This Week in Hysterical Prudishness

So this has pissed me the fuck off. Dr. Saunders, the senior public health doctor in Scotland, has called for a reform to sex education in schools, starting gradually from a much younger age than the current system does. No, that’s not the bad part. The bad part is that the article reporting on it is called “Sex Lessons Must Start at Age Five”. Yup, that’s right: “sex lessons.” In addition, it notes “Saunders also called for secondary schools to hand out condoms and other forms of contraception to children from the age of 13.” The (probably deliberate) implication here, of course, is that Saunders’ plan is fanatical and includes using the Kama Sutra at story time, putting on some porn while the kindergarteners take their the snack break and having junior high teachers staple condoms to each graded test sheet upon their return to the students (seriously, why do people not get that “handing out” is different from “having on hand?”).

In reality, Dr. Saunders’ remarks are extremely pragmatic, well-founded, and from my perspective, just common sense. So I think that it’s necessary to quote at length exactly what Dr. Saunders means by “sex education.” And, as is always the case, it doesn’t mean teaching five-year-olds how to fuck.

Saunders, a consultant in public health medicine at NHS Fife, said: “It needs to start at quite an early age, because if you leave it until they are 12 it is too late because some are already experimenting. It probably needs to be started off when children start school. You need to start laying the groundwork to help them and empower them to make decisions and turn things down.

“At five it needs to be a language that they understand and taught in the same way as any other subject. It would be basic mechanics at that age in the same way as you teach a child of that age a tiny amount about geography, a fairly superficial introduction.

“It should start off with relatively simple concepts in the same way as English and science start off with the basics. It could start off with how babies are made and progress from there.”

He added: “You need to start somewhere and it makes an awful lot of sense to start long before it’s needed, because if you leave it too long you are wasting your time.

“Basically sex education needs to be a whole lot better. It’s not just anatomical drawings but what the risks are from infections and what the pros and cons are of having sex or waiting.

“It’s not a simple task to get young people empowered enough to use condoms, but it’s the key. You want to ensure people are not having sex when they don’t want to have it, and that when they do want to have it they are not putting themselves at risk.”

Saunders added that all schools should also provide contraception to pupils. Currently contraception is on offer at a small number of schools.

He said: “Particularly in rural areas, schools may well be the only way that pupils can access contraception.

“It may well be that as time goes on it would make sense to have emergency contraception in schools.”

Read it and weep. The promiscuous, liberal, orgy-promoting Saunders wants to teach children words like “penis” and “vagina.” He also wants to teach kids how to use condoms before they might need them. How can we possibly stop this madman?

Those criticizing Saunders are the usual suspects: some parents’ groups and the Catholic church. Basically, prudish authoritarians who think that they can control people’s actions by controlling the flow of information and . . . well, prudish authoritarians who think that they can control people’s actions by controlling the flow of information.

The point is that the utter ridiculousness of the outcry is almost hilarious — except that it’s nothing new, we haven’t gotten anywhere, and while the adults sit back and bicker about whether or not kids have the right to know about their own bodies, those kids are the ones who are suffering. It’s not funny because it’s a massive fucking problem. It’s not funny because people are still too stupid and brainwashed to realize that “sex education for five-year-olds” does not mean the same as “sex education for 13-year-olds,” and that sex is about a hell of a lot more than putting penises into vaginas. No matter how hard you smack most people up the side of the head, they still don’t understand that not all sex is heterosexual sex, not all heterosexual sex is penetrative sex, and that sex education should be about how our bodies work, bodily pride, consent, exploration, desire and determining personal values in addition to just STDs and pregnancy.

I find the saddest part of the whole thing, though, to be this one statement, particularly because it’s a sentiment repeated multiple times in the article comments:

However, a spokesman for the Catholic Church said five-year-olds were too young to understand sex.

He said: “When children reach puberty they are able to assimilate information about their own sexuality but they are just not ready at five. It’s way over their heads and would be as pointless as giving a five-year-old a talk on alcohol. At the age of 15 it’s a different matter.”

