18-year-old Hugo Martins offers a young person’s perspective on what kids want, and need, to hear from their parents about sex.
Having read Maria Pawlowska’s What’s in a Name: Vaginas, Clitorises, and Bravery and Marcus Williams’ The Unnamed Genitals Have a Name: Vulva, I couldn’t help notice the discussion seems largely to be about how to better teach children about sex, but we seldom read something from the perspective of someone who has been taught those things. We see parents discuss the methods to teach their children yet we don’t see much of these children speaking out about what went right or wrong in the way they were educated.
Even though I am now at the climax of my hormone-saturated pubescence I have been sexually active for about 3 years now (which is not something to brag about, but information noteworthy in order to better understand where I’m coming from). I believe my education in this topic to be among the best I’ve witnessed so far. The education for sex must start early in one’s life; parents can’t expect kids to know how to do something they’re not informed about, and, of course, boys and girls should have different educations for two main reasons: they have different bodies and different needs.
This topic must stop being taboo or kids will never be sufficiently knowledgeable about it, and be able to make conscious, valid, and risk-free choices. With the amount of information that currently runs the web I am astonished at the level of ignorance some of my peers (both boys and girls, but especially girls) present. This may almost always be blamed on parents because they make it a taboo subject which makes teenagers much more likely to engage in risky choices regarding sex. Teens end up making conversations about sex taboo as well. It’s a never ending cycle.
When I was a young boy, about 12 or 13 years old, old enough to understand all the physical aspects of sex, my father had a “talk” with me. This is a cliché, but the truth. In my case it was actually a talk but it doesn’t have to be, it can be a series of talks or it can just be casual conversation. My father and I had a talk in which he explained to me the physical aspect of sex from my perspective, taught me how to put a condom on correctly, and put me at ease to talk with him at any moment, or resort to him first before anybody else, were I to have a problem.
That was it. Something as simple as that, which any parent can do, gave me a completely different perspective on the subject of sex. It was no longer that mysterious spooky thing no one talked about, and started to be something I should start to prepare myself for because it was going to happen, sooner or later. The important part was it was cool to talk about it in my house, with both my parents. It was cool to search through the web to find more information—there was no pressure or need to hide my moves. They made it clear that they were there to help me and that the subject of sex was a subject as any other.
I am now 18 and have witnessed some friends starting their sexual lives. It’s sad to see that most of my friends’ households still have sex as a taboo subject, which directly or indirectly ends up hurting them. The concern here is not only pregnancy but also STDs. According to a study in Pediatrics that I read in Time Magazine Online, 38% of the girls between 14-19 years sexually active were infected with at least one of the five most common STD’s, and this infection often occurs soon after first sex.
This is what is worrying to me. The general ignorance and lack of care from the parents has led children to take unnecessary risks. It’s not because of the lack of information available. There is information everywhere. But the “if we don’t speak about it then it doesn’t happen” mentality some parents still hold is out-dated. Parents should have, by now, understood that. On the contrary, it seems the more taboo a parent make the subject the more likely his or her kids start their sexual lives earlier.
There are several approaches to how one should educate a child about sex, but I believe some topics are completely fundamental and should not in any way be disregarded:
- Contraception: In this point is not only important to make it clear that it exists but also that it’s important to understand how it should be used to prevent the thing teens fears the most—pregnancy. People my age don’t really care or think about STDs because they naively believe it’ll never happen to them. It doesn’t cross their mind that the people with whom they are having sex (most likely) had sex with other people. It’s like playing Russian roulette. But teenagers don’t really realize that, and their biggest concern is getting pregnant and their parents finding out.
- STDs: This—what I believe to be the most fearful thing about the whole sex thing—is where parents should focus more of their attention, and even ask doctors for help or send their kids to a doctor if they aren’t qualified enough to do the explanation. There are a lot of misconceptions about STDs, how they are transmitted, and how they evolve.
- How genitals work, both female and male.
And this should be taught to both girls and boys because it is important for them to have a general knowledge of all these things. And by general knowledge I mean more than knowing that using a condom is good. Don’t treat your kids like morons and only teach them half-way. Of course, to do this there’s the need for the parents to be knowledgeable of this subject, and many of them aren’t. If this is the case they should ask for help.
This is the easy part though because even if parents don’t like to talk about this stuff they can always buy kids books or other resources. My father bought me a book which was probably the best thing I have read on the subject because it was written for pre-teens: Guia da Vida Sexual da Malta Jovem (I am Portuguese—the title translates roughly to Guide for the Young People’s Sexual Life).
There’s a whole other aspect about sex that needs to be defined and taught, and that is the psychological part of sex and making love, which comes only with experience and heart-break, but nonetheless needs to be discussed and understood. It should be taught how children should never make choices they would not approve of in the future, should always respect themselves and their bodies, and not fall into some kind of guilt trap for not doing something (peer pressure, a crushing influence among most teenagers).
Also, parents shouldn’t make their children feel guilty for being sexually active and should rather embrace that evolution as a sign that the child is growing and becoming a fully developed human. If parents can make children understand that sex is OK, then they are on the right path.
Unless sex stops being a mysterious spooky thing that is not talked about, ignorance and lack of care will prevail, as will early pregnancies and the rise of STDs among youngsters. The more complex and secretive approach parents take on sex, the more confusing it will be for children.
Make it clear. Make it simple. Make it right.