Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Posts tagged “sex ed

Sex-Positive Sex Education

 So here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. With two pre-teen boys in the house, I think it’s a good idea to check in with them periodically to see what they’re thinking and going through, and to reiterate our family’s position and expectations on various topics with them. As they get older the topics of puberty, sex, and related issues come up, and if they don’t then I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring those topics up with them.

Sex is by no means a ‘new’ topic for my children; I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor and worked as a birth doula for a many years, so they’ve had access to age-appropriate information about the birds and bees all along. When they were old enough to start asking questions, we always answered factually, but let them guide the depth of the conversation. We started with simple, factual answers, using proper names for body parts and terms – no ‘cutesy’ stuff that might muddy the waters – because I feel that information is good for them. It also normalizes those conversations that have the potential to become ‘uncomfortable’ if you wait until kids are old enough for body-awareness and self-consciousness issues to come up. Not to say that it erases it completely, but open communication as a staple of family life is important, IMO.

Once we started homeschooling, we added in a more ‘formal’ health class, which included use of the FLASH curriculum. We’ve gone through it once already, and will be covering it again this year, with added material from Planned Parenthood and other websites (most of which are linked in various place throughout this post). I’ve bought the boys several of the ‘growing up’ and ‘about my body’ books for them to read through at their leisure, and added some kid-friendly health websites to their computer desktops so they can research on their own. We also worked through a lapbook on puberty and sex that I made (which will be posted eventually). We’ve even tackled conversations about having sex for the first time, proper use of condoms, and what kinds of things they would want to do afterwards (like condom disposal and washing up). They’ve never been restricted as far as information goes pertaining to what they ask about, and I’d not have it any other way.

The approach we take is called ‘sex-positive’ sex education. It’s talks about sex as a normal, natural, pleasurable experience. It’s open and honest communication, without the tinge of embarrassment, guilt and shame that often accompanies the topic of sex.

It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what’s ‘allowed’ to be taught in Texas schools, which uses shame and religious oppression in a failing attempt to reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs by promoting ‘abstinence only’ education. I won’t go into how ineffective that method is; the fact that Texas is among the highest in the USA for teen (and even pre-teen) pregnancy (5th, actually), and first in the US for repeat teen pregnancy speaks for itself. If their goal is kids having kids, then I say, ‘Well done!’

Additionally, for many in the religious set, children are often coerced into entering verbal contracts with their parents, peer groups and/or youth pastors to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. This trend of tying a child’s self-worth to their sexual status is disturbing at best; abusive and creepy at worst. For something that’s a natural biological process, supposedly instilled in us by the Creator, to be so vehemently linked to sin and corruption and impurity just begs for sexual dysfunction later in life.  I really love that quote by Bertrand Russell. It states exactly how I feel about ‘biblical morality’.

Before I go much farther, let me address something (because I KNOW this will come up). I am, in no way, advocating that persons under the age of consent (in Texas, see: Texas Penal Code Section 21.11) engage in any type of sexual activity. What I AM addressing is that I believe that all children, including yours, have the right to know what will happen, or is happening, to their body at the onset of and during puberty, and that they have the right to know that masturbation and sex are normal, biological functions, and that their self-worth is in no way related to their virgin status. I believe that they are entitled to factual information, free from constraints put in place by a puritanical history with no medical or scientific basis. Furthermore, I believe that all children, especially those near or undergoing puberty, should have enough knowledge about sex and sex acts to protect themselves and their partner(s) should they find themselves in a situation where such knowledge is critical.

So what level of education is appropriate for pre-teens?

Well, that depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to: your personal beliefs and stance; your child’s maturity level (both mental/emotional as well as physical – meaning that if your child is physically more mature, then s/he probably needs at least some of the information even if you aren’t sure if s/he’s emotionally or mentally ready for the full picture); your environment and his/her associates – is s/he likely to get this information from peers, and if so, is that where you want your child’s support to come from? (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but you do want to ensure that the information s/he’s getting is factual, and you still want that open line of communication with your kid).

For my children, this includes more detailed information as they get older, including the idea that sex is pleasurable, normal and healthy for adults to engage in. We’ve talked about appropriate speech in company – with friends vs. in mixed company (either girls or adults), being conscious of who else is around them (younger children).

At this age, consent is an important topic. They need to understand what consent is, and what it isn’t. How is consent conveyed? How can signals be misinterpreted? How do you voice your consent? How do you express dissent? Consent is important for them to understand, not only for themselves, to know if they’re being coerced or taken advantage of, but also so they can identify consent in their partners. I believe that consent starts from a very early age. Helping children own their bodies is a key factor in developing the confidence to voice dissent when it matters. The GoodMenProject has a great article that can help parents develop good communication habits that help children understand consent from a young age.

