I have always believed in sex education. Coming from a liberal, midwest state I know the sex education I got (which started in second or third grade and last, on and off, until my sophomore year) was much better than the sex ed others were getting which ranged from “Don’t do it” to “Masturbation is a sin” to none at all. Still, the focus was on not engaging in sex; although I felt my teachers gave me good reasons why (and I was listening), more information about safer sex would be preferred.
I know I’m not the only one who values sex education that is actually, well, educational but not everyone does. There are some people who feel that educating our nation’s youth about sexuality isn’t the way to go (is it any wonder that these people have unsatisfactory sex, got pregnant in their teens, caught a multitude of STDs because of risky behaviour or have never known how to please themselves or their lovers?) and to them I say “Listen up!”
I think most of us agree that the purpose parenting and teaching is to communicate to our children the risks they will have to deal with once they leave the walls of home or school and set them up to make the best decisions when it comes to these risks. We certainly exert more control over theirs lives when children are younger; no one is going to let a toddler cross the road by himself but as children grow, we impart on them more responsibility regarding life’s risks and trust that we have reared a child or a generation of children who will choose the best course of action for them. Notice, I don’t say “right” because what is right for one individual may not be for another.
I believe it’s important for us to recognize that life is full of risks but we can’t simply shelter our children; this almost always leads to more harm than good. By allowing them to make their own decisions and mistakes, we help them grow and give them a sense of confidence. So why is it that so many people think the best way to teach about sexuality is to say “Don’t do it” and leave it at that – the equivalent of “Because I say so,” another cheap cop out that no responsible person should use?
Although I’m not a parent, I can tell you that when I was given a solid “No” without meaning, it only made me want to rebel against my mother. However, if she took the time to explain why she said no, I was more wiling to consider her side and listen to her advice. When we tell our young children not to cross the road (without looking both ways), we explain to them that cars sometimes drive very fast and drivers may not see them when they’re doing so. Not looking could result in a painful or even deadly accident. And when we tell them not to talk to strangers because strangers may want to hurt them, they learn not to talk to strangers.
Of course, even as we try to teach these life lessons, we must recognize that, at some time, our youth will cross the road without a trusting hand to hold and that everyone begins a stranger so we must be somewhat trusting. We take as active a role as possible: we tell them some strangers are helpful like police officers, doctors or teachers and we send them into the world, armed with knowledge. We teach them how to drive, explain that a car is a powerful machine and they must be observant and obey laws and rules of the road. And then we let them go.
So why should sex be the exception? Why should something, without which none of us would exist, be glossed over, tucked in the back of the book or ignored altogether? It shouldn’t. Sex is a part of life and will always be a part of life. It has the potential to be riskier than other activities, certainly, which makes it even more important that we educate youth about it.
Of course, it also makes us want to protect them from it even more and it’s certainly understandable but if we don’t give them the information they need to make the best decisions, doesn’t this endanger them even more? By withholding information about the risks of sex, teens may be walking into a dangerous situation blindly. In fact, I would call this very irresponsible in terms of parenting and educating. Furthermore, by not educating how sex can be a positive, healthy and pleasurable thing (within and outside of a relationship), we could be setting up the next generation to a life of mediocrity.
I don’t think we should be bringing porn starts into our class rooms or waking up our kids with skin mags but I think that a level of responsible parenting and teaching is necessary. And, no, I don’t think that illustrating why waiting to have sex but outliningg ways to engage in safer sex at the same time will prompt teens to engage in sex earlier. I think that, by nature of our species, adolescents will be curious and some will have sex, yes. I also think that if we show them the potential risks including pregnancy, STDs, physical discomfort and emotional tolls, we allow them to make the most educated decision and, should they decide to have sex, they know to protect themselves from all the possible negative consequences. Hopefully, teaching about the risks will also deter some teens from having sex at a young age.
But if we don’t teach them and they race to the sack with the first person who is open to advances, they may not know to use condoms to protect from STDs and prevent pregnancy. How many know someone who thinks “pulling out” is an effective form of birth control? Or who wonder if you can get pregnant from oral sex? Or who think that you cannot get pregnant while a female has her period? How many people are aware that condoms don’t protect against all STDs, should only be worn for 30 minutes at a time, should have room at the tip for semen to accumulate and should never be worn doubled up? Not everyone and that is a problem.
Yet, it’s not the only problem. I think it’s important to recognize that not teaching today’s youth about their bodies can limit the pleasure they will experience during their life on Earth. This is especially true with the female half of the population, some of whom do not even know what the clitoris is or that female cans masturbate or that it’s okay to communicate what they like during sex. Comprehensive sex education not only leads to safer sex but leads to more meaningful, positive sex which enhances, not harms, relationships.
Although I discuss mostly young people and their ignorance when it comes to sex, I think that most young people are better educated than some adults. Do our parent’s and grandparents’ generation even know a fraction of what we do? How many grown women engage in dangerous vaginal douching to be “fresh” and clean? Would some hard learned lessons have made sex and relationships better had someone care enough to take the time to explain the basics? Absolutely.
There is no need to drill into youth that “Sex is bad! Sex is bad! Sex is bad! Don’t talk about it.” However, there is every need to explain that the best sex can be physically and emotionally fulfilling by knowing the risks and preparing for the consequences. And that is no different from every other lesson we teach at home or school.