Parents may worry that children will be harmed by information that is inappropriate for their age. It is almost impossible to relate to information until we have some practical experience. If children do not understand an explanation they are given, they will simply ignore it until they are older. Children mature at different ages and it is important to anticipate the youngest age that children may need information for their own safety.
Children typically learn about sexual phenomena from other children, often older siblings or playmates. Many of our sexual attitudes are formed very early on and do not change significantly once we have reached adolescence. Any more factual and educational information adults want to add must be done earlier enough to have any impact.
Pre-adolescent children (5 to 10 years) should be made aware of the changes they can expect at puberty before they experience them. Some children in this age group are already experiencing sexual phenomena before 10 years of age. Some boys may have had an orgasm and a few have already started masturbating. Children of this age have little need for explicit sex information. However, there are some important facts that they should be made aware of. For their own protection they should be told to look out for adults (and teenagers) who may not have their interests at heart. Young children may have simple questions relating to the world they see around them. The obvious ones relate to ‘where babies come from’.
Adolescents (10 to 15 years) need sex information for a variety of reasons. Firstly, to explain the changes that occur to their own bodies at this age as well as to the bodies of the opposite sex. Puberty occurs for most children around this age. Secondly, to provide some knowledge of the sexual activity, which they may not yet have experience of but that, mostly likely, they will have not long after the age of 15. Even if they do not have direct sexual experience, many children in this age group may have started dating or explored intimate contacts with the same or opposite sex. Thirdly, to provide a foundation on which they can continue to build an understanding of issues that may arise later on.
Children should be introduced to the basic concepts in sexuality early on. This allows them to progress according to their own development. It also helps to protect them from the onslaught of erroneous information from other sources (peers, misinformed adults and erotic fiction). It may also help to educate children before the hormones of puberty encourage the emotional beliefs that stand in the way of them absorbing the facts and logic involved in a more thinking discussion backed by research findings.
Young people (from 15 to 20 years) need information to help them with issues that arise at this age. They will want to know about casual sex and their choice to abstain from sex. They will also benefit from knowing about issues that arise over the longer term. Young adults should have access to all the available information regardless of their own experience. Such information will help them have a general appreciation of the adult world and of some of the issues facing others. Hopefully this will encourage tolerance for the diversity between different individuals. Heterosexuals should be informed about homosexual experiences. Homosexuals of both sexes should be educated in reproduction and intercourse.
Mature adults (over the ages of 20) also need sex information. Some issues only arise over the longer term as we and our partners age. Long-term relationships have particular difficulties that are not encountered earlier on. Many lessons from younger years may have been forgotten or need reinforcing. Adults tend to assume that they know everything without needing to have any formal education. This is not the case. The effects of modern fictional media can be particularly confusing.
Sex information needs to be objective and helpful to as wide an audience as possible. It must be constructive. It needs to present the different perspectives of men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, in such a way as to fairly represent both sides but not to the extent of distorting the facts. This is a challenge and I apologise for the impact that being a heterosexual woman inevitably has on my work. I am always inviting others to comment but it’s difficult to find people who are willing to invest the time and effort required for an intellectual discussion of sexuality.
Ignorance is like poverty: so universal that it will never be eradicated. Few people are looking for intelligent content on sexual matters. But for those who are, it is vital that a realistic account of our sexuality exists. Education depends on the individual’s ability to accept the conclusions of others. But we cannot legislate education in the sense of insisting that everyone agrees on facts and logic. Regardless of our own personal experience and interests, it is useful for anyone to be educated in sexual matters, just as in other areas of life. It helps protect us from being intimidated or confidence-tricked by less-than-scrupulous adults in sexual scenarios.
Within the last thirty years, parents in increasing numbers have come to realize the importance of the early education of their children on matters of sex. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)