What comes to mind when you hear “sex ed”? I’m guessing that for many of us, it brings up a “birds and the bees” conversation and/or an awkward day or two in a junior high/middle school health class taught by a gym teacher. I do remember the latter but I don’t recall ever having the former. (I do remember some kind of kids health/anatomy book which our family had which contained a couple of pages explaining reproduction via illustrations of machines.)
I’ve heard several people saying how sexuality is about more than intercourse. I’ve heard it’s what drives us to connect with others. (Some even consider it the creative force in our lives.) This makes some sense but also not entirely. It seems we can have good relationships with family and friends but that these aren’t sexually satisfying. I don’t want to say sexuality is entirely unrelated, because we are sexual beings in whatever relationships we are in. Yet we don’t have in what we at least normally think of as sexual engagement in most of our relationships.
I’ve heard that good sex education comes in the form of small conversations over the years as a child grows up rather than a one time “birds and bees” conversation. But what is there to go over? If you think about sex ed as just explaining the mechanics of intercourse, then it doesn’t appear there is more to it. However, there is more.
I recently learned about a way of viewing this aspect of our being called the circles of sexuality. This helped me to better understand various aspects of sexuality. I want to share this with you (in no particular order).
First, there’s the biological aspects of sexuality in the Sexual & Reproductive Health Circle. To begin with, there are the physical body parts of sex which distinguish male and female. (This is something which can be taught to even fairly young children.) After this comes an explanation of the physical act of sex which can lead to pregnancy. Female’s monthly cycle as well as pregnancy and child birth are also items to learn about. STI’s, contraception, and abortion are included in this circle as well. (Certainly there are differing views on many aspects of sexuality, and the latter is an example of how controversial they may be. But whatever one’s views, these are things which children need to be taught about. One can teach their children their values along with teaching them what these things are.)
The next circle is Intimacy. This involves teaching children about relationships, feelings of closeness, trust, vulnerability, etc. This is certainly applicable to “romantic”/sexual partners but also applies to other relationships in general. (It is not healthy to expect one person to meet all of our relational needs; we need good relationships beyond a sexual/”romantic” partner as well.)
Another circle is Sensuality. This, as I understand it, has to do with pleasure and how and what we find stimulates our senses in a pleasing way. This also has to do with how we feel about our bodies and physical touch of ourselves and others.
Next we come to Sexualization. This has to do with initiating sexual engagement with others. On the appropriate end of sexual expression is learning about flirting and sexual attractiveness. It is also important to teach actions which are wrong and harmful including harassment and rape. Consent would clearly be an important topic in this circle.
The last circle is that of Sexual Identity. This includes concepts of gender, gender roles, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
I won’t claim that the circles of sexuality are comprehensive or that they couldn’t be organized in different ways. The circles themselves aren’t the important thing. Again for me, I found it helpful in terms of considering the breadth of topics which will need to be covered for comprehensive sexual education. And I can see how these things can be taught a bit at a time throughout a child’s life.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe I received a good sexual education growing up. This is why I’m still trying to figure some of these things out. My impression is that many if not most people receive inadequate sex education. This is unfortunate because as I understand it, good sex ed leads to healthier sexual choices in teens and young adults, including delaying sexual engagement, healthier boundaries and experiences, and lower rates of STI’s and abortions. Additionally, poor sexual education is one of the factors behind pornography use. And as many people will attest, pornography is poor sex education at best, and in many ways completely unrealistic and misleading.
People have unfortunately felt uncomfortable, awkward, and even unable to discuss the topic of sex and sexuality. This has especially been true in religious communities where it has either been taboo—not addressed at all—or has effectively only been taught from a negative point of view. Hopefully moving forward, we can learn to address these topics in a much healthier way.