Sex education should be made mandatory across all schools, with a set curriculum that answers all queries of children. Age-appropriate information about bodies, how babies are made, puberty and sex should form part of education in schools. Parents should talk to their children about sexual responsibilities and relationships.
Puberty brings about dramatic physical and emotional changes that may be frightening to an unprepared child.
It is more common to hear parents swapping stories about children’s first teeth and first steps than it is to hear about a child’s sexual development. This is understandable, as it is often seen as a very personal aspect of a person’s growth and development. Yet this lack of general knowledge about what is ‘normal’ sexual development can lead to unnecessary anxiety about children’s interest in nudity, ‘rude’ things and sex.
It is important to understand the stages of sexual development your child is likely to go through at different ages and what you can do to help them adjust to the changes they will experience. Parents are often relieved to hear that helping their child towards a happy, healthy sexuality does not come from any ‘one big talk’ that must be word perfect.
Sex education for a primary school child mostly occurs in the way we talk about body parts and body functions, how we teach children to care for, respect and protect their bodies, and when we prepare our children for puberty. Choosing the right age to answer questions such as ‘Where do I come from?’ and ‘What is sex?’ is more about how comfortable your family feels talking about such topics, rather than there being a perfect time.
Many children will have asked the question by the time they reach school. By grade three, they will have a keen interest and will have formulated some kind of theory. Many children will also have made the link between reproduction and sexual pleasure, and will be entering into schoolyard speculation and curiosity.
Talking about these issues shows children that they can talk with trusted adults. Families lay the groundwork for children to feel okay about their bodies and body functions, and to feel confident to ask questions and seek help.
School programs are vital to support this process. Developing good sexuality education programs shows that the community takes responsibility for this aspect of children’s growth and development. If families and schools won’t take the subject on, children will turn to other sources of information that may not be reliable, such as friends, the Internet or the media.
Comprehensive sex educational programs are what all schools need.
Sex education in the schools is not new, of course, but never before has it attempted to expose children to so much so soon. Comprehensive sex education includes much more than a movie about menstruation and a class or two in human reproduction. It begins in kindergarten and continues into high school. It sweeps across disciplines, taking up the biology of reproduction, the psychology of relationships, the sociology of the family, and the sexology of masturbation and massage. It seeks not simply to reduce health risks to teenagers but also to build self esteem, prevent sexual abuse, promote respect for all kinds of families, and to make little boys more ‘nurture-ant’ and little girls more assertive. As Dr. Elders explains, comprehensive sex education is not just about giving children a “plumbing lesson.”
This approach is appealing for several reasons. First, it reaches a vast majority of schoolchildren, through the public school system. Second, it is inexpensive. Principals have to do little more than buy a sex-education curriculum and enroll the coach or home-economics teacher in a training workshop, and their school has a sex-education program. Third, to panicky parents, worried about their ability to protect their children from AIDS and other STDs, comprehensive sex education offers a reassuring message: The schools will teach your children how to protect themselves.
Sadly, till date, sex education in schools is not a reality. It is a retreat.