Picture: Max Pixel

It's hardly the sin that dare not speak its name, but ever since Onan spilled his seed on the ground in the Old Testament, Christian ministers and priests have had their hands full keeping pubescent teenagers from giving in to their urges.

The warnings through the ages have been dire: palsied hands, failing eyesight and gibbering idiocy, but the truth is that masturbating is like peeing in a swimming pool: there are two types of people, those who do it and those who lie about not doing it.

Now, the Department of Education is to broach the subject with minds as young as those of Grade 4 pupils as part of life orientation.

Immediately, the twitterati became tumescent.

Predictably, the pithiest came from DA MP Michael Cardo: “78% of Grade 4 learners in SA can’t read for meaning. But the big education story is that we’re going to teach them how to wank. That about sums things up.”

He’d no sooner sniggered on Twitter than we were treated to video footage of a man masturbating in public at a Stellenbosch gym while filming a woman doing squats.

It’s not an isolated case.

In 2011, another man at another Virgin Active gym (an ironic synchronicity) was charged with indecent exposure after he opened a shower stall door and gratified himself in front of the minor showering.

Then there’s the Mr Delivery man who did it in a driveway after handing over a pizza to a customer earlier this year.

That’s just masturbation, almost victimless sex if you like. It doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the full horror of sexual crime, like Collan Rex, the Parktown Boys’ predatory hostel master, now jailed, or Nicholas Minow, still to go on trial of raping a little girl in the toilets of a Dros restaurant.

Far too many other sexual assaults are never reported nor prosecuted; their victims are only known when they end up with a tag around their toe in a state hospital or silently bear the shame and stigma of being cruelly indecently assaulted - all too often by a relative or family friend.

We have a problem in this country. It’s not something that can wait until November for the annual horror show of the 16 Days of No Violence against Women and Children campaign that invariably flushes the freaks and the fiends out of the gloom and into the columns of newspapers.

Polite society might grimace about it, but as the reports show us, this is a national disgrace that cuts across class, creed and colour. It’s certainly not something that should wait until kids are teenagers with raging hormones.

The Education Department is spot on and it’s doing something about it, which we should applaud not denigrate because it involves learning about right and wrong, learning to respect others, their bodies and their dignity - something far too many of us have forgotten, if we ever learnt it at all.

Indeed, it’s a question we should be posing to South Africa’s most high-profile onanist, Malusi Gigaba: “Can you imagine this?”

* Kevin Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Saturday Star