Sex Education

In my opinion, sex education is anything that someone learns about sex. This may include things things related to birth, since sex is how babies are made.

I remember seeing puppies and kittens being born when I was a child, and don’t remember ever not knowing that. I do know that I was a little sketchy on how babies were made, and distinctly remember an imaginative picture popping into my mind of something going from the daddy into the mommy… through a kiss. However, I don’t remember a big, “Oh, wow, so that’s how it happens,” when I found out the details of intercourse. Growing up around a lot of families, I was around for a lot of diaper changes for a lot of baby boys and girls, and always knew that boys had a penis, but we didn’t talk much about things like that. With two older sisters and a mother, I was aware of menstruation, but my mom never had “the talk” with me. One day she made some comment about me developing breasts and asked if I had started my period yet. I told her yes, and that was basically that. I don’t remember buying or wearing my first bra, but I do remember being a child and having a regular heart checkup (I had two heart surgeries to correct a defect by the time I was three years old, and had thorough checkups for several years after that), and when the doctor stuck those things (EKG monitors? — whatever it was, the gel was cold) on my chest, and I remember thinking that sometime in the not-too-distant future I would be developing breasts and then would be really shy about having a bare chest with those monitors on it. Being of a curious mind and always liking to have facts, I researched sex (and related concepts) using the dictionary and our set of encyclopedias [not that I was a geek or anything ;-)]. Plus, with older sisters and their friends and mine, I got knowledge (some of it actually factual!) about sex, although we mostly gossiped about people and talked about cute guys and our own PMS. In school, one day the high school (which was probably about 15 students total — yeah, I know, really, really small), we were divided up into boys and girls, with the boys going with the (male) principal to the gym, and the girls staying with the (female) biology teacher in the classroom. I don’t know what the boys were told, but we discussed female anatomy, the menstrual cycle (and that was the first time I found out that slippery, egg-white looking cervical mucus was a sign of fertility since it happened around the time of ovulation) and also I think conception and pregnancy. Then of course, there were the songs — love songs, mostly, but some more suggestive than others; and others that weren’t exactly love songs that were mildly to very suggestive. And movies and music videos and books that also talked about and/or showed sex and love. That’s sex education, too.

But a constant current through all that was the expectation and realization that sex was reserved for marriage — this was reinforced primarily in church, but it was also a given in our household and school. I don’t remember too many conversations about it; it was just understood. The principal of the school was also the pastor of our church, and we were given moral instruction in both school and church, with many a sermon that had the topic of sex as either a main point, or a supporting point. [Not that it was talked about every Sunday; but we all knew what adultery and fornication were, just as much as we knew what stealing and lying were; and when such topics came up (our pastor liked to preach expositorily, that is, start with the first verse of a particular book in the Bible, and preach through to the last verse), they were dealt with.] Apparently, not all people liked it though. I remember one time a family had been coming to our church for a few weeks in a row and seemed to like it, and then the next Sunday the preacher (a visiting preacher, but nothing that we wouldn’t have heard from our own pastor) started talking about sex and how it should be reserved for marriage, and telling us teenagers that we needed to keep ourselves pure, etc., and the family got up and left. I don’t think it was because they disagreed that unmarried people shouldn’t have sex (in fact, they dressed more conservatively than most of our church, which was pretty darn conservative by most people’s standards!). Rather, I think they got miffed that the topic was brought up at all. It made me wonder if they didn’t want their children to hear the term “sex” at all, and I wondered if they thought they could keep their kids from knowing anything or doing anything wrong, if they just never told them and kept them so insulated. I’ve since read of a family whose parents thought that and were sadly undeceived by finding out that their children were having incestuous sex. They didn’t even know it was wrong, because they had never heard anything against it. Perhaps that could be considered “sex education” too — education by the lack of it?

So why am I writing this? Because it’s been on my mind a lot lately, and today, I read this article about sex-related lyrics in popular songs, and how it may affect the thinking and actions of young women. I’ve discussed “abstinence only” sex education versus “comprehensive” sex ed several times with different people. It probably comes as no surprise to you that I favor AOSE as opposed to CSE. However, I think that a major flaw with AOSE is that too much of the time, it is “too little, too late.” Can children, teenagers, adolescents, young adults and adults remain sexually chaste? Certainly! But is it likely that children who are immersed in a sexually-saturated culture will remain virgins if the only “sex education” they get is one class at school that tells them not to have sex, while they are watching sexually explicit TV shows and movies and listening to sexually explicit songs while their friends are all talking about their sex lives? No, not likely at all. It is certainly more likely that they will remain chaste if they grow up as I did, which is with “sex is reserved for marriage” permeating through most of the environment. [Sure, I watched sitcoms and movies and listened to music, but my parents were choosy about what was allowed on TV, although I had more leeway with the radio, since I could listen to it in private while the TV was in the center of our home.] And a problem with “comprehensive” sex ed is that some children may be taught too much, too soon, and be rather encouraged to have sex. Sure, they’ll be told to wear a condom when they have sex, but the failure rate of condoms with normal use is far from stellar and condoms don’t prevent nearly all STDs, and the more you have sex, the more likely you are to get pregnant or acquire a disease statistically speaking, so increasing the rate of sex may offset any decrease in pregnancy that condoms could provide.

Now, being a mother myself, I wonder what is the best thing to do for my children. Of course I am going to raise them to the best of my ability to believe as I do and to instruct them that sex is reserved for marriage. Yet, what else should be said, and what should be kept from them? I’ve heard some people say that their children know all their own anatomy — that they deliberately teach them penis, testicles, clitoris, labia, vagina. My sons know what a penis is, and call it by the correct name (and don’t know that it makes my mom and my sisters cringe to hear it); but they don’t know what testicles are. I’ve just never had an occasion or need to tell them. They also don’t know what a brain is, what earlobes are, nor that the joint between their arms and hands is called a wrist. [We looked at the skeleton today, and they didn’t know.] Should they learn sexual anatomy (for males and/or for females) now? Perhaps. In some ways, I think it is better to tell them when they’re innocent, so that they will have an understanding of these things without the sexual connotations of them — such as I did with just sort of always knowing that boys had penises, and how cats had kittens. They do know that they’re boys and Daddy is a boy and boys have penises; and I’m a girl and girls don’t have penises. [A few years ago, my older son saw a girl get her diaper changed for the first time, and he sidled up to me and said, “Mommy! her pee-pee’s broken!”] I don’t have a problem with the boys watching birth videos, and have even encouraged it from time to time (unless I thought a particular video was going to be a C-section or a scary vaginal birth). Once my older son asked me how babies come out of their mommies’ tummy, and I told him that there is a place between their mommies’ legs for the babies to come out. Simple and truthful; but I don’t know what I’ll say when he asks how babies get in the mommies’ tummy in the first place. Part of me wants to just go ahead and tell him (as G-rated as I can make it), so he’s not a horny teenager the first time he thinks of it, but accepts it rather innocently; and part of me is afraid of further questions on to the exact how and why of it all! Our cat is neutered so we don’t have the option of him happening to see cats or dogs mating or giving birth.

What do you all think? What were you taught? Do you think it was good or bad? What are you doing with your own children? Do you think your children will remain virgins until marriage? Do you want them to, or think it’s not really that big of a deal? How old were they (or how old will they be) when you tell them about sex, conception, birth, sexual anatomy, etc.?


10 Responses

  1. This is a tough subject because our kids are so bombarded with sexual images. I like you was raised being taught abstinence. Both my husband and I were proudly virgins when we married. My parents were very open about sex. I learned about sex when I was five which I think is pretty dang young. My parents didn’t choose to teach me about it that young, but I asked them what it meant and then we had “the talk”. I thought they did a good job explaining it even though I remember thinking how weird I thought it was that the penis when inside a vagina. My issue with sex ed is that they don’t teach about the emotional consequences of having sex (good or bad). It’s like with abortion, planned parenthood does not give adequate information on the extreme emotional consequences of having an abortion. I myself will be open with my kids about sex. But like you said, where is the line? I’m interested in hearing others thoughts on this.

    • One of my friends who was about five years younger than I, didn’t find out until she was just before puberty or at puberty, and she was pretty shocked: “You mean he sticks his ‘thing’ up inside you?!?!” While it makes for a funny story, it wasn’t funny to her at the time.

  2. My daughter is four and has been reallly interested in babies and how they are made and grow since she turned three. Our G-rated explanation is that a Daddy plants a seed in a Mommy’s tummy and the baby grows there. Then when the baby is ready to be born, the Mommy pushes the baby out of her yoni (our vagina word).

    I plan to be pretty candid with my daughter about sex (and especially about our values concerning sex). My parents did an excellent job educating me and my sister about drugs and alcohol (and hence we both have very healthy relationships in those areas) but relied solely on school sex ed to teach us about sex. Seriously, my parents just never mentioned it. And I think that’s why my sister and I were somewhat sexually amoral during our adolescence. As a teenager and even into my 20’s, I didn’t realize that my partners should be treasuring me. A sexual relationship is sacred space, or at least it should be. I do not believe sex before marriage is inherently wrong, but I want my daughter to value her body/sexuality/emotional health and make an informed decision about when she is ready to have sex…hopefully in the context of a loving, committed, long-term relationship. I plan to say those words over and over and over until they’re part of who she is, and make sure she has access to birth control and disease prophylactics even if I don’t think she needs them yet.

