good sexual relationship is always billed as "promoting" sex, but it seems to me it's just as likely to make someone confident about the choice to abstain.

hungrymama said...

"Teaching what makes a good sexual relationship is always billed as "promoting" sex, but it seems to me it's just as likely to make someone confident about the choice to abstain."

And why is promoting sex such a terrible thing. While I want my kids to wait until they feel ready (and I'd rather that was later than sooner really) I WANT them to have happy, fulfilling sex lives. I don't want them to think there's anything wrong or dirty or forbidden about sex.

stephen said...

My daughter's mother is a midwife, so the child was au fait with the mechanics early. Which I felt was right and proper.

However, possibly the best deterrent was when her mother took her on house calls to deprived households drowning in squalor. On the way home would come the inevitable words: "And that's what will happen if you get pregnant as a teenager."

Alison said...

And why is promoting sex such a terrible thing. While I want my kids to wait until they feel ready (and I'd rather that was later than sooner really) I WANT them to have happy, fulfilling sex lives. I don't want them to think there's anything wrong or dirty or forbidden about sex.

This is how I see it too hungrymama. Unfortunately many schools don't seem to take this approach out of fear that promoting fulfilling sex will anger members of the school community. So how does a parent make sure that their child gets this information, given many teens won't want to discuss the emotional aspect of sexual relationships with their parents?

Emma said...

Coincidentally, I just got the information sheet about our school's upcoming sex ed program today. From the outline it seems absolutely excellent. It's from year 5-8, and covers:
- bodies and reproductive processes
- menstruation and conception
- pressure and assertiveness
- relationships, communication and gender issues
- and year 7 and 8 get contraception and sexual decision making

And it'll be taught by an educator from Family Planning.

My only remaining concerns are that:
- the information will be presented with the basic assumption that ALL kids are straight
- that, as hungrymamma has suggested, there will be abstinence = good overtones to it, and the propagation of the myth that girls don't like sex.

I am slightly concerned that we only seem to be getting the program because there was a change of principal last year. Suddenly sex is on the agenda and all the covert Christian content has vanished.

Alexis said...

"- pressure and assertiveness"

Still avoiding giving kids the heads up on what constitutes rape and coercion then? Sex Ed needs to include these parametres. Not this 'there will be pressures, you have to stick up for yourself' bullshit, because let's face it, for the most part kids are pretty crap at that. Everyone wants to be liked. Girls are taught that they have to gain the approval of boys and sex is the easiest way to do that.

Plus, I feel if boys are taught what constitutes rape and coercion and both are taught that female enjoyment matters, it might help dispell this 'easy root' obsession (using a girl to masturbate into by threats of alienation, intimidation, degradation, 'I'd respect/love you more... You'd do it if you love me... Everyone else is you should too" or finding one that's pissed, or high - I mean, shit, you don't let people drive because we know it effects our perception and actions, why are we being taught that mentally altered through a substance is fair game, when mentally altered in any other respect is not).

Anonymous said...

I still recall tormenting one teacher by asking about the clitoris. Nothing makes "girls don't enjoy sex" quite so hard to explain as that particular bit of sexual anatomy. Hence, I suppose, the desire by many educators to avoid talking about it.