Sex education today

Parents and schools are coming under increasing pressure to educate young people (from as young as 5 years old) about sexuality. In part this has arisen because many parents feel ill-equipped to discuss sex with their children given the personal nature of the topic. Parents are also concerned about the sexual content (much of it unrealistic and misleading) on the internet.

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. In the absence of a formal sex education, children learn about sex (sexual ignorance) from other children, often older siblings or playmates.

Pre-adolescent children (5 to 10 years) should learn about the changes they can expect at puberty. Some boys of this age may have already experienced orgasm and a few have started masturbating. For their own protection children should be told to be wary of adults (and teenagers) who may not have their interests at heart. Young children have simple questions relating to the world they see around them such as ‘Where do babies come from?’.

Adolescents (10 to 15 years) typically experience puberty around this age. They should be told about the changes that occur in their own bodies as well as those of the opposite sex. Even if they have no sexual experience, many children of this age may have started dating or have had intimate contact with others. They should have some basic facts about sexual activity for their own safety. Education should also provide a foundation on which children 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.

The young tend to be the most sexually active. Even though adults may have decades of sexual experience, they are so intimidated or impressed by the confidence of the younger generation that they assume that young people know more about sex than they do. Unfortunately, but very naturally, young people have little interest in the experience of their elders.

Young people (from 15 to 20 years) will want to know about casual sex and their choice to abstain from sex. Young adults should have access to all the available information regardless of their own experience. This will help them appreciate some of the issues facing others. A broader education may instil some tolerance for the diversity between different individuals.

In this age of technology, we often have the impression that young people know much more than older people. That may well be true when it comes to the latest gadget or gimmick. Young people do not need the prejudices and ignorance of an older generation. They should be willing to learn from the life experiences of older people. Relationships are often easier when we are young but many things change over decades together.

Mature adults (over the age of 20) also need sex information. As they embark on sexual relationships, they may want to know about issues that arise in long-term relationships. Some issues only arise as we learn and age. Long-term relationships (over 10 years) have particular challenges (including family and career demands) that are not encountered earlier on.

Adults tend to assume that they know everything without needing to know any facts or logical reasoning. Many lessons from younger years may have been forgotten or need reinforcing. Modern fictional media encourage sexual myths and cause people to reject the research findings.

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)