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So, let’s talk about the unmentionable, which should be mentioned before kids start giggling and sneaking around experimenting: SEX. We teach all other three-letter-words when kids are young, so why is this one neglected? Sure, it’s the parents’ responsibility to cover this subject. But the fact of the matter is: most parents aren’t doing this, and by the time the sex ed movie rolls around in fifth grade, well, we’ve failed our children miserably. Most kids have already received a ‘street’ education or have even experimented with several bases by then.
In terms of child development, sexuality is a very natural part of growth. Kids find their body parts, we give them names for their body parts, we even ask them to identify their body parts: “Show me your nose! Point to your eyes! Ohhhh, I’m going to get your belly button!” But when it comes to other parts of their bodies, we tend to shy away, as if mentioning the words penis and vagina are dirty. We instead give them silly names, like ‘dangler’ or ‘hangy downy thing’ or ‘cootchie’. You get the picture. And then when it comes time to view the aforementioned sex ed movie, we separate boys and girls, have them write down questions they may have, put them in rooms with an overwhelming movie, chit chat with them for a few minutes before and after and then assume they are educated and informed.
Americans are one of the only cultures that are not open with their children about sexuality. Many other cultures educate their kids early on and even encourage exploration and experimentation. Sexuality is taught to children just as easily as identifying letters and numbers. And the education continues as the child gets older. The Guttmacher Institute, which is known for advancing sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis and public education, notes the following about adolescent sexuality:
•Fewer than 2% of adolescents have had sex by the time they reach their 12th birthday. But adolescence is a time of rapid change. Only 16% of teens have had sex by age 15, compared with one-third of those aged 16, nearly half (48%) of those aged 17, 61% of 18-year-olds and 71% of 19-year-olds.[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"] There is little difference by gender in the timing of first sex.
•On average, young people have sex for the first time at about age 17, but they do not marry until their mid-20s. This means that young adults may be at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and STIs for nearly a decade or longer.
•Among sexually experienced teens, 70% of females and 56% of males report that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of females and 28% of males report first having sex with someone they had just met or who was just a friend.
•Teen sex is increasingly likely to be described as voluntary. In 2006–2010, first sex was described as “unwanted" by 11% of young women aged 18–24 who had had sex before age 20, compared with13% in 2002. For young men in the same age-group, they share reporting first sex as unwanted decreased from 10% to 5%.
•Teens in the United States and Europe have similar levels of sexual activity. However, European teens are more likely than U.S. teens to use contraceptives generally and to use the most effective methods; they therefore have substantially lower pregnancy rates.
So if we have younger children experimenting, we know that they are discussing the facts of life at an even younger age. And rightly so, since sexuality is a normal part of their development.
So what’s the problem? Why is it such a huge deal when we as teachers observe certain behaviors that raise red flags in our classrooms? Behaviors such as a five-year-old boy and girl disappearing in a learning center only to be found playing ‘doctor’? Or eight-year-old children who are talking about ‘inappropriate’ things at recess, of which we get a phone call from a parent telling us the daughter was talking about sex in detail at the dinner table? And what about those middle schoolers and high schoolers who are caught having sex in the bathroom or janitor’s closet? Where does our responsibility lie?
When we have so many different ‘walks of life’ in our classrooms, and when kids have older siblings or live in an environment where words and actions are more than inappropriate between adults, it seems as if we are always trying to maintain damage control. And we must be careful with how this topic is broached due to religious beliefs and family values. So what can we do? How do we help children at all stages develop a healthy attitude about sex?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]