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.?
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