Thursday, 26 November 2015

Mummy… What’s a Prostitute?

The moment many parents dread - the uncomfortable sex question that makes you squirm and comment on how lovely the weather is outside.
 
It all started out with an innocent discussion about the TV series ‘Once Upon A Time’, in which the actor Robert Carlyle is cast as Rumpelstiltskin. My daughter adores this show and reads countless bits of information about the characters and the actors who play them. She perked up with a fact she thought might interest me – ‘Mummy, did you know that Rumpelstiltskin is in Trainspotting?’ – I did know, Trainspotting is one of my favourite films, so I knew the next question was coming – ‘What’s it about?’
 
‘Well there’s drugs, baby death, HIV, sex, prostitution, underage sex, fighting, swearing, plenty of things I don’t think you’d like very much.’
 
You can now imagine where the question from the title of this post came from…

I don’t like to hide anything from my kids. While I don’t make it my mission to expose them to everything the world has to offer, I believe that questions about sex should be answered honestly and in a manner the child can understand. When the prostitute question arose, I answered that it was a person who had sex with people for money and that this is illegal in the UK. She was satisfied with the answer, but it got me wondering about when the best time is to teach children about sex? How much should be taught in school and how much should be left to the parent?


After talking to several people at work about this, I found that there was a huge difference in the levels of sex education we received when we were all at school. While I was taught about the ‘basics’ in primary school and a little about ‘safe sex’ in high school, one colleague mentioned that he attended a religious school, where sex ed was completely absent from the curriculum. At another extreme, a Channel 4 documentary, aired earlier this year, aimed to teach a group of 15-16 year olds about a new kind of sex education. The show, ‘Sex in Class’, featured a mix of boys and girls as they were taught more about their own bodies, sexual relationships and what to expect from sexual relationships.
 
There have been articles in the past which have linked a lack of sex education - or the right kind of sex ed – to higher rates of teen pregnancy when compared with the rest of Europe. I often wonder if access to better education about sex and relationships would have prevented me from becoming a teen parent. When it comes to the future of my daughter, I am always conscious that she should not suffer the same fate. While I could never be disappointed in her, I worry that I may not be able to provide the same level of emotional and financial support my parents provided for me.
 
Although my daughter is still young, I believe it is important to remove the embarrassment associated with discussing sex at an early age. Next year, she will encounter her first lessons in sex ed and I want her to be prepared. She knows what sex is and where babies come from and we have also discussed what to expect as her body changes. I’m happy to discuss relationships in more detail, but only when she is a little older. I’ve dealt with my own embarrassment, but I suspect many others still struggle, a fact confirmed when suffering through a rather noisy screening of ’Fifty Shades of Grey’!
 
My intention with this post is not to criticise the education system, or other parents for that matter. There are many other approaches for discussing sex with children, I just hope my own childhood experiences can help in guiding my choices as a mother. 
 
Parenting is a journey that doesn’t come with a map, only stories from past travellers.
 
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12 comments

  1. Obligatory "I'm not a parent, but..." disclaimer here, but I think you've got it absolutely spot on. And I think that children are always old enough to hear honest answers to the questions they're ready to ask, albeit in an age-appropriate way.

    I also went to a Catholic school, so my sex education consisted of one booklet's worth of biological stuff and then a talk in fifth year by a woman from a natural family planning association. Condoms, we were told categorically, don't work. I suspect the girl in the class who was already a mother by that stage appreciated the advice.

    Lis / last year's girl x

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    1. Thanks for the comment, glad you agreed :) I think it's a shame that there is such a variety in what is taught across different schools. While I'm sure everyone means well with different approaches, it would be great to have some consistency :)

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  2. Haha ... omg I'm dreading this conversation with our daughter... but I think its so important!! I wish my parents had've prepared me more for the reality of it all. It's such a big part of life and relationships now we need to arm our children with realistic ideals and information. Great Post!!

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    1. I just remember asking my Grandma what tampons were and being really embarrassed, I don't want my daughter feeling she can't come to me :)

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  3. Actually laughed out loud at 'Rumplestiltskin was in Trainspotting' - does she know he was in The Full Monty, too? :D

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    1. Yeah, although she's never asked to watch it :)

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  4. My oldest is 2.5. We live in a pretty rough neighborhood. I started teaching her the anatomically correct names for body parts pretty much as soon as she started learning words. I feel like knowing her body is the first step toward protecting herself. (Though, I'm doing all I can to protect her too! But, I know I'm not able to protect her from everything.) When I gave her the words for "anus", "urethra", and "vagina" all she came away with was that she has 3 "holes". Shortly after teaching her those terms she ended up with a really bad diaper rash and a yeast infection. :_( Poor baby. She kept telling me "don't touch my hole!" every time I wiped her and put on the Desitin cream. That made me chuckle a bit. But we talked about mommy helping change her diapers, and occasionally doctors helping her stay well, and how she was right to be careful of her "hole". I also helped guide her in cleaning herself up as much as possible, so that it was her taking care of her body, not just mommy. There is so much still to learn. But, I'm trying to give her the basic building blocks, so when it gets to the mechanics of how things work she'll already be familiar with a lot of the correct vocabulary.

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    1. Sounds like you're doing a fantastic job! It's funny to hear the words kids come out with, but it's also great to hear they are learning about their bodies before there's any chance of getting embarrassed :)

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  5. My daughter is 11 and in the midst of sex education at public school. I ve tried very hard to have open communication with her because my own mother was never open to discussion. I still remember the only time sex was discussed openly in health class when I was in 6th grade..it was on page 82 of our text book. And that was the end of my own education. I am hoping hers lasts a little longer and is more informative than the one page. Kudos to you for answering the tough questions.

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    1. It's a shame that so much is missed out of the education system, hopefully things have changed a bit since we were at school :)

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  6. Okay this entry is "unique" to say the least I am not sure how I would react if a child asked me what a prostitute was though I am not a parent so maybe I am not the best to judge this but I think you did a great job of dealing with it Elanor she was bound to find out eventually and this saves her from being confused :)

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    1. Thanks Dan, I try not to hide things from her if she asks a direct question, it's easier that way :)

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