Pre-teens and teens also need to know what qualifies as ‘sexual contact’. This is where a lot of parents get sorta squidgy. Who likes talking about sex acts with their kids? Our parents never had to do that… which is probably an ideal example of why we should talk to our kids about sex acts. If you’re super uncomfortable talking about it, at least direct your kids to something appropriate, like PlannedParenthood’s What is Sex? article. Once they know what sex is, then talks about being ready and protection – for your child, and for his or her partner – can begin. Along with talks about sex, talks about drugs and alcohol, ‘partying’ and what to do if/when they get into a situation where they need help are natural progressions. It’s equally important to talk about being victimized, and to make sure your children know that if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault. EVER. Talk about ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’. Talk about ‘rape culture’, and about how they can be advocates. Talk, talk, TALK!

And if you agree that information is important for kids, it’s absolutely crucial if your child is gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual, asexual or falls in any way outside of the mainstream. LGBTQ kids have all of the same pressures that other kids face, as well as the unique issues that falling outside the mainstream brings. The Trevor Project is a great place to learn about how being LGBTQ affects a child, how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, how you can help them, especially if you think your child might be suicidal. There are websites devoted to helping parents talk to their LGBTQ child, and others that can help parents understand and support their child. Even if your child is straight, help him/her be an ally. Talking with him/her about gender and sexual orientation is important. Because of how society views sex and gender, including promoting homophobia, sexism, and transphobia by not talking about it, it’s important that children are taught that these characteristics are no more exclusionary than skin, hair or eye color – just another variation of ‘normal’ that makes our world such a  grand, diverse, beautiful place to live in.

Armed with this information, how do we keep them safe? I think that information is the first string of safety precautions. The more open and communicative your family is, the fewer things get ‘stuffed’. Most kids have smart phones, and there are apps that are specifically designed to help them, like the Circle of 6 app, and the Life 360 app. Others, like the bSafe app, even have a feature that will allow you to program an automatic alarm that will trigger if you have not checked in with your friends or family in time.

You might be asking, ‘ How do we keep them from experimenting? How do you keep them from having sex?’

Honestly? The truth is… you can’t. You can, of course, communicate and express your desires for your children. You can let them know what your feelings are as far as sexual relationships go, and what your expectations for them are. Even the dreaded Planned Parenthood has discussion topics and suggested conversation responses to help parents help their teens delay having sex. But I don’t know of any people who wanted to have sex who didn’t because of an external expectations placed on them. Having an open and honestly communicative relationship helps though.

Given the option, I would prefer my children not have sex until they were in a committed relationship and were old enough to accept and responsibly handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. But another hard truth is that my kids’ sexuality belongs to THEM. Not me. It’s not up to me to dictate to them, once they’ve reached the age of consent, what is right for them. But I can influence their choices, and I would *always* rather them have protected sex (and sexual experimentation) than unprotected sex.

Warmly,
~h

 

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Sex Education in School

I woke up to this today, reposted on Facebook: Massachusetts School District Under Fire For Condom Policy. In stark contrast, Texas maintains an ‘abstinence only education’ policy despite the rising number of teen pregnancies in our schools, which obviously shows that ‘abstinence only’ education really works! [/sarcasm] – well, after the picture…

Isn’t that an awesome picture? I think it illustrates exactly the atmosphere that abstinence only education breeds. All the while, parents are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping that their kids aren’t doing it too. And they’re wrong.

Sex Education in schools is a topic that is woefully under addressed. I really don’t see why this is not a more openly debated topic in Southeast Texas. Well, I know why it’s not, really. We have a disproportionately large number of churches to other buildings here. The religious right has their finger firmly in that pie, and who knows what it will take to release the masses from their death-grip on the idea that ‘sex=sin’. I just don’t understand why so many people go merrily along with it instead of openly advocating for their kids to have access to the education and information they need to make better choices.

Here’s the rub: if abstinence only education (AOE) actually worked, then teaching it would be fine. I was even fine with a trial period to test the theory. But it does not work. A cursory glimpse of any research on the topic will tell you that. It didn’t work for us; why on earth would we start thinking that it will work for our kids? AOE leaves our kids vulnerable. Not informing and arming our kids through education leaves them wide open for exposure to disease, pregnancy (and the subsequent very grown-up decisions one must face with an unplanned pregnancy), being talking into having sex before they’re ready (which can lead to depression and self-esteem issues) and a host of other complications as well. Even if a child is coerced into having sex before he or she is ready, at least a condom will lessen the risk of having a permanently life-altering physical consequence from the encounter.

