We are a liberal household. We always have been. I grew up feeling inhibited and embarrassed about sex and bodies and I was determined my children would not feel the same. We have specifically brought them up believing they can ask any question at any time and that bodies, big, small, voluptuous or with inexplicable dangly bits are just things we all have and not the stuff of fear or anxiety.
Our conversations have, since our eldest was ready to want to know how babies arrived, included sex, love, birth, periods, erections, vaginas and penises, breasts and what you might wish, or wish not, to do with your body. We’ve talked about pleasure, pain, function and dysfunction and neutrally examined the processes and causes of everything from bumps in tummies to lumps in trousers. We’ve talked about privacy because that feels good and whether secrecy is the right thing to do if it feels bad. We’ve not shied from abortion or abuse or when you might need to discuss something that is frightening or illegal or unconventional. We’ve always openly referred to the fact that we know they may bring home a same or different sex partner and that we have no issue with that. While discreet in an ordinary ‘don’t shove it in their faces’ way, we are an openly physically affectionate and loving couple, we’ve never gone to great lengths hide sanitary protection or condoms (and we assume 2 babies born in the last 4 years means they know we still have sex) and when the older girls started periods we’ve asked them to be tidy and thoughtful but not required secrecy or used euphemistic language to evade the ears and understanding of younger siblings.
When difficult questions have come up (and it is never a great time when they do!)we tend to have a couple of responses:-
“I’m happy to tell you that but ask to chat to me in private tonight,” because generally they ask me in public to gauge how awkward it might be with a buffer of younger ears in place. Once they get that response they know it is possibly blush-worthy so they’ll find me later or when they feel ready. I keep the question in mind since there is always a reason for them asking.
My other response, such as when one of them was being teased for not knowing the significance of the number 69 in the playground is,
“I’m happy to tell you that but you might find it embarrassing or upsetting and once you know you can’t unknow it. Do you want to know?”
In the case above, the daughter in question did want to know because she had found herself in a situation where where ignorance of something no 11 year old should have to know about was making her a target. So we dealt with it.
My rule of thumb for tackling these topics is:-
- Be factual but human too – relate it to life and experience if possible.
- Be honest and unbiased.
- Keep the maturity of the child in mind & relevant to the need.
- Open door – it’s okay to revisit and ask for clarity.
Which leads me to this.
School sex education and the absolute R.A.G.E I feel at the damage that has been done to one of my children through a ridiculous, unpersonalised, fear ridden information scheme designed to stop them from wanting to have sex.
One of my children has gone through PSHE lessons that included a list of ten statements about sexual arousal that she had to put into order; not easy if you are still quite young at heart and it’s pretty difficult to not feel repulsed by “vagina become slippery” or “penis leaks fluid” when you are a young teen with no sexual experience. They’ve been warned so hard about the difficulty of child rearing on your career and education and the pain of birth, on the danger of STDs that far from being informed and prepared, she feels repulsed and fearful. Sex has become about danger and damage for her, while her school year is still filled with sexually active children and not a few pregnant girls.
For those who needed it, it hasn’t worked. For the one who didn’t need it, it has done harm.
I understand, I really do, that we have a country of children who need good information and good advice, who need steering and are not getting that at home. I understand I ticked the box to say she could attend these lessons. I’m not a prude and I’m happy with fact, with bold (and bald) statement and clear information about the effects of sexual interaction without precaution and consideration.
But it should not be my job now to have to talk my daughter back into the idea that sex is okay. I should not be having to tell her that it is not to be feared but to be enjoyed, that it is fun and something she will want to try in the next couple of years. I should not have to feel that if I ask her to leave the bedroom door open while her boyfriend or girlfriend is here, that I’m reinforcing an idea that what goes on behind closed doors is dirty or naughty. I should not have to worry that far from giving her a safety net she can break free from in her own time, I’m shielding her from her own inhibitions and anxieties and allowing her to develop them into deep rooted apprehensions.
And I do feel really furious to have had my role pushed outside of what it should be and beyond angry that a one sized fits all education has undone all the work I did to bring her up comfortable in sex being about her time, her body, her choice and above all, about affection and pleasure and fun – not fear and disease and consequence.
What do you think? Is it the job of a school to help teenagers become sexual beings responsibly and thoughtfully or simply to discourage them from having sex for as long as possible?