Education that is.
This topic was brought up, rather inadvertently, in my book group the other night. The group is affiliated with RS Enrichment, so we mostly do a good job of sticking to the topics in the book. As when I'm with (most) any group of LDS women, I've learned to just bite my tongue when snide comments are made about the global warming "hoax", Barack Obama being a commu-muslo-terrorist and the latest blog news from Glenn Beck. As much as I hate it when people assume I agree with them about politics because we have the same religion, in person I'm much less confrontational than my writing suggests and I don't like the argument that political discourse often engenders. Discussion yes, but argument, no. Besides, in our group there is a woman who is Canadian, a former social worker, and was a rabid Hilary supporter. She isn't afraid to have a little go-time.
But back to the subject. I only said the other to give a little bit of background into our group and its dynamic. One of our younger sisters was very angry about some diversity posters that were going to be hung at her son's elementary school. Coming into the conversation a moment late, I thought that she was perhaps over-reacting, but then she was specific about the content of some of the posters. A couple of them were about transgender and homosexual individuals with blunt vocabulary. I think some kinds of information, particularly presented in such a sound-byte fashion, merely give children more tools for mocking one another. Also, since homosexual and transgender lifestyles are so wrapped up in sexual behavior and not just inherent identity (like race), the teaching of such should be handled the way sex education is at schools, not the way mulit-cultural education is.
My friend, incensed, wrote a letter to the school. A second mother in the group, who has some older children, also indicated that she has had trouble with the sex education programs at area schools. I kind of cornered mother #2 later and tried to get specifics about her issues with the programs, but she wasn't really able to say. Only that when given the choice, she opted her child out and was promised he'd have other work to do at his seat. He did not, and ended up doing most of the worksheets the rest of the class was doing. Again, no idea about the age of the child in question or the content that was so disturbing to her.
Before I hit you all with my barrage of questions, let me give you a bit of my own history. My first knowledge of sex came from two sources: I was staying with a friend for a few days when I was about 8 years old while my parents went on a trip. While bathing together one night, she told me how babies were made. I was shocked, horrified and disgusted. She told me that it was true and if I didn't believe her I should ask my mother. How could I say ANYTHING like that to my mom!? I'd be in so much trouble. Looking back, I can see that this experience has turned me into a mother that is pretty much anti-sleepover. Don't even get me started on why her mother put two eight year old girls in the tub at the same time.
The second source was a cousin, my age, who loved to entertain us with dirty jokes while all of the cousins stayed up late in the huge tent set up on Grandma's lawn every Labor Day. When I first heard his naughty potty mouth, and his awful jokes were pretty much confirming in their perverse way what bathtub-girl had said, there was no possible way for me to talk to my mother. It was too embarrassing and too gross. Years later I would learn that she was waiting for me to ask, just as my older brother had asked questions while she was pregnant with my youngest sibling.
Then mom forgot to come of the second of our two maturation films at school. She was the only absent mother in the entire sixth grade class. Okay, like I can really know that. But it sure seemed that way. This has been a running family joke for years, but at the time it probably really affected my willingness to approach my mom about girl stuff. I was embarrassed beyond belief when I had to tell her I had started my period, and for years I wanted to die whenever I had to ask her to buy pads. And tampons! Let's not even go there.
Fast forward to junior high health. Our sex education unit took a whopping 45 minutes. Our lame-o health teacher showed a movie about the miracle of childbirth while the boy behind me made snide comments the entire time. I tried desperately not to keep my head on my desk so that I could pass the quiz later. I willed myself to disappear, but not having any magical powers, it was no good. When the movie was done--10 seconds before the bell rang--our teacher said, "If you have an questions, go home and ask your parents."
I did not.
