Henry Alford reinvigorated this conversation this weekend with a piece in the New York Times “Sex In A Teenager’s Room.” This idea, that parents of teenagers would encourage them to bring over their partners, have a nice dinner, then toddle off to bed together, is generally regarded with outraged horror in the U.S., where we are still struggling with abstinence-only “sex-ed” and the correlated highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. There’s still not a whole lot of enthusiasm on the sleepover, “learn to have excellent sex, kids” front. I mean, only last year, Tennessee banned teachers from talking about HANDHOLDING because it is a “gateway sexual activity.”
I’ve always wondered why we expect our schools to teach our kids math, science, and history…yet we blanch at the idea of schools teaching our children how to have sex. We teach our children to drive, ride a bike, and manage money…yet most of us wouldn’t for a millisecond consider teaching our children how to have sex. We’ve allowed the Puritan ethic to color virtually everything about sex…and so our children are left to their own devices to figure things out. Some manage to learn enough to get by, some fumble throughout their lives to get it right, and still others never manage to figure out how to make sex a mutually pleasurable and fulfilling experience. As a culture we’re so thoroughly conflicted when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality, and we pass that to our children. Shouldn’t we be able to do that better?
The mere idea of sex education in schools is enough to set some folks’ panties on fire. How DARE they teach our children their perverted Liberal ideas about sex and sexuality? If we teach them about anything other than abstinence and saving themselves for marriage…well, isn’t that the same as giving them license to have sex anywhere and everywhere at any time? Why not just hand out condoms in the school cafeteria? Uh, no; it turns out that kids have sex whether we choose to ignore their burgeoning sexuality or address it head on. The fact that we seldom, if ever, address the subject of teenage sex in an honest and forthright manner means that we’re raising a generation of children who get their knowledge of sex and sexuality from the Internet and/or their (usually equally immature and uninformed) friends.
In a 2006 book, When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex — and Sex Education — Since the Sixties, Kristin Walker surveyed the history of sex education in American education and concluded that students will do what they want, regardless of what teachers teach them. It also turns out that parents have more influence on what their kids think and do about sex than teachers do. Parental attitudes, it turns out, are far more influential and meaningful.
Would you rather teach your kids that sex is dangerous and forbidden or that it is permissible and… well, awesome? Are you a “responsible-sex-is-good” parent, or more in the “scare-them-silly” camp? It seems logical to me that the same way I try to teach my kids to exercise, sleep well and be good people, I would teach them to have healthy sex and sleep with other good people. People who respect their words, feelings and desires. And make them laugh out loud. And, as long double standards about bodily autonomy and women-as-public-property abound, not having a camera-enabled device involved would be good, too. The real challenge is transferring all this information by osmosis.
Do you teach your children that sex is a wonderful thing and best when shared by two people who love one another? Or are you too embarrassed about sex to talk to your children about it? Do you think sex is a dirty, nasty undertaking best not discussed in polite company of any sort? Or do you recognize your responsibility to teach your child about sexuality and respectful sex?
Sex is only as dangerous and dirty as we allow it to be…and if you think your children aren’t picking up on the example you set, you’re not paying attention. Child learn about sex, as they learn about many things, from their parents; why would any parent who truly cares about the future well-being of their children NOT want to teach them about sex and sexuality? Or would you rather your children learn about sex from the Internet? Are you really willing to take the risk that your daughter might become pregnant at 16 simply because she doesn’t know enough about sex to take the proper precautions?
Good luck with that, eh?