The Sun (UK) has announced today that a thirteen year old boy and a fifteen year old girl have become the slightly confused and very nervous parents of a brand new baby girl. Comments around the web are ranging from outrage to relief. Pro-life commentators are commending the couple for bringing a new baby into a household of seven living on benefits. Church officials are condemning the British system of school sex education. Concerned liberals are outraged that these two childrens’ lives, for all intents and purposes, are over for the next twenty years because of an uninformed decision.
I want to take a different approach to this discussion. First, I need to quote Alex, the proud grandfather (who has nine children of his own), who said
So here’s a good place for us to start. Let’s examine the birds and the bees and see if we can discover what this sex-education debate is really about. Forgive me for being graphic about this, but I think we need to do a quick mental exercise to see if we can look at this logically instead of emotionally. I’m going to present sex on the level of a child, and then let’s see what’s so scary about it:
Sex is for two things. First, it’s how humans make babies. Men have sperm and women have eggs, and for a baby to be made, the egg and the sperm have to join. Sperm come out of a man’s penis, and eggs live in a woman’s belly. The way they get together is that a man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina over and over until sperm comes out inside her. This is how babies are made, and it’s called “having sex.” It doesn’t make a baby every time, but you can never know which time it will make a baby, so it’s very important to make sure that anytime you have sex, you are sure that you are ready to have a baby of your own.
The second thing about sex is that it’s not just for making babies. It’s also a way to have fun and share love. It feels very good for both the man and the woman to have sex. Grown ups often have sex when they don’t want to make babies, just because it’s fun to do. It’s very important, though, that when they don’t want to make babies, they are very careful to do things that will keep the sperm and the egg from getting together. Men can wear a condom over their penis to catch the sperm. Women can take pills that keep the egg and sperm from getting together. There are some other ways, too, but you need to have them done by a doctor.
There’s one other reason that people have to be careful about sex. Some people have diseases that you can catch by having sex with them. Some of the diseases are very sneaky, and the people don’t know that they have them, so even if someone thinks they don’t have a disease, they might. Wearing condoms is usually good enough to keep you from getting diseases, but not always. So you see, sex is something that you ought to be grown up to do, but even then, you have to be careful and be sure that you want to do it.”
That’s it. That’s factual, accurate enough for a child, and doesn’t include any scary threats or damnation or hellfire. It’s just the facts. Now, what are we afraid of? Instead of falling back on old adages and cliches about spoiling childhood or growing up too fast, let’s ask ourselves what’s so scary about those three little paragraphs. What possible harm is going to come to a ten year old by hearing those words or gaining that knowledge? Is he going to be grossed out? I don’t know. Most people aren’t grossed out by sex unless they’ve been taught that it’s dirty. Has our imaginary ten year old been taught that sex is dirty? If not, he’s probably not going to be grossed out. Even if he is, a reassuring smile and a pat on the back will go a long way, as will the statement, “It’s ok. You don’t have to completely get it now. In a couple of years, you’re going to start turning into a man, and it will make a lot more sense then. I promise it’s not scary at all, and everybody does it.”
So, what else can we think of that’s going to scar little Johnny for life by learning the untainted facts about sex? What part of innocence has he lost, exactly? What part of his childhood is spoiled?
Adults have a nasty habit of superimposing their own calamities onto children. Women who have had unsatisfying or abusive sex lives remember fondly the days before they had to worry about such things. Men who secretly regret knocking up their high school girlfriend wish they could still play kickball in the sandlot and not have to worry about paying the mortgage for two families. But children haven’t experienced these things yet, and they don’t have any bad associations with sex. In fact, they don’t have any associations at all with it. When they hear about it the first time, it’s just information. If it is presented without bias, that’s all it will be.
I’m reminded of an episode of Southpark where Ms. Chokesondick taught the girls about sex by showing them horrific pictures of advanced venereal disease and telling them that if they had sex, they would look like that, too. Naturally, the girls wouldn’t have anything to do with the boys afterward. Poor Mister Mackie couldn’t even remember how to have sex, and stammered off into muddled confusion when presented with male and female anatomy diagrams, so the boys didn’t fare any better. Matt and Trey couldn’t have illustrated my point any better. Sex is not scary. Our experiences as adults are often scary, and we impose our own biases when we think about children and sex, but that is most definitely not the same as sex being scary.
Almost anyone will tell you that when it’s done safely and responsibly, sex is really awesome. Hopefully most of us have had that night of mind blowing, lusty, sweaty, insatiable sex and woken up in near bliss, still in our lover’s arms. It’s one of the best parts of being human. In fact, how much better is it when there are no worries of accidental pregnancy or disease? How much more do we enjoy the proverbial after sex cigarette when we have a clear conscience and confidence in our precautions? (Yeah, I know… smoking’s bad for you. Don’t do it. Even after sex.)
These poor British children will probably not get to have that night. They’ve already spoiled their chances by having one night of ignorant unprotected sex. Their childhood is over, and not because someone told them about sex, but rather because no one did. Isn’t it better to present the world as it is? Can’t we get over our superstitious nature and realize that sex isn’t magic. It’s just part of being human, and there’s no reason we can’t treat it accurately and openly, especially with children. Don’t they deserve the best possible chance to grow up and have those incredible and special sexual experiences? Children souldn’t be scared of sex. They should be respectful of it. More importantly, we shouldn’t be afraid of children becoming aware of sex. It is, after all, the thing most responsible for all that we know as human ingenuity, beauty, and acheivement. Sex is literally what makes us human. Why hide that fact from small humans? The answer is that there is no reason to, and this poor young couple is a perfect example of why.