Someone who dubiously claims in the comments to be a doctor says:

Yes, I agree that something has to be done, but sex education at the age of five? A five-year-old has no sexuality and could make nothing of it. The hormones are not present, because the relevant glands do not start to secrete them until the age of puberty. Granted, the onset of puberty has been coming down the age scale for years, but this is going a bit too far.

The suggestion is that children are not sexual creatures. And I understand why we want to believe this — our society is uncomfortable with sex, particularly masturbation, there is the very real problem of pedophilia and increasing presentation of children as sexual objects to adults, and the good, genuine desire by most to never, ever sexually damage a child.

But children are sexual. Sexuality and sexual desire are two different things; children are more deficient than adults in the first category and are missing the latter. But children masturbate. Babies masturbate. Not because they’re thinking about sex with another person but because it feels good. Touching yourself does feel good. It’s only as adults that we learn to be ashamed of that instead of simply learning about appropriate public and private behavior. That people are so unable to seperate “sexual being” with “being who it is okay for me to fuck” is the problem, here. If we could get that far, we’d be a hell of a lot closer to the ability to provide sex education to children honestly and openly.

For more about all of this, I highly recommend these Planned Parenthood articles about childhood sexual development and how to provide age-appropriate sex education. And while we’re on the subject, I consider the Declaration of Sexual Rights to be pretty damn important and relevant, too. I can tell you from experience that despite best efforts, you’re not likely to find these pamphlets in schools or PTA meetings.

0 thoughts on “This Week in Hysterical Prudishness

  1. thordora.

    Oh this kind of thing drives me absolutely insane. I have two daughters under 5, and they know the relevant terminology, and with my oldest, we have begun the where babies come from conversations, what goes where, slowly, and geared to her level. I’ve received some looks from other adults because they say vulva instead of hoo-haa. We FIRMLY believe that if we set the tone now, and educate them to believe sex, and the relevant body parts are natural and normal, half the job is done when they are older.

    People get weird because THEY feel weird. And sure, at first, it was weird since I wasn’t raised with the correct verbiage. But now-it’s awesome having basic conversations about sexuality without discomfort. And it’s awesome to have a 4 year old who understands that certain touching is for private, and doesn’t feel ashamed or dirty about it.

    The fact that I have to feel weird about it is what bugs me.

  2. RachelPhilPa

    Wait, there’s people who are upset because Dr Saunders wants to teach 5-year-olds that it’s ok to say “No”?

    G-ddess forbid we should ever raise children to have a sense of their own bodily autonomy. We can’t do that, because that would interfere with the mission of the schools – to destroy self-determination and self-identity, and turn out more sheeple. /sarcasm

  3. Cara Post author

    I almost told this story in the post, but it didn’t really seem to fit anywhere, so I’ll tell it now.

    It’s not really my story. When I first started volunteering with Planned Parenthood, I met a woman who is the head of the education department out here in the boonies. And she was talking about how a few weeks before, she was doing an evening educational program for parents about how to talk to their kids about sex. She started with an introductory video, which included a lot of the stuff I wrote about in this post — that while children don’t have sexual desire, they do know what feels good and masturbate, this is natural and something that you shouldn’t discourage except to teach them that it’s something that should be done in private, etc.

    This was a group of people who came to a program that they knew was by Planned Parenthood (which means they were probably liberal enough to want and expect more than abstinence only shit), wanting to learn about how to talk about sex with their children of varying ages. But while the educational director was running the video, over half the audience just got up and left.

    The worst part? When I expressed surprise, she just looked back at me like she was surprised and told me that she expects it now. Apparently, it happens regularly. My best guess? That she puts the video on first to weed out everyone who will only be a disruption while she actually tries to teach people something.

  4. Catherine Martell

    It’s extraordinary that someone claiming to be a doctor would write something as stupid as “A five-year-old has no sexuality.” I have many problems with Freud, but it has been a century since he began the academic discussion of childhood sexual development. To be ignorant of that entire field as a 21st-century medical professional is just incredible.

    “That people are so unable to seperate “sexual being” with “being who it is okay for me to fuck” is the problem, here.”

