The other day, I was waiting in the media room at school for my movie class to start. I say class, but what it involves is sitting with a dozen children and watching half an hour of a Disney movie. Every week. Twice in one day. Love My Job.
Anyway, my class hadn’t turned up because they were still in the gym listening to a talk by a visiting speaker. The media room windows look into the gym, so I sat down on an infant-sized chair and peered in to see what was happening.
I saw a woman with dolls on the stage. I couldn’t understand anything she was saying, of course, or read any of the colourful signs she held up, but the kids seemed spellbound. I listened as carefully as I could, but I was only able to recognise a word here and there… mummy, daddy, love, tummy, baby… hmm… hang on… yes, this was a sex education talk. To five- and six-year-olds. I was instantly as attentive as the children.
First of all, I didn’t receive a sex education class until I was 12 or 13. And by then, we already knew everything anyway, but from all the wrong sources – TV, movies, teen magazines, playground chatter, the problem pages of our grannies’ Take A Breaks. No one had ever ‘officially’ spoken to us about sex, so when we became aware of it, we logically assumed that it must be this really bad thing – otherwise why would the grown-ups of the world have kept it hidden from us? It was obviously bad, dirty, wrong, taboo. Sex education classes were both embarrassing and hilarious. We knew that this was a horrible, dirty subject, and here was a respectable teacher talking to us about it! We giggled every time she said ‘penis’, and she looked uncomfortable as she stumbled through the lesson.
Secondly, our eventual sex education only covered the topic from a strictly biological viewpoint. It described the physical act for the purpose of procreation. And they threw in a sentence about using condoms to prevent pregnancy. And that was that. I was left wondering why on earth anyone would engage in such an activity unless they really, really wanted to have a baby. It sounded unnatural, embarrassing, and mechanical. Why on earth would you do it and use something that would prevent it from doing the very thing that it was intended to do? And yet I can just see the Head’s face if someone had suggested teaching about the concept of sex as a pleasurable and/or emotional activity, an act of love.
Anyway, here I was watching a bunch of children who can’t even blow their own noses listening to a sex education talk, with visual aids, which described not only the physical process, but also the connection to love, attraction, pleasure, and even the more unpleasant aspects, like sexual abuse. Just shows you how well done it was when I managed to follow all that without understanding the language of the talk!
I’m very impressed. The children aren’t really old enough to have heard about sex from anywhere else and formed opinions like the ones my friends and I had by the time we were 12. To them, it’s not something to be embarrassed or giggly about. It’s not taboo, it’s not dirty, it’s not a secret. They’re being taught it as a new topic, and in an informal, child-friendly way that doesn’t bombard them with biological terms without explanations. Hopefully, sex will never have the mysterious, secretive, shrouded-in-mystery image that it seems to have for children in the west. It will just be a fact of life, and one that can be discussed as openly as maths homework or favourite foods.
Yes, I’m impressed – now that I’ve had time to think about it. As I watched the talk, however, I was just helpless with laughter. All those tiny little figures seated on the floor, watching as a woman stripped some cute-looking but anatomically accurate dolls of their clothes and pointed out all their parts – pubic hair and all! – before showing exactly what happens on the wedding night. I nearly fell off my chair at this point. It was like a weird cartoon sex show (plus I could see the reactions of the shy lady Korean teachers in the gym).
By the time the girl doll gave birth to a baby doll, I had forgotten all about my Disney movie!