Thursday, 23 October 2008

sex-ed for the uninitiated.

Everyone heard the news about relationship classes for children from age 5?" Good news, yes? I think so.

Kids know a lot more then we like to think, and hiding things from them just makes those things taboo and shameful. People sit around wondering why teenagers, who spend so much time striving to be adults, end up pregnant when they learn at an early age that sex is this big, wonderful mysterious thing that only adults get to do and that you'll get to do too when you're GROWN UP and REALLY IN LOVE.

What we need is sex education that's honest, age appropriate and doesn't segregate or treat kids like idiots. Of course, we shouldn't be teaching five year olds that it's great to be penetrative sex, but what's wrong with teaching a five year old that sex is something that two grown ups who love each other a lot can do together which feels nice? Why can't we teach them that they're allowed to say no if anyone is touching them in a way they don't like? Why can't we teach them to respect each other.

I have a few hopes. The first, which I'm told I'm woefully behind on and basically happens already, is the hope that they stop segregating. My overriding memory of sex education was, at primary school, being taking into the teachers lounge with all the other girls and being explained to, in vague terms, about periods, then given a sanitary towl to hide from the boys. I also remember one of the boys turning around in calss after figuring out what we'd got and telling the teacher it was unfair and if the girls got towels, the boys should get condoms. I only wish I could remember the look on the teachers face.

Anyway, it sets up this entire mystery. This idea that women are ashamed and men are terrified of their periods. That we have to hide them in silly slang terms (it's that time of the month, I'm on, my stomach hurts, rather then just saying I'm having my period) or the men will get upset and offended. At the moment my favourite drunk question to ask when I'm in the presence of men is if it makes them uncomfortable for me to talk about my periods.

The second thing I hope will be different for kids under this system then the one I grew up with is that I hope they stop it being a damn biology lesson. Yes, I am a biologist, I love biology, but we all know the physical changes in puberty are secondary to the emotional upheaval of adolencence. Who cares about a patch of hair under your arms when suddenly every day is a fun emotional rollercoaster. You're coming into all these adult feelings, you've never felt like this before, what good is a video with a cartoon rabbit saying it's ok if you smell a little. How does it make sense that, at 13, I could draw you a disgram of my reproductive system but didn't know the word masturbate.

Kids don't need nuts and bolts education. A litle forwarning is ok but what they really need help with is working out all the psychological and emotional stuff. They can work out where a penis goes, people have been managing that for one hell of a long time, but some lessons in treating your partner like an equal, about respecting others, about dealing with your inexplicable anger towards everything, about being grown up and what it really means rather then what the TV says it means, some actual debate once they get old enough to sustain it about what adulthood is and how to cope with what they're feeling.

That's what I would have appreciated when I started hitting my teenage years, anyway.

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