Monday, April 30, 2012

The Art of Sex Education

We have a strong value system around sex and sexuality, so we didn’t want our kids learning about sex from either their friends or the schools.  For this reason, we introduced sex education to our children earlier, and more graphically, than other parents we know.  We used the medical terms from the very beginning, always answered all questions openly and directly, and actively taught our children about sexual concepts and issues.  We didn’t give body parts childish names, and we didn’t use euphemisms like “The stork brought you.” This approach may seem radical, but it seems that other parents were always coming to us for advice when their children began asking “awkward questions.”
We never had the painful crisis so often portrayed by Hollywood, where the boy asks where babies come from, and dad spends days rehearsing his lines in a dead panic.  We also didn’t introduce graphic details about copulation to our toddlers.  We gave them just enough information to satisfy their curiosity, and no more.  We were usually surprised at how little they really needed or wanted to know.
We started as soon as our toddlers could talk, by practicing naming all the body parts in the bathtub.  If a nipple, penis, or vagina is named just as often as an elbow or toe, there is no mystery, and the parts covered by clothing didn’t seem to come up very often in public conversations.  When young children start asking about where babies come from, they aren’t asking about intercourse, they’re just asking for very basic information, so we gave simple answers.  When we gave them simple answers, they usually didn’t ask for more, so we eased our way into the details.  Here are some examples of simple answers to questions from young children:

Where do babies come from?
Babies come from their mommy’s abdomen.
How does the baby get inside the mommy?
The daddy puts it there to grow until it is ready to come out.
How does the baby get out of the mommy?
The mommy goes to the hospital, where the doctor takes it out for her.

At the same time, we would introduce age-appropriate books on sex education.  These books begin for children as early as 3 years old by talking about body parts, then move to discussions of puppies and chickens with babies inside them.  They eventually move on to eggs and sperm, then copulation, and finally to tougher issues like menstruation and sexually transmitted disease.  Age appropriate books worked very well for us, because we could sit down and read them to younger children, without having to design our own “birds and bees” discussions, and once the kids could read, they could read the books themselves, and we only had to define a few terms.
This still left us with an occasional surprise question at the dinner table, which we answered honestly, and which often launched us into a deep discussion about our family value systems on sexuality.  There were a few times when we had to delay the discussion to shield the younger children from topics they weren’t emotionally ready for, but we generally answered all the questions at the time with the simplest answers.  Because of the books we’d used, we didn’t have trouble answering questions on basic biology, but did struggle more to find simple answers for questions like, “What is sexual violence?” “What is prostitution?” “What is AIDS?” “What is an orgy?” “What is homosexuality?” and “What is sexual slavery?” 
One of our favorite family stories happened when Rick was staying out of town with his brother-in-law, and our son called to ask a question.  Our brother-in-law answered the phone, and was kidding around with our son.  Since our brother-in-law is a biologist, he is used to getting school questions from the nieces and nephews, so he lightly offered to answer our son’s question.  When our son asked him to define masturbation, our brother-in-law tossed the telephone to Rick like it had given him an electric shock.
We owe much to the authors of books we’ve used over the years, and many parents have come to us for recommendations. There are a wealth of books for young children, but appropriate books for grade school and middle school audiences are difficult to find.  If you have a daughter, we highly recommend the American Girls book, Care & Keeping of You.  For teenagers, we recommend the Every Young Man’s Battle and Every Young Woman’s Battle books.  For all parents, we recommend the series of books that have a book for each age range.  Here are the details on these books:
God’s Design for Sex Series, Stan & Brenna Jones, NAV Press
The New Learning About Sex Series, Concordia Publishing House
Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, Valerie Schaefer, American Girl Publishing
Every Young Man's Battle : Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation, Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, Mike Yorkey, Random House, Inc
Every Young Woman's Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World, Shannon Ethridge, Stephen Arterburn, Random House, Inc