A study cited in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning indicates that high school students want sex education earlier but that teachers are uncomfortable teaching such material. Regardless of the fact that this study was of a small sample size of students in Ballarat (a relatively urban centre in Victoria), it’s findings have hit a nerve & illuminated a heated debate in the comments section.
The argument against early sex education draws on fears of the loss of young people’s ‘innocence’ and the age-old moral panic that ‘if we teach them about it, it’s giving them permission to go out and do it’. And you know what? NO. It’s not. Teaching young people about their bodies, sex & contraceptives will not make them go out and have sex, just as teaching them about sports physiology and injury prevention will not make them go out and play dangerous sports.
‘RRR’ suggests that young people “are not emotionally ready to learn about sex education at an earlier age”. But when is ‘ready’? Does ‘ready’ mean when they have already been forced to deal with it, when they’re thrust head-first into puberty without any preparation? When they have their first wet dream, when they bleed between their legs, when they find themselves feeling guilty about masturbating? Surely we are ready to learn about our bodies at the earliest age possible. Surely the fact that we inhabit these glorious, fascinating, mysterious, messy and confusing vessels called our bodies, gives us enough reason to know how they work, what they can do and how this may affect us in the future.
I have a 4-year-old nephew who is endlessly inquisitive about his body and the bodies of those around him. Instead of calling his penis a 'willy', 'peepee' or a number of ridiculous pseudonyms I've heard used by adults and children alike, he knows it's called a penis. He knows about his foreskin, how to clean himself and that his penis feels nice sometimes when he touches it. He is incredibly well adjusted, happy and healthy. He knows who is allowed to touch his body and in what ways, what is 'off limits' and is being taught to look after himself. When we asks, we answer. It the information given is not relevant to him (as I'm sure it won't be for many years), he quickly tunes out and resumes playing Mario. It doesn't damage him and it doesn't confuse him. What it does do is open up an honest line of communication between himself and responsible adults who he loves and trusts. Where's the negative there?
By withholding information from young people, we reduce their sense of ownership of their bodies, their agency and decision-making which comes with the responsibility of being a human. To me, this screams of a number of concerning issues including possible body image problems, uninformed sexual decision-making, and sexual assault concerns(where young people are sexually disenfranchised and do not feel they are entitled to speak up about their own bodies and what can/can’t be done with them).
Amongst all the debate and misinformed nonsense on this comment thread, there are those who share some wonderful insights, and I’ll leave the last word with them: