That’s got you reading, hasn’t it and before you spend time awaiting titillation it’s not an R or 18 rated post.
Kristen Ploetz blogs at Little Lodestar and recently discussed her latest parenting dilemma. How much and when do you explain stuff to an enquiring young mind? You want to protect them and preserve their innocence while preparing them for the great out there. Her specific dilemma was around 9/11 and her post is a beautifully described summation of the worries all parents have.
For me it brought back many memories but, as I told Kristen, the one that leapt out was about sex. Stop sniggering at the back…
Back in the 60s and 70s when I was at an age to have sex explained it wasn’t. Nothing. Not a bird or a bee. School was meant to deal with the mechanics at least but the school I attended at 11 had sex education programmed for 12 and the school I joined at 12 had ticked that box at 11.
It meant that my information was sourced solely from scout camp and guess work and one afternoon at a friend’s house when we found a copy of his parent’s Karma Sutra. In the twenty minutes we had before we were caught, I didn’t learn much and what I did confused me mightily.
At 14, I was treated to an extraordinary morning at school; my class was made to watch a cartoon film about venereal disease. Odd, when you think about it. I had the vaguest ideas about sex yet here I was having explained, in detail, some of the associated dangers.
I suppose I hoped a by-product might be some of the sex education I had missed, a sanitised Joy of Sex, but nothing of the sort. The Ministry of Health had commissioned a moron to make the film. With a voice over from an out of work radio announcer who droned on and on, we watched ghostly and full dressed figures pass each other in the street. The carrier had green cross-hatching across his or her (I can’t say I remember the gender) groin. Once the carrier passed another person, maybe a jolly plumber or lady in a housecoat, the green cross-hatching transferred to them. It was utterly absorbing. I have no idea whether the commentator was explaining you actually needed some sort of contact for the disease to spread; so far as we were concerned VD was so powerful as to penetrate clothing, the only good news being you could avoid it by making sure you didn’t pass anyone with green cross hatching on their privates. So we school kids in rural South Hampshire in the early 1970s added groin-level cross hatching to black cats and propped ladders as things whose paths you didn’t cross.
Happily we never saw anyone so afflicted though for a period around 1971 the staff at school wondered at a spate of green hatching appearing on posters and in school books. I vaguely remember Henry VIII being a favourite victim.
This lack of coherence to my sex education meant that making sure my children were properly educated featured high on the list of mistakes not to be repeated.
We, the Textiliste and I agreed that, when we felt the time was right, we would make sure we provided an explanation that was both comprehensible and comprehensive (bearing in mind the age of the listener) and that it covered both mechanics and emotion.
The unanswered six million zloty question was, of course, when would that moment occur.
Imagine the scene: the Textiliste is driving the Lawyer, aged about 8 or 9, and his best friend to some event. The boys are in high spirits and barely remember mother is driving. The giggling in the back draws the Textiliste’s attention. The boys are talking about something sex related; the Lawyer’s best friend has older siblings, a sure recipe for misinformation. Remembering our conversation, and believing what she’s heard is liable to cause later confusion if not corrected, she finds an appropriate moment a little later to probe the Lawyer on his understanding. Gently and subtly she teases out an explanation of which she is justly quite proud. The Lawyer, not one for lengthy contemplation of serious topics, remains spellbound.
‘So does that make sense?’
A question mark hangs over the Lawyer’s head. He takes his time to frame his questions. He has two.
Does it go on very long?
Does it tickle?
Clearly education beats ignorance hands down.
How did you address this notoriously difficult topic? Or your parents? Or were there others that caused you more problems?
Your description of “sex ed” is quite…interesting. The green x is hilarious. 😀 Also, such truth in this: “older siblings, a sure recipe for misinformation.”
I don’t even want to think about this yet. I suppose I will soon enough but they are my BABIES. No sex talk. Ugh… No.
