When I lost my virginity at 18, I felt I wasn’t ready. My body seemed to be ready, but my brain, no so much. I knew what sex was, I knew how to prevent pregnancy, but because the whole thing was new to me, there were still a lot of unanswered questions. Like, if I gave my high school boyfriend a handjob and didn’t properly wash my hand afterward, would that sperm somehow make its way into my uterus and make a baby? That may be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but that doesn’t mean the paranoid part of me, the one totally clueless about sex, didn’t ponder such ridiculousness from time to time.
A recent study by Georgetown University has found that sex education needs to be taught earlier than it is. That age? As young as 10 years old. It might be horrifying to think of a 10-year-old having sex, but it happens — and they need to be prepared.
According to the study, 90 percent of the 1.2 billion adolescents in the world live in lower and middle class countries where access to sex ed is at a minimum. With the rate of HIV, especially, being what it is in African countries, as well as others, it seems we’re doing a major disservice to our children if we don’t sit them down and teach them how to effectively protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy. In places where reproductive freedom is only a myth, sex ed is the sole way to keep babies from having babies.
I asked Gloria Arsenson, author and therapist, her thoughts on early sex education, and she shared an interesting story about her daughter. It was at the age of two, that she witnessed her daughter "touching her genitals through her diaper with a very pleased look on her face." Although she doesn't remember exactly what went through her head at the sight of this, she knew that the worst thing she could do was yell and shame her for it. Instead she explained that what she was doing was very natural, but it was also something very private that should be kept behind closed doors.
"I think that sex education should be something that begins as soon as children start to ask questions about their bodies, differences between how boys and girls look, and how grownups and kids look and even their reactions if they accidentally walk in on Mom and Dad having sex," says Arenson. But, as she also pointed out, this can be a challenge for parents, because some of them haven't received proper sex ed themselves, not to mention the whole concept of sex being something dirty.
As human beings, we are sexual begins. If a two-year-old can touch herself and feel enough pleasure that she keeps touching herself, then that’s all the proof that we need that sex education needs to start as young as possible. It might be a scary thought, explaining to child about how sex works and how condoms are key, but we need to get over the scariness and realize just how important it is for not just them personally, but the world as a whole.
There's an old saying that when you sleep with someone, yo'’re sleeping with everyone they've ever slept with, too, and there is some truth to that. If we instill in our kids the importance of protecting themselves every time they engage in sexual activity, then we can help prevent the spread of disease, unwanted pregnancy, as opposed to being tyrants and saying sex is off limits. Sexual desire is normal and human, but not broaching the subject and ignoring the truth is like telling your kid that those feelings aren't OK, then they go out into the world without not just lack of information, but shame, too. The combination of those two things can prove deadly.
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