Do you remember your first sex talk? Unlikely, as most Irish kids were awkwardly thrust a book entitled ‘What’s Happening to Me?’, or something along those lines. Translation: Read this and please don’t ask me anything. However, there is a revolution bubbling whereby young, hip parents are veering away from infantilising their child with ‘wee-wee’ and ‘pee-pee.’ Instead, they are choosing to advocate total upfront honesty when it comes to sex education, from Pampers right up to puberty.
It begs the question: how young is too young? Or is it ever too early to start? When is it time to trade willies and front bums in for penises and vaginas? And why do we act as if it’s for the child’s benefit when it’s really to avoid our own discomfort at the mention of such taboo words? You would think that sex education wouldn’t be such a divisive issue; surely everyone should be adequately educated so that they can prepare for the expected. The controversy seems to arise when there is state intervention in schools, taking the decision out of the family home.
New Zealand based agency Every Body Education has outraged parents with their mantra of early sex education; the sooner, the better. Abandoning the stork fairy tale, they aim to facilitate frank and open discussion with kids, beginning in Year 1 (Junior Infants, to us). Their view is that five year olds should be beginning to understand their bodies and make sense of sexuality.
In a similar fashion, UK sex health body Brook recently introduced a traffic light tool to promote healthy behaviour by indicating what age is safe for a child to be engaging in certain sexual curiosities or practices. The 13-17 year old bracket incorporates oral and penetrative sex which caused national uproar. Cue the inevitable tabloid spin of how Britain’s health officials were now encouraging 13-year olds to regularly have sexual intercourse.
The fact remains that children are going to have sex before marriage and most likely before it’s legal to. The focus should not be on criminality but rather on teaching your child at an early age that sex is to be experienced only when ready and hoping that they will make the right personal choice for them.
Some people may take the viewpoint that we are robbing our children of their innocence before we need to, but does it really have to be viewed as such a huge deal? I don’t recall a particular memory where I understood what sex was for the first time, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t a traumatic experience. If we instil a general knowledge of sexuality from day one, then there should be no need for a big scary birds and the bees talk.
Granted, I don’t have any demon spawn of my own and perhaps if I ever do, I’ll want the legal age of consent upped to 25. And maybe only parents have full entitlement to this argument, but there is a difference between protecting your child and completely sheltering them. It’s not like the whole Santa Claus reveal where the awful truth will cause some heartbreak of epic proportions.
Children won’t even fully comprehend sex until they’re older, so there’s no harm in giving them a head start. If you’re still wary, consider this; would you rather they heard informed facts from their parents and teachers, or learn that you can’t get pregnant on your first try, from behind a bike shed? Sex isn’t the dirty word, ignorance is.