What do you know?
It seems like an ironic juxtaposition of events: As educators, parents and a variety of advocate groups seek to take on the Ontario government to reinstate an updated health curriculum created through consultation with many different individuals and groups, news of sexual indiscretions by Catholic clergy comes to light. Information and commentary about these two circumstances have been a constant presence on my news feed throughout this summer. This post highlights initial thoughts about the former situation. A vital thread connecting these two moments in time are the questions: to what extent and at what point should children learn the details about their private parts.
It is interesting that we have no problem singing songs that help teach kids names of parts of the body – head and shoulders, knees and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Some, however, get a bit squeamish when it comes to teaching the proper names for private parts and instead use euphemisms. Doing so, some believe, helps to maintain the innocence of children.
The challenge, however, is that these euphemisms are not universal. What happens when, following an uncomfortable situation, a child reports that someone wants to play with their ‘dinky’ or take their ‘cookie’? This language can be easily misinterpreted by other adults leaving the child vulnerable to abuse.
Of course, learning the proper for genitalia is only one part of the solution. As this article highlights, it is also important to give children agency over their own bodies. Children need to know that they can set boundaries and that body secrets are not OK. They need to have the tools to say no when they are faced with an uncomfortable situation and know that they won’t get in trouble if they tell a trusted adult about a problematic encounter.
These are conversations that can and should happen at home. There have been many nights when dinner conversation around our table included frank discussions about sexuality from a very early age. Having a kid who could read at age 4 and a parent who worked in the sexual health and social justice research lab at the University of Windsor, meant that some questions came up. As one common story is told, I was asked: “what is a condom?” after my six year old had read the word on some interviews I was reviewing. I responded in an age appropriate way and have continued to respond to questions ever since.
I am grateful that my kid has felt comfortable asking questions about sexuality and sex. At times, so much so, that some of the questions actually came from friends. Having a comprehensive sexual health curriculum can be helpful in ensuring that all children and young people have the tools they need to navigate their own sexual journeys in healthy ways. This has proved evident in the Netherlands, where such education has contributed to lower rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among teens.
Still, the topic remains controversial. Thus, we would love to hear your thoughts. At what point did you learn the proper names for your genitalia? Do feel that you were adequately educated about sexual health in school and/or at home? To what extent do you talk about sexual health with your children? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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