Sex Education—Not My Job
Sex education is back in the news in Utah as the legislature grapples with the problem of rising rates of teen STD and pregnancy and a health curriculum that while technically allowing teachers to mention condoms puts them in legal limbo if they do so.
Forty years ago when sex ed was being introduced into American schools, I sided with the view that teaching children about reproduction was a parents’ sacred duty which the schools had no business usurping. My own mother had certainly been open with me about my baby brother growing in her stomach when I was eight. Unfortunately, she did not live long enough for me to ask her how the baby got into her stomach. I never thought to ask girl friends about the process. What would they know? Some of them still believed in Santa Claus for crying out loud.
So, I posed the question to my grandmother who was born in 1888 and probably believed the stork story until her marriage and first pregnancy. She tried the “plant the seed” phrase and I asked how. Her eyes refused to meet mine. She started, stopped, then stammered, “Haven’t you seen dogs jumping onto other dogs backs?” I hadn’t. Finally, poor Grandma blurted out that the father sticks his peter inside the mother’s weewee. With a gasp of horror, I bolted into my bedroom and slammed the door shut. I sat on the side of my bed staring at the regal photo of Queen Elizabeth II in coronation finery taped on my wall. People must want babies really bad to do that. Later I remembered hearing women talk about being surprised to find they were pregnant and wondered if there was some other way. Nobody could do what Grandma said and not remember.
But I was not Grandma. With my college education and the wisdom of being a parent for almost a year, I voted against our district incorporating sex ed into the health curriculum. Forty years and five kids later, I say let the schools do it. They couldn’t possibly make a bigger mess of it than I did!
When the time came to talk about the birds and the bees, what sounded so easy when the kids were babies turned out to be as complex as creating dinner from a Julia Child cookbook. Pet rabbits gave our older kids a visual on rodent reproduction. Since they asked no questions, I assumed they transferred that information to humans. But we ate the rabbits before the younger kids noticed bunny bliss.
One day I noticed my younger daughters pretending their dolls kissed their husbands and babies popped from their stomachs. They needed instruction. Our children’s encyclopedia did not have a section on human reproduction, but it did have a full color section on cats. The girls nodded solemnly as I showed them the pictures and diagrams of a cat’s reproductive system and the journey of the sperm to meet the egg, then went back to the game of the dolls kissing their husbands and babies popping from their stomachs.
My instruction worsened as the kids entered adolescence. A friend said she gave her kids a talk about sex before their first date. She presented a scenario about a date placing a hand on their inner thigh and asked what they would do. I admired her effort, but somehow I never found a way to work the topic of a hand on the thigh into a conversation with any of my kids.
Call me a prude, but discussing my children’s potential sex lives had the same chilling effect on me as imagining my own parents’ sex life. I’m afraid my parental advice boiled down to something like, “Don’t do it until you’re married.” George was no help. He promised to talk to our sons, but never did. “They’ll figure it out” was his attitude. And I guess they will. So far two of them have given us grandchildren.
Sex Education—Not My Job