Being a nurse, conversations about sex and even sexuality should have been doable for my mom, but she just kept waiting. It's crazy, really, we talk about all kinds of things now and have a really positive and wonderful friendship. But I was the oldest girl and my mom's own family had been fairly dysfunctional; it seemed like everything I did was uncharted water. Well, about the time I turned 16 and was taking AP biology, Mom figured that she'd just missed the boat. After all, she reasoned, I was exceptionally bright--I'd certainly put two and two together. (Or, in this case, one and one; though my experience was all cerebral and the thought of even kissing a boy terrified me.) As for the chastity stuff, well, I was getting plenty of teaching in church; my dad did give me some kind of object lesson about a boiling frog. But you had to be dating anybody more than once, and they had to be marginally attracted to you, to get anywhere near boiling. Chastity was not a problem.
When I was a senior in high school, my youngest brother went to the maturation film for boys. My mother did not forget to attend with him. I took him on a long walk that night and told him all about the girls' movie. I told him that he wouldn't get this talk from mom but that he was mature enough and smart enough to understand some things, and that I didn't want him to be one of those idiot boys who teased girls about things they didn't understand. I think I knew that afternoon that he would eventually be a doctor.
On to college. I learned a lot, again all academic knowledge, about the mechanisms of sex and birth control and anatomy and physiology and vocabulary and . . . . well, you get the gist. Biology girl, remember? My older brother and his sweet fiance gave me a ride back to school one weekend and in a conversation that must have required him to swallow a lot of pride and mortified her, he asked ME about birth control options. I was 19. I was very blunt. I still wonder if her reticence towards me stems from that single conversation.
I was nearly legal age before I really kissed a boy. We won't go into the depths to which I was naive and stupid about what certain kinds of kissing can do to a man, or how cruel it is when a girl ignorantly starts the launch sequence. The early days of marriage were a long, slow learning curve; and yes, for all my book learning, I was pretty embarrassed about nearly every aspect of intimacy.
My own views of what the schools should or should not include in their sex education curriculum has no doubt been heavily influenced by things I've seen as a teacher. I was 23 and a single student teacher when a gorgeous Hispanic senior came to me and asked me about fifty questions about pregnancy; she was a few months along and I was the first adult that she'd told. I was 24 and teaching 7th grade when some foster parents told me the girl that had guardian-ship for was dealing with the aftermath of a sexually abusive stepfather and an abortion the previous summer. As for my eye-opening experiences at my inner-city school in Texas, well, let's just say that I'm a big advocate of giving people some kind of a license or test before they engage in sexual activity, let alone pro-create! ;)
Permanently damaged by my convoluted sex education? No, of course not. But I would like to do better for my own kidlets. And don't go saying "Get your spouse's support" because we'd been married about twenty minutes when Plantboy said, in no uncertain terms, "you are talking to the kids about sex; you're the science teacher." He has a point, from my painfully bashful beginnings, I never miss a beat when I say sperm or egg or sex or mating or reproducing or penis or vagina or whatever in front of a group of 13 year-olds. It's just science.
But with my own (and my oldest is just five months away from that magic age of accountability), it doesn't feel like science. It feels like how they will normalize themselves to the opposite sex, especially because they don't have sisters. It feels like their understanding of sacred principles. It feels like their future chance at an eternal marriage. The facts are the same, but what my little ones DO with these facts will literally make or break their lives and spirits.
My cornered friend from book group talked about how she opens up the conversation by talking about stranger touch, private parts, etc. The rest kind of evolves from there, over time, as you children are ready for it and ask questions. This is the approach advocated by the Cub Scout Manual. But I remember how poor I was at asking questions, even in an atmosphere of love and trust that my mom always inspired. And my boys are such boys--so mechanical and busy and practical--I don't know if they ever even think about babies, let alone where they come from. I also wonder if by jumping right to the molesting conversation, we rule out any possibility for such touch to be good and wonderful and necessary? Of course, all that affirmation stuff is not really appropriate or desirable for quite a number of years still . . .
What are your thoughts here? Things your parents did well? Things that have worked with your older kids? Didn't work? And most all, funny stories; sex is serious and sacred, but it isn't ALL bad. ;)