#SexColumn: Why we need to talk to our children about sex
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By Sharon Gordon
I recently spoke at a school about sex, consent and consequence and as you know I speak about sex as basic as it is. I have been accused of being inappropriate and crude and they are considering trauma counselling for the children.
I have to admit that I used the words vagina, penis, clitoris, vulva, prostate, anus and G-Spot in my talk. I also asked who had been called bitch, whore, slut and cunt? Almost every child put up their hand, so they’ve definitely used the word or at least heard them. I should maybe not have used the word -fuck – but again I’ve heard them speak, but I guess its no excuse.
I am a bit rattled at the backlash I am receiving, I understand that my views on sex are not traditional but trauma counselling is a bit out there.
Are we not talking to our children about sex, sexuality, puberty, consent and consequence?
I talk to children about sex all the time and here is what you should know.
They know far more than you will ever imagine from a younger age than you can comprehend and unless you control the narrative they are learning about sex from friends and porn. None of it is good, healthy or informed.
I talk to the learners about sex as joy, pleasure and consent as opposed to the traditional risk, danger, illness and disease. It may be controversial but internationally we now know that this works. The Dutch talk to their children about sex positively at school from the age of 5 and have the lowest teenage pregnancy and HIV infection rates in the world. We don’t and the statistics speak for themselves.
There is still so much shame about our bodies and how we use them that we are willing to compromise and blatantly lie about what happens or is going to happen.
Let me share two examples with you that happened to me recently.
The first was at a less privileged school. I was giving a talk about menstrual health and puberty and then take questions. There were many but the one that stood out was: ‘Can I fall pregnant from kissing a boy?’
Let’s set aside for a moment that she obviously hadn’t understood egg and sperm discussion. What horrified me was the Life Orientation teacher’s response, which was: ‘Say yes!’
Lie and say yes because that makes all the sense in the world! The consequences of what seems like a silly lie are huge. We breach the trust we have spent hours trying to build with the girls. We are trying to give valid, scientific and anti shaming information. Kissing may lead to heavy petting, which may lead to penetrative sex, which may lead to pregnancy is the correct answer. Kissing can make you pregnant is just rubbish!
At this latest school I was asked why men don’t get pregnant and from another learner why girls menstruate? These were questions from 14 year old learners – what are we teaching them?
But having the conversation in real, open and honest terms is just too much, so let’s lie and ruin a life. If you think that kissing can make you pregnant then penis into vagina is not kissing and therefore will not make me pregnant. Innocent lie, dire consequence and this from a Life Orientation teacher.
It would seem to me that we need to spend more time educating the adults in these young people’s lives if we really want to make an impact and change the way we all think about sex.
The second incidence happened at a very up market private school, where we were brand building, looking for donors and volunteers.
We have a large banner with the fallopian tubes, the menstrual cycle and the vulva depicted. The Vulva (the outside of the vagina, including clitoris, labia and vagina entrance is depicted in the right hand corner) and it takes a while for people to notice it. The reactions ranged from a startled ‘Oh!’ to ‘Sis!’ to ‘Is that what it looks like?’
The first two offend me and the third response breaks my heart because it came from teenagers in grades 10 and 11. They were already fully formed with breasts and hips and they had no idea what their genitals looked like! I encourage girls to look at their genitals because in my opinion it is empowering. I also tell them never to share photos of their genitals and breasts because of the long term consequences.
I entered into a conversation with one who told me –probably for shock value, that she was gay but that if that was what the genitals looked like she may be too revolted to have sex. It was a Youtube moment.
She was 16 and identified as gay but had never ever looked at her genitals. I told her that the best way to do so is to get a hand mirror, lie in an empty bath and make friends. Her response was: ‘My mother will kill me!’ And therein lies the problem.
Another seminal moment. We are never going to change this view of sex as dirty and wrong, or the way we view and shame our bodies if we cannot change and educate the view of the adults in these kid’s lives. We are never going to have gender parity if boys can look and touch and women may not.
I urge you as a parent, teacher, mentor and leader to stop being afraid of talking about sex and the issues around them in lies and shame. You serve no-one. Your shame merely scars and harms the next generation. If you don’t know how, maybe you need some lessons from us.
One of the exercises I do with the groups is they may ask any question they want to, and I mean any question. It gets written on a piece of paper and put in a hat, so no one knows who asked the question. I undertake to answer them openly and honestly and I do. Some of the parents were offended by how honestly I answered the questions – was I required to lie? Maybe I should have toned it down but I’m not sure I know how.
You are the adults in these children’s lives would be bowled over by some of the questions. If you want your child to be ‘adult’ about sex, you have to be honest. I know it’s difficult but it HAS to be done.
For now on make a commitment to tell the truth, even if that truth is - I really don’t know but let’s find out.
I believe with every cell in my body that we have to talk about our body parts and our physical interactions in open and honest terms. We have to educate not by just talking about eggs, sperm, rape and disease. We have to talk about pleasure, masturbation, body parts, care and consent. We have to talk about sex and sexuality and if you are the adult thinking, ‘not my child’, YOU need it most of all because your child has access to information and from where I’m standing the information they find is rubbish.
I’ve heard all the arguments about why we shouldn’t talk to our children about sex and I have a response to every single one. The system is broken and if you don’t believe me just look at the recent teenage pregnancy statistic rates. When over 29 000 teenage pregnancies are reported and over 3550 are girls between the ages of 10 and 14, you know something is wrong. I’d like to stress REPORTED. We have no idea how many went unreported or how many abortions both legal and backstreet happened.
We have an increasing problem in schools with girls being threatened with rape and assault if they do not comply with demands (one was to do homework for the boys). Girls are threatening to call rape if boys do anything wrong. I have very strong opinions about both – these opinions include inappropriate language. It’s a BIG problem and its coming.
Maybe it’s time to loosen the reigns and talk about sex in an open and honest way.
I am told that after having spoken to certain groups rather than rushing off to have sex (an often used objection), girls are deciding to wait and not be pressured into having sex ‘because you love me!’
The golden rule is – only have sex when your genitals, heart and head all say yes at the same time. And as we know as consenting adults, the phenomena is rare.
I’ll keep you updated on how the fall out from the talk pans out. It’s been a wake up call for me – that’s for sure.