As parents, the onus is on us to decide how best to educate our children. Picture: Max Pixel
How would you feel if your 10-year-old came home and proceeded to explain to you what masturbation is?

Well, parents and the South African public in general were given quite a shock this weekend after the Sunday Times published a story by Prega Govender, titled “Sex lessons for modern grade 4s in new life orientation curriculum”.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) was left seething after the report noted that Grade 4s would learn about masturbation when the new life orientation textbooks are rolled out in 2020.

The headline itself sparked huge debate on social media and radio, prompting the DBE to issue a formal statement.

According to Govender, sex therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman, also known as Dr Eve, is one of about 100 experts and writers who were called on to overhaul the textbooks, that would be exploring topics such as gender-nonconformity, single parent families and masturbation.

“Masturbation is normalised and it is threaded through [the curriculum] from Grade 4. It begins with self pride, self-image, body diversity, genital differences, genital changes and touching oneself for pleasure,” the article reported Wasserman as saying.

The department clarified its plans for the new curriculum by stating: “The new Life Orientation textbook for Grade 4 currently being written does not cover masturbation.

“The Grade 4s will learn, in a most age appropriate and sensitive way, how babies are made and encourages pupils to share what celebrations they know of linked to welcoming children into the world, such as Imbeleko.”

Whether the new textbooks will mention sex-related topics that are often spoken of behind the school toilets, sex education is a contentious issue, especially in South Africa. But as parents, the onus is on us to decide how best to educate our children.

Kate Rowe, sex educator and founder of www.explorare.co.za is an outspoken supporter of keeping communication open between parents and children.

“As adults who want the best for the children and teens in our lives, we have to stand up, find our courage to look deeper at ourselves and our stories around sex; and then to offer ourselves forward in vulnerability and commit to doing things differently,” she noted.

“Sex education is neither about sex itself nor is it about how much we know about sex, or even when to have which conversation with children about sex - it is how willing we are to have conversations about feelings, desires and experiences we may find uncomfortable sharing.”

Here are Rowe’s four steps to re-imaging your child’s sex education:

Start early

Babies and children have a natural and innocent curiosity about their body parts. Using the correct names for body parts is an essential foundation for future conversations about their bodies and sex. Yes, it is a penis, breasts, vulva or vagina.

Don’t wait until “The Big Talk”

Provide small pieces of information often. Talk about body parts, sex and relationship as they naturally arise in conversation that is appropriate for your child.

Be clear on what you want to say

There is no right or wrong when it comes to sex education. You simply have to speak about it within the constructs and values of your family. If you want to be able to clearly guide your children, you first need to know what you feel about sex and relating and then be able to translate this into what you want for them in their sex and relationships.

Emotionally safe relationships

For subjects like sex, which can be uncomfortable and sometimes challenging to talk about, your ability and willingness to create emotionally safe spaces is more important than how much you know about sex.