Sex education today

Even though adults may have decades of sexual experience, they are often so intimidated by the confidence of the younger generation that they assume young people know more about sex than they do. The young may be the most sexually active but they are also the most ignorant and inexperienced. But young people often have little interest in the experience of their elders.

Given the personal nature of the topic, many parents feel ill-equipped to discuss sex with their children. There is also widespread concern about the easily accessible pornographic content promoted via the internet that is both unrealistic and misleading. So schools are coming under increasing pressure to educate young people (from as young as 5 years old) about sexuality. Some parents worry that children will be harmed by information that is inappropriate for their age. But it is very difficult 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.

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. Children mature at different ages and it is important to anticipate the youngest age that children may need information for their own safety. 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?’. In the absence of a formal sex education, children learn about sex (or rather sexual ignorance) from other children, often older siblings or school friends.

Most adolescents (10 to 15 years) 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 teenagers have started dating or have had intimate contact with others. For their own safety, they need to be familiar with the issue of consent and to know the basic reproductive facts. Education should provide a foundation on which children can build an understanding of issues that may arise later.

The hormones of puberty tend to encourage emotional beliefs that stand in the way of absorbing the facts and logic involved in a more thinking discussion of sexuality (backed by research findings). To allow children to progress according to their own social and sexual development, they should be introduced to the fundamentals of sexuality early on. This may protect them from the onslaught of sexual ignorance and erroneous information received from other sources (peers, misinformed adults and erotic fiction).

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 information regardless of their own experience. This will help them appreciate that any population includes very diverse individuals. A broader education may instil tolerance and indicate some of the issues facing others.

Schools (adults who are emotionally detached from the child) can provide an ideal means of educating children in sexual matters. Facts and logical explanations are best absorbed by studying alone. But teenagers can benefit from having a forum for discussing questions, issues and problems, possibly in single sex or smaller topic-focused groups, where bravado is discouraged.

Mature adults (over the age of 20), especially when they have some sexual experience with a partner, tend to assume that they know everything there is to know. 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. As they embark on sexual relationships, young people may be interested 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.

Wherever someone tries to talk about sex in public, someone else will say it is inappropriate. The result is that there is no intelligent discussion of sex anywhere. Most men only tolerate sexual content that reflects their fantasies. Most women want to censor any sexual reference whatsoever. Another problem is that explicitly sexual vocabulary is associated with pornography. A sex education site is obliged to use the same key words and consequently is categorised with pornography. Sex education is so rare that it does not have its own classification on the internet (or elsewhere). So sex education sites are disqualified from raising advertising revenue to fund themselves.

There is no formal process for building a comprehensive explanation for human sexuality. As a result, there is no material available to educators that they can use with confidence to explain the issues surrounding sexuality. A comprehensive source of sex education should provide a coordinated source of comprehensive (politically unbiased) information that schools (or anyone else) can use to inform themselves. At the current date, no society anywhere in the world is willing to provide or to promote such information.

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)