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Sex Education And Children
The beginnings of sexual consciousness
“Dad, why is the sky blue?” “Mom, where does the sun go at night?” And then suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue – “Mom, where do babies come from?” This question usually leaves parents writhing in embarrassment and trying to pass the buck to the other parent. Teaching children the facts of life, telling them about the birds and the bees, is something that most parents are not very comfortable with. Indeed, this is a very narrow view of sex education. It’s not just about having an embarrassing, private talk with your child or handing them a book or getting a lecture at school complete with diagrams. Sex does not begin and end with intercourse. It could be said that intercourse is the most intimate way in which men and women relate to each other. However, it is only one aspect of the relationship between men and women. In fact, children learn about sexuality from the time they can see the difference between boys and girls. They also receive cues from the different ways in which parents relate to sons and daughters and the way parents interact with each other. Thus, children whose parents have a bad marriage will find it very difficult to contemplate that a sexual relationship is built on love and mutual respect.
“Where do babies come from?”
Parents can expect the “dreaded” question about the origins of babies around the age of three. The question stems from natural curiosity. Parents should remember that the level of understanding of a three-year-old is quite simplistic. The child is too young to understand the concept of sexuality. The child will probably be satisfied if the mother says that the baby grows in a special place in her body called the uterus or womb and comes out after nine months. The next question will probably be – “How did the baby get in?” The only way a child is aware of how things go in is through eating. Thus, a simple answer is sufficient explaining that the baby grows from a tiny seed implanted in the womb. If children want to know the father’s role in the process, mothers can explain that the father put the seed in the mother. As for how the babies come out, children can be told that after the baby has grown enough inside the mother, it comes out of a special opening called the vagina. It may be a good idea to specify that this opening is different from those for urination and defecation.
Sex education is something that happens in stages. A three-year-old child may be satisfied when he is simply told that the father provides the seed that grows into a baby. However, when he’s five, he might want to know how exactly it got there. Here again, parents should remember to keep it simple. After all, he is only five. Explain to him that the seed comes out of the father’s penis and is deposited in the uterus, where the baby will grow for the next nine months.
Some kids don’t bring up the subject at all. Parents of such children assume that their children are particularly innocent. But probably, parents of these children made them feel, probably unintentionally, that the question of how babies are made is somehow taboo and not open to discussion. Such parents should keep their ears open for indirect questions, suggestions and jokes that indicate that the child is curious but afraid to ask a direct question. For example, a little boy may constantly tease his pregnant mother saying she is fat or a little girl may ask her mother how their dog had puppies. Parents should realize that their children are not satisfied with asking them directly and seize these opportunities to explain a little about human reproduction.
Some parents prefer fiction to fact when discussing sex with their children. A common euphemism used by parents is that a stork or an angel brought the baby. Such stories tend to backfire because the child can see the signs of the baby growing in his mother’s stomach every day. The child immediately feels that his parents are evasive about the matter and he is bound to find out the truth sooner or later. Parents are in danger of losing his trust because he is not sure when they might choose to lie or tell him half-truths again. In addition, the question of how babies are made acquires considerable significance highlighted by the nervous and sheepish approach of the parent. He gets the message that the subject is something to be embarrassed about. Another result of this approach is that the child may hesitate to discuss things that bother him with his parents in the future, because he is not sure of the answer he will get.
Adolescents and sex
Parents who have passed the “where do babies come from?” stage usually sighs in relief, thinking that this is the end of it. But the subject of sex is bound to come up again when their children hit puberty. This is the stage in life when girls’ breasts begin to develop, their hips widen and they begin to menstruate. Boys see an increase in body hair, their voices crack, their penises and testicles grow and they begin to have nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams.” Suddenly sons and daughters become impossible to deal with. They are constantly touchy-feely and short-tempered, they seem to take pride in being contrarian and love to play the rebel. This is the stage when most parents wish their children were babies again.
Most teenagers become very conscious and sensitive about the way they look and the changes in their bodies. Parents must help their children adjust to their sexually maturing and changing bodies. This is the stage in life when children need to be informed about sexuality, the sexual act and its consequences. Some teenagers may introduce the topic themselves directly or indirectly. Sometimes parents may have to take the initiative to broach the subject. If as a parent, you are wary of discussing such a private subject with your child, tell him how you feel. This will serve to reassure both parents and child.
Menstruation marks the beginning of puberty in girls. Sometimes girls start menstruating before they have been told or are aware of what it means. One can only imagine how a young girl feels when she discovers she’s bleeding and has no idea what’s going on. It is therefore essential that mothers discuss menstruation and its implications with their daughters around the time they expect the girls to start menstruating. The tone mothers take when talking about menstruation will influence their daughters’ attitudes towards it. Some mothers describe it as a curse; some mothers are embarrassed and use ‘code words’ to refer to it, others emphasize that this is a ‘delicate’ period for women. The fact is that menstruation is a normal body process and in no way prevents a woman from continuing her daily routine. While some women do experience cramps, a bloated feeling, and tender breasts, these symptoms are rarely severe enough to be life-threatening. When a girl is on the threshold of womanhood, she should not be afraid, embarrassed or resentful. Mothers should give their daughters the impression that menstruation is a rite of passage, part of growing up and something to look forward to.
After boys have reached the age of puberty, they start to get erections and nocturnal emissions. It is important that they realize that this is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams” are the result of the ejaculation of sperm during sleep often caused by a dream of a sexual nature. They may also have strong urges to masturbate. All this is completely natural. Parents should be careful not to give their sons or daughters the feeling that masturbation and erotic dreams are “dirty” or unnatural. The more facts parents have about it, the healthier their children’s attitudes about it will be.
It’s not just physical
It is important that children understand the emotional aspects of sex. Thus, while most schools usually organize a lecture on the subject, these talks tend to be quite clinical and impersonal and limit themselves to the physicality of sex. Teenagers need to understand that the decision to become sexually active should not be random. A person’s first sexual experience is an event of great personal significance and should happen when he or she is ready for it. Parents should explain to their children that they may be attracted to several people in their lives, some may be mere crushes while others may develop into long-term relationships. Teens should realize that their bodies are their own to do with as they see fit, according to their wishes and after exercising sound judgment. However, they should never have sex or engage in any other form of physical contact under pressure from another person, or to please someone else. It is a common misconception among parents that open communication about sexual feelings and the sexual act will have the effect of increasing the likelihood of young people being sexually active. Conversely, parents who discuss sex openly, in a natural way, only equip their children with the necessary knowledge so that whenever they decide they are ready to be sexually active, they will make an informed decision and understand its consequences. Many children go through life with distorted ideas about sex simply because their parents were too embarrassed to talk about it. Such children are left to gather information piecemeal from friends, books and the media and the conclusions they draw may not be the right ones.
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