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It’s coming, Sarah, whether you like it or not! But it is horrid to contemplate. I think it’s because, at root, the whole idea that our parents had sex (with mine that was conceptually against the laws of nature) is abhorrent. I still shudder at the notion. So the same has to be true of our kids. So glad we’re beyond that (tee hee)
Excellent post, Geoff! While visiting my grandnephews and grandniece, the Gymnast asked me pointedly, “Why do you have those?” I was fairly certain he was pointing at my bosom and before I could answer he then asked, “Who do you feed?” I couldn’t help but laugh! At age 3, he knew “those” had a purpose. And it reminded me that I had made the same commitment as you to make sure my children were educated and empowered. One of the earliest tactics a parent can take is to properly name body parts. “Those” should be known by name as well as elbows and ankles. I know parents balk at that idea and teach children cutesy names, but as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse I’ve since taken many classes and worked with professionals to make sure I passed down healthy boundaries to my children. Proper names and knowing basics like good touch and bad touch are important because it can actually deter a potential abuser. Sad to think in those terms, but on the other hand, I raised three empowered children. As teens, I relied on places like Planned Parenthood to provide information (brochures and even consultations) that gave more detailed yet necessary information while also giving teens their privacy to understand and make future decisions. I mean, who wants Mom showing you how to use a condom? No one! So it became a matter of leading to trustworthy resources in later years and I found the school sex ed very lacking and the “save yourself for marriage” campaigns dangerous and sexist. I think we had a video for the kids called, “Where Do I Come From” and it was an age-appropriate cartoon. It was the most popular video in our collection behind “The Little Mermaid.”
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Thank you Charli. It is easy for me to be flippant about this because, without your context, it just fell into the ‘slightly yucky’ category. I think we adults tend to big up the whole thing because we hate the idea of our parents involved in sex themselves and somehow that is carried down the line. The Textiliste was very good to do the basics, mostly the emotionally important side to relationships but she told me quite firmly that is was my job to deal with the ‘male mechanicals’. I’m glad to report that sex ed here now is a lot better but we still struggle against religious dogma to make sure it is universally applied
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My mom explained the general process to me one afternoon when I was about twelve. I don’t recall how it came up, but I remember being grateful that the television was on so I wouldn’t have to look at her. She was a lapsed Catholic, but she still insisted that my older sister had been produced by immaculate conception. “We were only heavy petting!” she said (as if I knew what that meant). I got the message, though – be extra careful if you’re not trying to make babies. All things considered, I suppose that was pretty good sex ed.
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My mother told me, in later years, when the subject of teenage sex arose: ‘I’d have blamed the girl’ I suppose that was typical of her generation, and she only had sons so easier too. Sadly all of the girls I knew in my teens had received the same advice as you and taken it to heart. I’m not even sure I managed a deal of petting of any weight.
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Our thoughtful mothers left copies of a couple of booklets from the Orwellian Catholic Truth Society on our beds at what was deemed the appropriate time. The first wasn’t too bad: just enough about the messy business of menstruation to save us from the shame of ignorance when the Tampax Lady came to school. I think the other was supposed to be about sex, but how you do that via linking the woman’s body to that of the Virgin Mary (i.e. supposedly a virgin mother) and insisting that girls were responsible for remaining chaste and guarding the boys’ appetites which they were unable to control themselves (being male) I’ve no idea. And sadly, there was no follow-up session at school for this one!
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PS. I’d be intrigued to know how much this topic boosts your website stats
Sorry to stalk your blog but readers might be interested in the reviews I’ve got up today on novels about teenage sex.
Serendipity! Stalk away!!
Ah found me out!
What a fab title ‘Orwellian Catholic Truth Society’. You couldn’t make it up, could you? Vatican double speak! What I remember most is the confusion when I found out that girls and boys were designed differently; I remember the shock so I was eight or nine by then.
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Indeed! Meant to add, as you don’t seem to have mentioned him, but Harry Spittle’s sex education would be most interesting to speculate upon.
This is so great. Well, perhaps not that movie! Ugh. I do vaguely remember an equally head scratching video being shown around fifth grade (so, 1985-ish) to us girls about our impending periods. I’m pretty sure all I got out of that film was a deep sense of doom and panic, with a sense of Moses parting the red sea or something. I think it’s great how you also give a hat tip to the desire to want to do things differently than our own parents did, a fine tuning perhaps, and without all the tip toeing. It’s what drives some of my decisions too, I’m finding (though it makes me wonder what my daughter will say I did wrong!). Thank you so much for the mention! 🙂
Thanks for the visit Kristen. I suppose the only thing that you can hope for is the mistakes are different to your parents. Having spent a few days with my cousin’s five year old I’m remembering how exhausting children are. Delightfully inquisitive but exhausting.