Monday, 6 February 2012

A Lil Bit Of What Comes Natural

Earlier last week I was in conversation with Captain Barnacle (my other half) on the sex education I received at school, particularly the book “Where Did I Come From?” Poor man – he’s the wrong generation so he missed out entirely on the joy of learning about sexual mechanics and fertilisation from a cartoon containing a cuddly mum and dad couple with a romantic, rose-carrying sperm dressed in black tie and tails. However, I digress.

Our 9 year old daughter (Cookie Monster) was there as well, listening to the conversation while she did other things till suddenly her ears perked up. “Wait a minute mum - how old were you when you had to learn this at school?” 

When I tell her I was 9, she looks surprised. “But I’m already 9 and I’ve known where babies come from for ages!”

This is sort of, kinda true. Cookie Monster was 3 when her little brother Fez Boy was born. She is a very insistent, logical and sometimes frighteningly intelligent kid. No cabbage patch or stork myth was going to suit her. When Cookie Monster herself was born, her older sister Exhibit B had been quite happy to accept “Mummy Tummy = Baby – so just wait and it will come out sooner or later.” By the time Fez Boy was expected on the scene however, six and three year old big sisters were demanding some concrete answers.

“How did it get in there?” was the number one question.

I answered it very neatly with “A seed from the dad meets an egg from the mum and they join together and the baby grows.” An honest answer that doesn’t go into the kind of extra detail my kids are likely to explain loudly to shocked old lady passersby in supermarkets. We spent time growing flowers from seeds and we checked out the baby animal farm exhibit at the local agricultural show that had several incubator boxes full of hatching chicks. And that was that.

Where Did I Come From? still has an important place though – neither little miss thought to wonder just how the seed got in there in the first place. I read the book with Exhibit B when she was 9 and planned to do the same with Cookie Monster although she did ask the difficult question when she was only 8 so we read it then instead.

What interests me in all of this though is that both Exhibit B and Cookie Monster are already curious about the biggest question of all. It’s not about the mechanics of sex, the process of fertilisation, the fascinating array of diseases one can catch, or any similar medical type issue. What they've been wondering about is relationships “How would you know if you were in love with the right boy? And how can you be sure if it’s a boy you’re looking for in the first place?”

It was while I was wondering about all of this that I read this opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.

And no, before you panic, I’m not planning on letting my urchins read naughty books for a while yet (well nothing naughtier than The Day My Bum Went Psycho anyway). It’s definitely some food for thought though.

My high school sex ed teacher was hilarious - but in retrospect, also frightening. When it came to sexual politics he was as enlightened as a brick. He wouldn't even use the word "sex", instead saying "a little bit of what comes natural". I'm so glad I had parents I could talk to and didn't have to rely on anything my teacher told us. I know there were plenty of kids in my class who weren't so fortunate.

Sex education shouldn't just be about medical horror stories or social stigmas and disasters. How do we teach good decision making instead? 

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