Comprehensive Sexuality Education – 2019
My mom was a nurse, so I naturally had a large number of anatomy books at my disposal whilst growing up – every one of those books included sections (and pictures) on the human reproductive system. Being a curious child, I read these sections, just as I did the others, poring over the sketches and labels in great detail – I knew the workings of the human body and I was not embarrassed.
Somewhere around the age of eleven my mom felt it was time for us to have “the talk” and since she was a nurse, I was anticipating a rigorous intellectual discussion (and truth be told, an opportunity to show off my knowledge.) To say that conversation didn’t go as planned would be a gross understatement. You see, my mom was embarrassed to discuss puberty and sex with me. She awkwardly showed me pictures from a children’s book called “You’re growing up now” and stumbled over her words – you know what happened after that? I never asked my mom a question on the topic again.
I know talking about sex and children in the same sentence is scary for parents, especially when your children are young, or perhaps even more so as they become teenagers… I get you. Let me give you some background on me. I am a mom of four tweens and teens, the two tweens attend school and the two teenagers are being educated at home. I am a specialist life coach for Teenagers and their Parents as well as a Relationship and Sexuality Educator. I am highly trained and well experienced with a particular interest in the education and protection of children. I am also a trained Protective Behaviours Practitioner. Protective Behaviours is an abuse-proof personal body safety programme focussed on maintaining the child’s innocence, while at the same time teaching them to become aware of their senses to know when situations/people are not safe. It is a wonderfully empowering programme which I have incorporated into my boys workshops, under Boys on the Line (https://www.facebook.com/boysontheline). I have worked with hundreds of tweens and teens and I can assure you, the lack of good knowledge on sex, coupled with the risky sexual experimentation and access to pornography would chill you. It’s a scary world, however, I truly believe all this provides us with a beautiful opportunity to connect with our children and our values.
So, let’s talk about Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) – you’ve seen the petitions and the American videos warning about the NEW CSE.
I’d like to set the record straight and debunk some myths:
- Comprehensive sexuality education has been a part of the South African Life Orientation curriculum since the year 2000 (going on 20 years now) – there is no new curriculum.
- What the Department of Basic Education has done, is redevelop their Scripted Lesson Plans (Educator Guides) to make it easier for teachers to teach the existing content.
- CSE comprises of roughly 8 hours of teaching throughout each school year.
- All the Educator Guides as well as the Learner Books for Grades 4 to 12 have been made available (and free to download) on the department’s website.
- As a parent and responsible citizen, please do read it all here: https://www.education.gov.za/Home/ComprehensiveSexualityEducation.aspx?fbclid=IwAR0GBmY5LFTwMx_yAe4gGFOsgygbeotFZ0ZyxnNhK59Dwqgo0YUCaFKPstw
- Your child will not be taught how to have sex.
Now that we have that out of the way:
Sexual development and curiosity are natural and normal aspects of development. Human anatomy is natural, yet for some reason it became popular to deny our children access to this factual information while at the same time exposing them to our sexualised world (think tv, music, advertisements, etc.). What we’ve ended up with is shame, discomfort and a messed-up vocabulary around the topics of bodies, relationships and sex.
So when should we start educating our children around sexual topics?
Let me start by saying that the old concept of the very awkward, once-off “talk” just doesn’t cut it anymore… instead, what is required is a lifelong conversation based on fact, honesty and respect. I believe that the best place to start sexuality education is in the home, with you as parents. With you as their truthful guides you have the opportunity to discuss family values and prepare your child for the world they will meet. The earlier we educate our children with regard to safety concepts and speak about sexual issues in an age-appropriate manner, the better their chances are of staying sexually safe, and delaying the onset of early sexual experimentation. Parents are so concerned with “too much too early” but in my experience as a practitioner, the bigger concern is “too little too late”. Sexual exposure is everywhere.
With Google at virtually everyone’s fingertips, it has become vital to have these conversations a whole lot earlier than you may have expected – before your child hears it from a friend, is accidentally or intentionally exposed to pornography, or finds their own answers on the internet.
Fun fact: The current age of exposure to pornography has recently been revealed as eight years old (technically, and for perspective that amounts to Grade 2).
I have discussed your guiding your child as the ideal, but the reality worldwide is much different – most parents are avoiding these conversations entirely, relying on a once-off “talk”, or coming to the conversation too late and albeit unintentionally, allowing their children to get information from the world around them. It is in this arena where a curriculum at school becomes so important – yet we have very loud and very angry calls to remove all sexuality education from our curriculum. These calls are simply not taking the best interests of children to heart, neither are they offering sustainable alternatives.
Logic needs to remain – we live in this imperfect world. If you are not talking to your child about sexuality, you’re one of the only people who isn’t. Talking about development and sex doesn’t have to be scary. If you openly and honestly educate and answer your curious toddler’s early questions, you set the tone for an open and trusting relationship with your child, an environment where your child would rather come to you with their questions or to fact check what they have heard from their friends (because believe me, they talk about it.) If you lay these early foundations in trust and in an environment without shame, anything that comes up in their curriculum can then be openly discussed. Those children who don’t have the privilege of a safe environment for conversation with parents, will thankfully have their teachers to count on.
Where does that leave you?
As a parent, stay informed, read through the work your child will be covering in their curriculum, discuss it with your child in a safe and open environment that you create. As a home educator, it is still your responsibility to teach CSE (or a version of it), although this is not enforced by law (as yet.) Stay cool, you’ve got this.
There is no need for the currently exaggerated fear reaction which is largely based on misinformation. Shutting down sexuality education is not the answer – education based on fact and values is empowering and will serve us as a community in raising children with sexual integrity in our society.