Hunt: Sex and sexuality are normal, natural parts of life. Children have a right to learn the facts about their bodies and how to be as safe and protected as possible throughout the entirety of their lives. This is why quality, comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive sex education is so incredibly important.
Quality, fact-based, unbiased sex education empowers children to make the most informed and responsible decisions in their lives. Adults have a duty to teach children a sex-positive view so that kids feel no shame and are able to make the healthiest, safest, most responsible choices throughout the entirety of their lives.
Quality, comprehensive sex education teaches children about consent, which is essential, because kids must know that they are autonomous beings who are in control of their own bodies. Children must be taught to respect every other person’s autonomy and others’ personal choices about whether they consent, as well.
Rather than promote fear and ignorance, it is important for us to empower kids with knowledge and facts regarding all potential choices they may make and how to be as safe as possible, no matter what their personal choices may be. Ultimately, comprehensive sex education guides people toward responsible and gratifying relationships and sex throughout their entire lives.
Without comprehensive sex education, children are more inclined to act impulsively out of ignorance, which can result in dangerous and often exploitative behavior. This increases the risk of STIs, unintended pregnancies, rape, and sexual assault.
Without comprehensive sex education, not only are children more likely to have feelings of guilt and shame about their sexuality, but they are also more likely to judge and shame others for their sexuality and personal sexual choices.
We have a duty to educate children with the facts and to communicate to them that sex and sexuality are normal, natural, healthy parts of life. This is important for all of us in society. Comprehensive sex education values the health, safety, protection, and well-being of all children.
Van Buren: What age should parents consider having the sex talk with their kids?
Hunt: Parents should begin talking to their children about sex around age 4. There isn’t just one talk, but rather many conversations about sex and sexuality over time. The conversations should be developmental and should evolve as children grow.
This is similar to how kids don’t learn math in one lesson. They begin with simple addition and subtraction, but as they grow older, they learn more complex math, ultimately learning trigonometry and trying more complex math problems.
From the time babies are born, parents are sending messages to children about sex, whether they realize it or not. It’s important that parents send a message that they are approachable, nonjudgmental, and trustworthy. Children should know that they have no reason to feel shame for their sexuality, and they should feel comfortable asking their parents questions and speaking to them about this normal, natural part of life.
Van Buren: Should the conversation be different for boys verses girls?
Hunt: Absolutely not! Boys and girls need the universal knowledge regarding facts of all of our bodies and sexuality. When we separate genders, we send a message that boys should be ignorant about girls’ bodies & development and vice versa.
It also promotes the idea that there’s something “funny” about the other gender’s body parts, development, and sexuality. It also harmful because it promotes secrecy, which reinforces shame and stigma.
We must teach all children to be comfortable and mature learning about body parts, puberty, sexuality, and sexual health. Additionally, when schools separate the genders for sex education, it places far too much emphasis on one’s gender and can often assume that gender identity and sexual anatomy are the same thing, which they are not.
Van Buren: Is having the talk necessarily giving your child permission to have sex?
Hunt: No. Talking to children about sex and educating them with facts regarding sex and sexuality has nothing to do with “giving kids permission” to have sex. It’s simply about teaching children unbiased facts, educating them on how to be as safe as possible in all circumstances, and explaining that sexuality is a normal, natural part of life.
It’s important that we raise children with a sex-positive view so they don’t feel shame for their own normal, natural sexuality or for their curiosity about sex. Kids need to know that they can trust us to have open, honest conversations about sex and sexuality, without us judging or shaming them.
Also, it’s important to remember that kids are their own autonomous human beings. At some point, they will be in private situations with people they may be romantically or sexually interested in, and they will be the ones to make the decision about whether or not to consent to sex with a consenting partner.
We adults will have no role in children’s ultimate decisions, in those private moments. We won’t be in the room, and they won’t ask us for permission in those moments. It’s important for kids to be as informed as possible about consent, condoms, birth control, and other aspects of healthy sexuality, so that they will be able to make the most responsible and informed decisions possible.
Kids need to be empowered to ultimately make their own choices about whether they’ll consent to sex or not. They are the ones who will be in charge of that decision. No one else gets to make it for them. Scare tactics do not work, and they lead to feelings of shame and guilt, as well as to bullying and judgment of others. Kids need to know that they can trust us to get accurate, honest information about sex and sexuality.
*Erica Van Buren is a multimedia journalist with published work in the St. Louis American, Community News, St. Joseph News Press, the Riverfront Times and Independent News. Check out https://ericavanburen.contently.com/