With this many mixed messages sent ... it's no wonder kids are confused about sex.
Frankly, I always thought our generation would finally have this sex ed thing straightened out. After all, we grew up in the 70s for goodness sake! We should have NO shame!
I explained sex to my own son when he was 8 years old.
I was immediately hit with relentless questions about how his little brother entered the world. I'm not going to lie, a wave of irrational fear hit me like a tsunami in that conversation. So, I decided to head online and order the book my mother read to me when I asked her similar questions as a child.
The children's book Where Do I Come From? describes sex as a special feeling ("like scratching an itch, but a lot nicer") that stops for two reasons: "First, it's very tiring … Good as it is, you just can't do it all day long. The other reason is that something really wonderful happens, which puts an end to the tickling, and at the same time, starts the making of a baby."
Of course this phrasing only explains male orgasm, but otherwise it describes the brass-tacks basics of the biological process using sweet, age-appropriate language that offers just the right amount of detail. My son listened to me read the book, gave me a big hug, and went about his day.
This story shocked my friends with kids the same age.
Why would I share so much when he was so young? Could he really get it? I just know Johnny, Bobby, Sue isn't ready. The question hasn't even crossed his or her mind. ... Uh, sure.
These kids are now 12, and spend plenty of time online. How is it possible that my own "modern" peers are still deluding themselves — expecting the schools to serve as the gatekeepers for when and how our children learn about sex and the many complicated layers of wonderful and awful that accompany it?
The truth is that adults remain afraid and ashamed of sex because their parents and educators were afraid and ashamed of sex.
Yet we still let them teach our own kids the same habits of fear and shame. Which brings me to my favorite mediator question: How's that working for you? The answer: terribly.
Here are 3 reasons shame-based sexual education does not help our kids:
1. It increases their vulnerability to sexual victimization.
We teach children to stay alert for "good touch" vs. "bad touch." But what if bad touch feels good? And how do you explain to a child that though "bad touch" is wrong now, later, "with the right person" it actually becomes "good touch" and feels amazing ... (but only within marriage) ... (and only if you're over 25)?
Wait. What? I'm entirely confused and I'm 42 years old! Confusion and shame send a child out into the world primed for risk.
Writer Kristen Howerton's powerful article on the "potentially harmful aspects of idolizing virginity and purity" is best summarized in a quote she includes from kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart. Raised in a conservative religious home, Smart recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared a girl who has sex to a piece of chewed gum.
Speaking about how this shame-based education left her feeling hopeless and worthless after her rape, Smart said:
"After that rape, I felt so dirty ... I thought, Oh my gosh, I'm [a] chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
2. It increases rates of promiscuity, pregnancy, and STI's.
Lorrae Bradbury started sluttygirlproblems.com as an outlet for women to talk about sex without feeling shamed. She states that preaching abstinence is counter-productive, noting that “Shame-based sex education often leaves out accurate information about prevention methods, like condoms and birth control. After all, if having sex is shameful and wrong, and teens shouldn’t be having it at all, why bother to fully educate them about protective options? ... When teens are taught the preventative options available to them and know they can use those options, they are more likely to pre-plan and seek protection.”
3. It increases the likelihood of extramarital affairs and divorce.