Sex education may be taught informally, such as when someone receives information from a conversation with a parent, friend, religious leader, or through the media. It may also be delivered through sex self-help authors, magazine advice columnists, sex columnists, or sex education websites. Training can also be provided through multimedia resources. Adolescents spend a lot of their time on social media or watching television. Those same adolescents may also have a hard time talking to their families about sexual matters. A study has shown that mass media interventions; for example, the use of teaching sexual education through commercials shown on television, or ads on social media, have proven effective and decreased the amount of unprotected sex. Formal sex education occurs when schools or health care providers offer sex education. Slyer stated that sex education teaches the young person what he or she should know for his or her conduct and relationship with others. Gruenberg also stated that sex education is necessary to prepare the young for the task ahead. According to him, officials generally agree that some kind of planned sex education is necessary.
Sometimes formal sex education is taught as a full course as part of the curriculum in junior high school or high school. Other times it is only one unit within a more broad biology, health, home economics, or physical education class. Some schools offer no sex education since it remains a controversial issue in several countries, particularly the United States (especially about the age at which children should start receiving such education, the amount of detail that is revealed, including LGBT sex education, and topics dealing with human sexual behavior, e.g. safe sex practices, masturbation, premarital sex, and sexual ethics).
Wilhelm Reich commented that sex education of his time was a work of deception, focusing on biology while concealing excitement-arousal, which is what a pubescent individual is mostly interested in. Reich added that this emphasis obscures what he believed to be a basic psychological principle: that all worries and difficulties originate from unsatisfied sexual impulses. Leepson asserted that the majority of people favor some sort of sex instruction in public schools, and this has become an intensely controversial issue because, unlike most subjects, sex education is concerned with an especially sensitive and highly personal part of human life. He suggested that sex education should be taught in the classroom. The problem of pregnancy in adolescents is delicate and difficult to assess using sex education. But Calderone[who?] believed otherwise, stating that the answer to adolescents’ sexual woes and pregnancy can not lie primarily in school programs which at best can only be remedial; what is needed is prevention education, and as such parents should be involved.
When sex education is contentiously debated, the chief controversial points are whether covering child sexuality is valuable or detrimental; whether LGBT sex education should be integrated into the curriculum; the use of birth control such as condoms and hormonal contraception; and the impact of such use on pregnancy outside marriage, teenage pregnancy, and the transmission of STIs. Increasing support for abstinence-only sex education by conservative groups has been one of the primary causes of this controversy. Countries with conservative attitudes towards sex education (including the UK and the U.S.) have a higher incidence of STIs and teenage pregnancy.
Sex education isn’t a single tell-all discussion. Instead, take advantage of everyday opportunities to discuss sex.
If there’s a pregnancy in the family, for example, tell your child that babies grow in a special place inside the mother called the uterus. If your child wants more details on how the baby got there or how the baby will be born, provide those details.
Consider these examples:
- How do babies get inside a mommy’s tummy? You might say, “A mom and a dad make a baby by holding each other in a special way.”
- How are babies born? For some kids, it might be enough to say, “Doctors and nurses help babies who are ready to be born.” If your child wants more details, you might say, “Usually a mom pushes the baby out of her vagina.”
- Why doesn’t everyone have a penis? Try a simple explanation, such as, “Boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies are made differently.”
- Why do you have hair down there? Simplicity often works here, too. You might say, “Our bodies change as we get older.” If your child wants more details, add, “Boys grow hair near their penises, and girls grow hair near their vaginas.”
As your child matures and asks more-detailed questions, you can provide more-detailed responses. Answer specific questions using correct terminology.
Even if you’re uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you’re setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come.