I want to make it very, very clear that I strongly believe that the parents are the first and primary sex educators for their children, and in an ideal world would continue to be the primary sexuality educators through adolescence. Most of what I do is help parents learn how to be open and honest with their kids about sex. This is the path I have dedicated my professional life to!
Yesterday’s post about a trip that I took a group of middle school students on to buy condoms garnered many comments. Many of the early comments were angry, name-calling, incorrect-fact-providing, assumption-making rants. I did not post them. The comments eventually evolved into a very interesting conversation about religion and parental rights. If you weren’t still reading into the evening yesterday, highly recommend you go take a read of the rest of the conversation.
But now I want to address one substantial assumption the early comments made: That I do not support parents educating their own children about sex.
Who should do sex education? Parents should. And parents do. All parents, regardless of intent, educate their children about sex through their words, actions, reactions, body language, and so much more from the very beginning of life. The way we, as parents and adults, interact physically with each other and with our children starts the sex education process on an informal level at birth.
When parents are ready and want to take up the scepter of formal sex educator and perform those duties, it is wonderful! It takes a substantial amount of self-knowledge to be able to talk openly with your children about their developing sexuality, and I applaud people who manage to walk that path!
However, as parents, we cannot do everything. We cannot fill every pair of shoes our children need filled. Sometimes we don’t feel comfortable in a particular role, or do not feel knowledgable enough. Sometimes we do not have the kind of relationship with our children that would allow us to fill a particular role. This is where I, as a sexuality-educator-for-hire, come in.
Parents who want me to talk with their children want the full, comprehensive sex education that I advocate for. I have never had a parent ask me to do less. Generally parents who want something else go to someone else. I am very up-front about what kind of sex education I know works well, what kind of sex education has been shown to work well through research and many years of experience.
Ideally, I help parents provide this kind of sex education themselves. But I am always happy to provide it when that avenue, for whatever reason, isn’t completely available.
Based on the number of married, college-educated couples I know who have had accidental pregnancies, I think children should get their sex education from their parents, the schools, and just about anywhere else until it sinks in.
And in case anyone thinks I’m judging them unfairly, please allow me to give a few examples of accidental pregnancies:
1. “She was breastfeeding and hadn’t gone back on the pill yet. But we just were spontaneous just the once…” Result: two kids less than one year apart in age.
2. “I don’t like the pill, so we just use the timing method.” Result: three unplanned pregnancies (so far). Slow learners, I think. Apparently they haven’t heard of barrier methods (condoms, etc), either.
“Who should do the sex education? The parents.”
It seems absurd that you should even need to make such a statement. Of course the parents should provide sex education for their children. And whether or not they intend to, every parent *does* provide sex (and relationship) education to their child. After all, children learn what they live.
If you want to raise a child who will find love in this world, then create a home where that child will feel unconditionally valued and appreciated for their unique gifts and abilities.
I agree that parents, consciously not, teach their children about sex and sexuality, by their actions and words.
My parents were not great talkers about sex. At some point they gave me a book, told me to read it and to let them know if I had any questions. That was the only conversation about sex we ever had.
Fortunately, they realized this was not their strong point, and let me take a weekend long sex-ed class through our church. It was good, and helped a lot. But I still stole condoms from my roommate in college because I was too nervous to buy them (or did without, which looking back was massively stupid.)
We gave our child a great book about sex around age six when the younger sibling was on the way. (I wish I could remember the name) And, we have had regular talks over the years because it is not something a child learns once and is done. Their ideas and levels of comprehension change as they grow older. We felt that our middle schooler was at a point where more expertise and non-parental delivery was needed. So, we decided Karen’s class was a good thing, but we are not washing our hands of our continuing responsibility as parents.
Last night my 13 year old showed me the STD grid they made in Karen’s class. Down the first column was the list of diseases, the next column was symptoms, etc. My child had a slightly askew idea of HIV thinking it was as simple as having flu-like symptoms for a year or two and then dying. So, we had a talk about what HIV really does to the body, medications, treatments, life expectancy, etc. Just because my child is taking Karen’s class does not mean that all of the information will be accurately stored or understood. That is where I as a parent get to help out.
Our conversation went on as I asked, “Do you understand why we want you to take this class?” Just because we gave our reasons loud and clear multiple times already doesn’t me it was accurately stored or understood. I explained that my sexual education was essentially that sex outside of marriage was BAD. Not just ill-advised, problematic or unhealthy, but morally BAD. Furthermore, I was taught that sex kills and ruins your life and nice boys and girls don’t do it. I was very forthright that I felt my sex education had been more harmful than helpful. “Just say no,” as the comprehensive message on any subject doesn’t work!
Nobody really explained that having sex before I was emotionally and mentally mature could have long lasting, harmful emotional and psychological effects on me or my sexual partner(s). Nobody explained that even if I wasn’t married to the other person there could be a beautiful, beneficial and healthy sexual experience for my partner and me. And, I told my child that that was what I really hoped was the take away from Karen’s class. I told my child that these decisions are ones that each of us makes entirely on our own.
My child cannot make the best, most informed choices without the best and most comprehensive education. This seems true for any subject. Sex is a central part of all of our lives in some way or another, even if we are celibate. Yet, we seem so reluctant to fully and properly educate our children about it.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the infection planted in me so young that sex is dirty and I shouldn’t be doing it. But, I am going to do my best to make sure that my children view sex as a wonderful, beautiful gift to be enjoyed deeply, responsibly and healthfully. Thanks to Karen for helping make that possible!
Sigh. Thank you for letting me know that not everyone took away the information about HIV correctly. Several students came into the class with what you described as their understanding (you get a little bit sick, which is HIV, and then you die, which is AIDS). We tried to correct their misconception, but it looks like we either weren’t clear enough with the students who had the misconception, or other students heard their description without hearing our correction. We will be sure and go over this again next time!
Educational psychology – how people learn – is such a fascinating interplay of ideas and forces. Your comment, ParentX, has me thinking about how this applies to sex education. I’ll probably be writing a full post about it in the next several days or so.
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