    That’s the plan, anyway. Hopefully I have a few years before I have to implement it.

  3. My kids will be 5 & 8 in a few months. Since they’ve bathed together, and we’re just starting to enforce some modesty (wearing an undershirt instead of just underwear for my daughter), they are clearly aware of gender differences. They know the basic vaginia/penis and I think also testicles. They also know exactly how babies are born and have seen videos and books; since I teach childbirth ed, that stuff is around, and I’m fine with them seeing it. We call birth “the hard work” and honor/respect it.

    But! I’m expecting questions about how babies get made – they’ve both kind of asked around the topic, but not in such a way that I felt bad not answering directly. I have to admit I wonder how much they know, esp my daughter. There was a comment on a tv program about mating, and I asked her if she knew what that was, and she blushed a little and said yes, but clearly didn’t want to pursue it. When they do ask, I plan to give specific information, and also talk about it as special, between people who love & trust each other and who are mature. I’m sure something will come to me in the moment about the moral part of it.

    I just read in the most recent Mothering magazine about a girl’s menstruation ceremony. It was a lovely article, and I would really, really like to do that for my daughter.

    With both kids, I have always stressed respect, and being able to speak, and respect, a firm “No”. I think that’s a really important part of sex ed too.

    I remember “the talk” with my mom, when I was in fourth grade. I was absolutely horrified. Then when they split us into boys/girls in fifth grade at school, that was pretty embarassing too. I want to be a lot, A LOT, more matter of fact about bodies, periods (both my kids know what a period is, why women have them, etc) – not so much with the dirty/shameful/secretive feelings around it.

    I liked what Hillary said about a sexual relationship as a sacred space – it’s pretty much how I plan to approach it, too.

  4. I’ve been thinking about that too! Good questions. My thought is to do the G-rated version as early as possible. One book I was just reading said to do it before they hit kindergarten because it’s better that they hear it first in a godly way from you rather than in an ungodly way from their peers, which they will eventually. One midwife friend of mine says that she figures that if they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to know – though she will sometimes ask her son “Are you sure you really want to know that?” if she thinks he might not want to know the answer to what he’s asking. Anyhow, I definitely want to be open, frank, and thorough. My husband grew up with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of policy, and he was ridiculously ignorant about a ton of stuff – even in his thirties when we were married. I could tell stories, but I won’t in a public place. 🙂 But I don’t want that kind of ignorance, which leads to terrible vulnerability. I like what your other commentators have had to say too. 🙂

    • Yes, “ignorance is bliss,” until a person’s ignorance leads him into stuff he didn’t know about, because no one ever warned him. It’s a tough call — if we were living in Victorian England where the social “rules” were that people didn’t have sex before marriage, and everyone was prim and proper, I’d probably have no problem with just waiting until much later in life. As it is, I know they’re going to be bombarded with sexuality on every side, so need enough to ward that off. It’s a balancing act between telling them enough without telling them so much that it gets their imaginations going and starts to titillate them.

      There’s a book called “Every Man’s Battle,” which deals with male sexuality and problems associated it — their propensity to pornography and lust, primarily. It’s written from a Christian perspective, and I don’t remember anything I disagreed with. The authors wrote other books on the subject, including “Every Young Man’s Battle.” I’m thinking about getting that when my boys are a little older.

      Oh, and I read somewhere that boys are more likely to put off sex if their mom has “the talk” with them, rather than their dad. Don’t know why, but maybe with it coming from their mom, they think more about *her* than about some idealized girl.

  5. I have tried to be very open, and frank, answering my children’s questions in a forthright, age-appropriate manner and using accurate terms, though not offering more information than was requested. I have four sons and three daughters, and am currently pregnant, so there has been plenty of opportunity to discuss gender differences, birth, pregnancy, etc.

    I am also completely open about our values (we regard sex and childbearing as sacred and to be reserved for marriage), the reasons behind our values (I was raised with the “sex is for marriage” rule, but no context so it meant little to me — my kids understand that we are trying to live our lives for the glory of a Father who loves us and wants the best for us)… and an understanding that humans fail and that God is forgiveness, so when we fall we must confess, ask forgiveness, and ask for His strength in living for Him. (My husband is divorced and I am raising my two step-children, plus we had a 9 month old baby when we married. My kids KNOW that I would understand and still love them if they screwed up, but I still expect them to do their best without excuse.)

