Sex education is a topic of great importance. We all agree on that, (or most people anyway), and yet it’s something that scares us. So we leave it to Somebody Else, and like the old children’s story: "If Everybody leaves it for Somebody Else to do, it Never gets done." Or in this case, Some of it gets done, but what is Done is Negative, and It’s not working.
What’s negative about our sex education is that it’s fear-based. We teach our children, and not only our children, about not getting pregnant, about not contracting
The shame and taboo of sex is still there. The embarrassment of talking about sex is still there. And we know it’s not working.
Teenage pregnancy is on the rise. HIV figures are not decreasing and sexual abuse is increasing. More children of 12 years old are having sex. We are failing our children and ourselves in an area of life that we could make a real, noticeable difference.
Why does it scare us to go there?
Because we have to confront ourselves, acknowledge that maybe we don’t know that much about sex ourselves, about our genitals. And it embarrasses us.
So sex education is not just about our kids, it’s educating a society to a new way of being and relating, to new, healthy attitudes about ourselves, other people, our world.
I’m often asked, ‘How do I talk to my kids about sex?’ It’s a simple question with a complex answer that challenges us. Firstly, we have to talk to them openly and honestly, which means no embarrassment, no euphemisms. We can only do this if we’re comfortable with our own sexuality.
Secondly, it means we have to acknowledge our kids as sexual beings, even if they’re asking purely out of curiosity, not an intention to act. (We can hope that they’re not in the growing group of 12 and 13-year-olds having sex, because, of course, ‘my child never would’). Once again it’s always Somebody Else.
Thirdly, the education we offer has to come into line with what they’re seeing in the media, TV, movies etc. - the onslaught they’re exposed to every day. We have to close the gap between old, outdated ideas and the reality they face in the world.
Forums for discussion
Next we have to have open forums for discussion on a range of sexual issues. The people we choose to lead these are important. They need to be open, honest and aware, not fearful or stuck in the past. Their education on sexual topics needs to be clear, not infused with myths and misunderstandings. Then we have to offer sexual alternatives.
Our children are not not going to have sex once they’ve decided to explore, for whatever reason - boredom, excitement, peer pressure, whatever.
We can’t stop them, as much as some people think they can. But if we offer alternatives and look to other sources for education we can make a difference.
Exploring other options
There are other possibilities for sexual exploration than penetration. One example is the Expanded Orgasm technique that involves no penetration, no oral, no swapping bodily fluids, but respect and communication.
I’ve come to see that masturbation is still a big taboo in our society, yet it has many benefits. One of these is that becoming conscious of your own body and pleasure brings a greater sense of ownership of yourself. This leads directly to becoming more responsible of who you allow to do what to you and what the boundaries are.
Then we look to the East, to the Tantric and Toaist traditions. Sex is given its rightful place as an integral and important part of life, with accompanying education. Some of the most important principles these philosophies teach, besides their techniques, are respect, honouring, communication and context.
The opposite from promiscuity
From time to time there have been teenagers at the introductory talks on Tantra that I give. Every one of them has said that they wished all their friends could hear these ideas, it would make their sexual attitudes and actions very different. In South Africa the principles of respect and honouring are vital in light of the incredibly high incidence of rape and abuse.
These ideas are not about fostering a climate of promiscuity, just the opposite. By taking ownership of yourself and your sexuality, with real knowledge, with understanding the importance of emotions and relationships, we create a meaningful context to explore in.
If we can teach our kids to respect themselves more, that will extend into respecting others, our society, our environment, our world…
Sex education is not only about teaching our children how not to get pregnant, it’s about educating ourselves to be happy, fulfilled, pleasured beings.
It’s educating a society and creating a future. - Jonti Searll, sensualist