Some parents don’t even want their kids to have access to  basic biological information and terminology. Many go so far as to deny their kids information about how their bodies work and the changes that take place in them as puberty begins. ‘Carrie‘, anyone? I’ve seen this attitude first-hand here in Southeast Texas. One of the programs that my BFF/business partner and I tired to implement a couple of years ago with our organization was a ‘body awareness’ class targeting mothers and daughters. The target age range was for mothers and girls about to enter puberty. The class was designed with two goals in mind – to provide a basic education of how the female body works and to increase communication between mother (or female guardian/trusted female relative or friend) and daughter by addressing and opening the floor to topics that may be uncomfortable to bring up. We were met with outright opposition to the very idea of talking to girls as young as 9 or 10 about their monthly cycle and the development of breasts – as if frank discussion about such topics was somehow obscene. Some moms were profoundly offended, despite the fact that we clearly were not addressing sexual topics other that just a very, very basic mention of the mechanics. We also sought to encourage moms to open a dialogue about the other issues surrounding sex and ‘sexual activity within the context of their own individual belief systems’ with their children. We were not pushing anything onto these people, other than the idea that ‘girls need education’.

Boys do, too – don’t for one second think I am leaving them out. I have two of them on the precipice of puberty and that is a mind-blowing thought. But I can tell you that the discussions have already begun. At 8 and 7, my boys know where babies come from and we’ve talked about physical intimacy in roundabout ways. But the time is fast approaching where they’ll need more information and just because I’m squicked out by the idea of my sons thinking about having sex does not give me the right to withhold information they need in order to do so safely. Recognizing that gives me the opportunity and responsibility to continue talking with them about when it is right to have sex within the context of our belief system. Those types of discussions contribute to their ability to make the decision that is right for them.

The argument that sex education encourages kids to have sex is ludicrous. Sure, you might (I kinda doubt it, but the possibility exists) have a handful kids who would not otherwise have had sex until someone told them about it, but I would assert that those few kids have deeper issues in their lives that have impacted that decision than having access to condoms. I would further assert that for those children, having access to birth control would go along way towards preventing additional complications in their lives.

My opinion is that proper sex education gives children the knowledge and confidence in their bodies and beliefs to say no until the time is right for them, and when it is right, to engage in sexual activity with their own futures and safety, and the futures and safety of their partners, in mind.

Loverly Husband and I have recently begun watching the series Mad Men, and in one of the first episodes a young woman is at the gynecologists office and asks for birth control pills. He gives them to her, but threatens to take her off of them if she abuses them. He says that just because she is safe now doesn’t mean that she has to be the town bike (or some such nonsense).  As if it is his right to monitor the sexual activity of a grown woman! The thought that ‘we’, being parents, the church, the school – anyone who is not the person (‘underage person’ though they may be) in question – can dictate to anyone else when the time is right for them to engage in sexual activity is asinine. Who told you when the time was right for you to have your first sexual experience? Did you get permission? Did you use protection? I didn’t! And I was damn lucky that there were not lifelong consequences resulting from that decision. Do I ever want my kids in that position?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

I think that open dialogue with our kids is the only way to help them understand that sex is not something that should be taken lightly. That the possibility of pregnancy always exists, even with protection. That ‘sex’ is not always ‘intercourse’. That prophylactics can fail, leaving you open to exposure to disease. That you may feel differently after you’ve had sex. That other kids may see you differently after you’ve had sex. That it will probably feel good. That No means NO. That sometimes, sex is just sex. That intimacy and sex are not the same thing. That waiting doesn’t make you a loser, or immature, or a prude. That you have absolute autonomy when it comes to your own body.

There are so many issues surrounding sex that should be addressed, and I think that many parents put those intense and uncomfortable discussions off because they either think they have more time (forgetting that our babies grow up so lightening-quick that if you blink you might miss it…) or they are so uncomfortable with the topic that they avoid it.

Sex is NOT going to go away – and if YOU don’t talk to your kids about it, someone else will. In fact, if you’re not talking to your kids about sex, they probably are talking to someone else about it. Someone who may not share your views on sex. Someone who might be younger or less experienced than you. Someone who might be misinformed. Someone who might give your child bad information.

If you’re having a hard time getting sex ed into your child’s education, here are some books to help get the discussion started:

I have some of them, but I haven’t read all of those. I am buying a couple of them to ensure that we have plenty of material to work with. I consider myself a pretty open-minded mom, and progressive parent. While I don’t want my kids sexually active at a young age, I do want my children to have a healthy understanding of sex as both a biological function and as an expression of love with their partner. As much as I’d love to believe that I’ll know when my kids have their first sexual experience, realistically, I doubt that I will. In any case, I’d rather have my kids getting condoms from somewhere or someone than having this be our new life:

Warmly,

~h