Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sex Education

I used to have a fairly clear view on sex education: it is the role of parents.

I am moving away from that a bit.

I think that we need to consider what we mean by Sex Education, and break it down into different component parts, in order to answer the question a little more intelligently.

So I would draw a distinction between: the biological facts of human reproduction; an education in love and relationships; the practical reality of physical and emotional intimacy; and growing up in a world of disordered messages and behaviours.

The first thing I want to say here is that I believe the correct teacher of the practical reality of physical and emotional intimacy is one's spouse. There are some things that one need not (and I believe should not) learn from others, second hand; or from theory, or from books, but from experience, and I believe that marital (sexual) love is one of those things.

That is not to say that we should keep kids in ignorance of the basic biological facts of human reproduction; but rather that we should treat anything beyond those facts as a sacred mystery, to which the correct initiation is the marriage bed.

(Incidentally, that is one of the reasons I prefer traditional worship to modern: the sense that some mysteries are sacred.  I love the idea of the iconastasis, of the silent canon, and so on, for those reasons. Not everything should be on public display; just as I choose not to use the Holy Name of Jesus in casual conversation... but I digress.)

But it is important that children understand that the privacy surrounding such intimate love is not because it is something bad or dirty, but precisely because it is something good, holy, and supremely intimate.  

The best teachers of the biological facts are the child's parents, in the first instance, as they should have the sensitivity and the intimacy of relationship with the child to judge when and how to explain these things.  Schools may legitimately teach them as part of biology at an appropriate age and with parental knowledge, but only if they are very clear about the limits of their remit here.

The current trend, to stimulate and then gratify children's curiosity in the class room, allowing the most daring to ask the most outrageous questions, often allowing anonymity to shield them from shame, (as described by a head teacher and an 'expert' on the Today programme last Friday morning: 'why are condoms flavoured?' was an example given of a question that was answered 'honestly, factually and without embarrassment'),  is profoundly wrong. The corrupted kids will steal the innocence of the others.

What children need most, of course, as they grow up, is an education in love an relationships.  Again, the parents and natural family are the primary teachers here. But school teachers also have a very important role.  However, the key issue here, I believe, is that such things are best taught not by being talked about, but by being experienced.  Kids learn to love if they are loved, and witness their parents and teachers loving others; to respect others if those around them respect others, and so on.  Remedial classes in Relationships will have little or no purchase if they do not build on such foundations; and if those foundations are in place, there will be little need for them.

Of course, it is sometimes necessary to discuss such issues; particularly when something goes wrong and a child needs either correction or comforting (or both). But words are the smallest part of such an education.

The other issue is educating children who are growing up in a world of disordered messages and behaviours.  This, too, is primarily the parents' role, though schools may support it, always recognising the limits of their role and the boundaries of chaste discussion.

Voyeurism has rightly been seen by most cultures as aberrant. We need to teach our kids that; rather than exposing them to text books, cartoons, movies or magazines which, whether ostensibly for educative purposes, or for entertainment or for straightforward titillation, parade private human behaviour in public.

What kids need to know about pornography is that it is bad, and why; that it is to be shunned, as it is a strong and corrupting temptation for us in our fallen state, and has addictive qualities and does terrible harm in many ways.  Some limited discussion of the issues here is probably important, given the culture we live in, but always avoiding anything that is in itself likely to stimulate either impure thoughts or inappropriate curiosity.

The traditional notion of custody of the eyes is very important here. And again, example is the best teacher. I cannot go along with those who say that kids are going to see it all around them anyway, so it is best to inure them to it. I think we do better to help them school themselves to avoid it: Let such things not even be named amongst you, as becomes Saints.

Then of course, there is the whole issue of contraception and abortion.  Kids readily understand the purpose of human love: to bind a couple and to bring forth children.  They understand how it is disordered to eat and then make oneself sick, thus having the pleasure of the taste of food without the good of nourishment; so they get the perversity of contraception.

Teaching about abortion is harder, of course, not because they don't understand how evil it is; they see that immediately. Rather, it is such a dreadful thing that they are (rightly) appalled by it, and teaching them how to regard those who are involved in it with charity is the challenge.

But again, all this teaching is founded first and foremost on their experience of their parent's love, for them and for each other, and beyond the family as well.  Get that right (no small challenge, I realise) and most of the rest will be much easier.

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