I read an article earlier today by Peter Tatchell with a blueprint for sex education in schools. It’s what you would expect from Peter Tatchell i.e. , an extremely liberal approach. While I agree with him that sex education should be taught in schools and that it is extremely important in safeguarding young people against abuse, as I read the article I became very uncomfortable with some of his proposals.
I should start off by saying that personally, I will teach my children about sex (in an age appropriate way) as early as possible. I want my kids to grow up understanding that sex is good, normal, natural and safe in the right context at the right time. I want them to be comfortable with their bodies and their right to say no to anyone – be that relative, friend or potential partner who approaches their bodies in a way they don’t feel comfortable with. I want them to grow up to be confident in their own moral choices, but to also be respectful of other people who don’t share their belief system and make different moral choices than they do. I want them to be able to respectfully articulate the choices they have made in regards to their sexual behaviour.
That’s how I will choose to raise MY children. That’s not how everyone will want to raise their children though.
The article suggested a number of things that sex ed should teach young people in school. Tatchell states:
“Sex education ought to tell the whole truth about every kind of sex and relationship, including sexual practices that some people find distasteful, such as anal intercourse and sadomasochism. The purpose of such frankness is not to encourage these practices, but to help pupils deal with them if they encounter them in later life.”
He also mentioned making oral sex and mutual masturbation sound ‘sexy’ to encourage it as a safer alternative to intercourse, teaching 16 + pupils how to stimulate erogenous zones and give satisfying orgasms, and ensuring that all sexual orientations are taught as equally morally viable alternatives.
This wouldn’t necessarily be problematic if he didn’t finish off by suggesting that parents should not be able to opt their children out of sex educations as they aren’t allowed to opt out of maths.
Now, I don’t expect that most school sex education follows Peter Tatchell’s blueprint currently, but I do suspect that society is moving closer and closer in that direction.
Whether I or others agree with the overwhelming moral opinion of larger society in regard to sexuality is, in my opinion, irrelevant. What is relevant is to question what is within the remit of the school in regards to sex education, and what should be left to the parent.
I’m not of the opinion at all that schools should not be teaching any sexual education. Sex is a part of biological functioning and as such, it is entirely appropriate to teach children from a biological standpoint about reproduction in the same way that we teach about pollination in flowers or how chicken lay eggs. What’s not the same as pollination, is the social, moral, and emotional implications of sex and sexuality. What’s not the same is the vastness of moral opinion on chicken egg laying in comparison with sexual bondage. The use of handcuffs is not necessary to produce life. Lots people of regardless of sexual orientation, will go through their whole life without being chained and tied to a bed post as part of their sexual ritual. Is it really necessary for a 16 year old to know what that is? Is it up to their teacher at school to decide that it is appropriate for them to know what that is? Likewise, is it in the remit of the school to give information on how to provide good orgasms and stimulate erogenous zones? While it may be appropriate to teach 16 year olds what erogenous zones are from a biological standpoint, I’m not sure that it’s necessary to teach how to stimulate them.
I’m also wary that what the school might decide is age appropriate for a child may be completely different to what a parent feels is age appropriate. How do we maintain the fine balance between allowing children to know enough to keep themselves safe from abuse while allowing the parent to exercise the right to teach the moral values they deem best to their children? While a school might decide that at 6 my child should know what oral sex is, I might deem that it is perfectly enough to teach them that no one should touch or ‘kiss’ their genital area and that if they do they should shout/scream and find a safe adult to tell, and that that is the extent of what they should know about oral sex. Schools might think that because most 14 year olds have stumbled across porn by then, that teaching them about BDSM is ok. I may not be comfortable with that. Schools might promote mutual masturbation and oral sex as a ‘safe’ alternative to intercourse, a Muslim parent might teach their child that all sex outside of marriage is (albeit on a emotional/spiritual level) unsafe.
The problem is that sex is not simply a biological function. Despite the beliefs of many that any type of sex as long as it is consensual is perfectly safe, that we even have an age of consent is a testament to the fact that even the most liberal of societies realises there is at least some psychological implications to sexual behaviour, if not moral. Where we sit on that moral spectrum varies from individual to individual, and because of that I think it’s extremely important that the sex education we teach in schools is as morally neutral as possible and leaves as much reign for parents to decide what to teach their children,while teaching enough to safeguard children from abuse. With that said, I don’t believe schools should be teaching abstinence only any more than they should be extolling the virtues of mutual masturbation.
Sex education is important and opting out of sex education leaves children open to ridicule from their peers and denies them an opportunity to learn about information that is basic to understanding of biology and human behaviour, as well as keeping them safe. Parents should endeavour to not opt out, but schools should play a part in understanding that the diversity of society means that something as complex human sexuality cannot and should not be their responsibility to teach beyond the basics. Where the line should be drawn exactly is something I’m still not sure of and probably warrants more than a short blog post. It also raises the question of how much ‘power’ a parent should have over a young persons decisions about their sexuality. Again, another post.
What do you guys think?