    Unfortunately I have been realizing that my 11 year old son has not been asking questions, or listening when his siblings do, and as a result is surprisingly uninformed. This morning at the breakfast table my 8 year old son was again referring to the Food Pyramid chart that I printed for him as “my period,” which led to a conversation about what women mean when they say “my period,” and a sort of graphic explanation that actually surprised me when I heard it come out of my mouth, but which all of my kids found fascinating. I was dismayed, however, to realize that my 11 year old seemed to be hearing this for the first time, when I KNOW I have explained this before. Sigh.

    • I haven’t taught my kids to stay out of the bathroom when I’m in it, so they’ve seen me naked plenty of times, and my older son has even happened to see when I’m on my period (I don’t know if he remembers, though, because it’s been a while ago; and I don’t know if my younger son has ever seen it at all, or if it has “registered”). I thought Keith might be freaked out by the sight of “Mommy bleeding” (because he flips out when he gets a little scratch with a single drop of blood — you know how it is!), but he was surprisingly nonchalant (perhaps because I was?). I told him something like, “The place where a baby grows inside mommy’s tummy has lots of blood, and if there’s no baby, then the blood comes out every month. It’s normal and it doesn’t hurt — it just keeps the uterus, the womb, where the baby grows clean.”

  6. A great discussion! Our 4 year old son knows that boys have penises and girls have “baginas” (his mispronunciation)–because I did not want him to think of girls as less-than, just boys without penises–we want him to know that both sexes “have” something.

    (I have since been told that “vulva’ is the proper word, but I don’t want to confuse him at this stage).

    He asked about his testicles, so we told him their name. He knows that boys and girls have nipples, mommies have breasts, and babies grow in mommy’s belly and then she pushes them out her vagina. All of this has been as straightforward as possible, low-key, and we only told him when he asked.

    We talk about how small babies are when they’re inside their mommies, how he’s so big now and he wasn’t then. How girls are mommies and boys are daddies.

    I worried a little when we decided to be so plain-spoken with him (my parents told me almost nothing) but it’s actually felt really good to be able to be honest with him. At this point, it’s all anatomy lessons, but when he asks how babies get in mommy’s belly, I want to be as simple and straightforward as possible then too.

    We don’t have a religious angle to worry about, so when it comes time for him to date, we’ll talk about responsibility, contraception, respect, why it’s ok to wait, how to protect against disease, and how much his dad and I do NOT want to be grandparents while he’s still in high school (assuming he’s straight).

    We’re probably going to get him the male HPV shot, so he won’t spread the virus to anyone he might have sex with as an adult. And at some point, hopefully not too young, he’ll decide when he’s ready to have sex, and if we’ve taught him right, he will be careful and respectful, and respect himself too.

    In my extended family (which is actually much more religious) there have been lots of teen pregnancies and other dramas; I know for a fact that ignorance is a terrible contraceptive.

  7. Kathy, just 2 weeks ago, I got quite a shock when my (just-turned) five-yr-old introduced THE question. I had not expected it to be so direct and so easy to answer!

    Here’s what she said: “I was thinking about boy parts and girl parts *(that’s what we/they usually call the anatomy, though once in a while, I’ll use the technical names)*, and I had an idea: I think a boy part is supposed to go into a girl part!”

    To which I excitedly replied that she was absolutely right–that is exactly how God made it to work. I went on to tell her that this was not for boys and girls, however, but for a man and a woman, and that God made it for marriage. She agreed with me that it would not be good for boys and girls. She brought it up with my hubby the next day, and he took the opportunity to mention that it is something that she should talk to us about, because it is a very private thing, and there are times when it is not appropriate to discuss.

    It was all very simple and short, yet a LOT more direct than I had pictured it being. I had wondered if when the question came, would I share enough without sharing too much? And God really provided the perfect conversation to avoid that! She’d said it all, and all I had to do was give her guidelines and perspective.

    I have to say, I really was excited, because she’d figured it out! And I think such a direct “question” would have worried me a little, if I were not a SAHM who is always with her children (Church, store, you name it!). I also know what she’s seen on TV and who she spends time with. If that came from outside, I’m not really worried about it, because she has little opportunity to delve deeply into the subject with cousins and friends. It was a comfort to me that she’s free to bring it up for discussion, which is a goal my hubby and I were/are working toward.

    We’ve got a long way to go, as she is the oldest, so I cannot speak to the whole picture, but we are really glad with how the discussion is going so far! Oh, and yes, we do pray that they’ll keep themselves pure for marriage, but do not expect them to never make mistakes either. We’ll communicate that that is our expectation, but we’ll prepare our minds and hearts for poor choices and their consequences. Not sure if that makes sense.

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