    Exactly. I also think it’s extraordinary that people imagine that simply being told about the theory of something will immediately make students go and do it. The opposite attitude is evident when it comes to teaching children about anything else that involves dangers: war, genocide, racism, drugs, debt, road safety etc. The anti-sex-ed crowd always sound to me like the direct equivalent of saying: “We shouldn’t have school fire drills, because it will encourage kids to burn the school down.”

    Don’t go stapling condoms to handouts, though. The Ministry of Health did that in South Africa with not-very-hilarious results. A bit of sellotape does the job.

  5. brandann

    i know i have said it b/f, but it is so so so so so very important to start talking about sex w/ kids b/f they reach puberty…that age is too hard already and confusing and embarrassing, so enter the parent who wants to talk to the embarrassed kid about their icky embarrassing body…give me a break…you may as well build a wall around you so that the kid can never get in to talk about sex at all…

    i found a great book, called ‘it’s not the stork’, geared for kids 4 and up, which is basic, and what i pictured being taught in saunder’s system…all about bodies, proper names, how babies are made, and even good touches vs bad touches…yeah…i can see how that is dangerous to teach kids…

    wonderful post, cara!

  6. Lory

    Wonderful post, and so correct – although slightly preaching to the converted, it seems! I thought I’d weigh in with my own experience. I learnt about sex really early (so early I don’t even remember when) because my parents provided me with age-appropriate books. As I got older, the books got more complicated, more informative, so that I knew everything I was taught in sex ed at secondary school. And when did I lose my virginity? Three months short of my nineteenth birthday. Not a lack of opportunity, but I knew I wasn’t ready, and wouldn’t enjoy it unless I was.

    Unfortunately I can’t remember who it was by, but I remember a brilliant book which dealt with tons of different issues that kids might ask questions about – sex, drugs, colour, bullying, disability etc, and then presented a sort of stock answer to each question for ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. I think in a debate like this, it could be a good illustration.

  7. Paul

    Starting sex ed at a young age makes all the sense in the world. We start drug education at a young age, why shouldn’t we do the same for sex ed? And by doing the right kind of sex ed, as you touched upon, we can help to encourage the right reasons for having sex and help to inform people. Sex as teens will become less about ‘being cool’ and being defiant and more about what it should be about.

    Buuut of course society will never let it fly.

  8. Kris

    Ok here is my take on this. I think that the level of education we give about sex is inadequate but I do not feel that we need to begin teaching children in school at a younger age. What ever happened to parents having a responsibility to teach their children “the birds and the bees?” This is absolutely embarrassing that we want school teachers to educate our children about these matters. It is the responsibility of the parents to pay attention to their children and talk to them and teach them things about sex.

    Simple fact of the matter is that if a child is poorly educated in any subject matter, whether sex and human reproduction or history, it is the responsibility of the parent. Parents are supposed to make sure that their children receive a proper education whether it be teaching the child themselves or making sure that the educators are doing their job.

    That is the bottom line!!!

  9. Cara Post author

    Yuh huh. And then if the parent doesn’t do their job . . . I guess it’s teen pregnancy and STDs for Junior! Tough shit, kid!

    No, the bottom line is that it’s a public health issue.

  10. Lemur

    Really, it would be great if all parents were as enlightened as some of the ones in the above comments, but they’re not. The idea of school is to teach kids. Teach them what their parents won’t, teach them what their parents can’t (how much do your folks remember about Greek history?), teach them what they need to know. This is why we have stuff like Home Ec, Shop, and Health in addition to the basic English and Math. You can’t leave it up to only the parents to teach their kids the important stuff, especially when it comes to something like sex, where parents aren’t comfortable thinking of their child as a sexual being, now or in the future. If we could rely on parents to be objective teachers of everything, we’d all be homeschooled and wouldn’t need public school. But it doesn’t work that way. Education isn’t a bad thing. Even *gasp* Sex Ed. Even *gasp* if kids aren’t at puberty. THAT’S the bottom line. Thanks, Cara.

  11. Pingback: How many times must we go over this? : The Curvature

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