There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 5th Grade
What I Want to Know Is …
Why does getting married cause babies? Can boys have periods? Can you get pregnant before you have periods? Do guys get sterile from using all their sperm? What are birth control pills? How does sex give you AIDS? What's a wet dream?
These questions were asked by an average group of 5th graders during a sex education class. Some questions may surprise you, appearing rather simplistic. You're thinking, "Surely 5th graders know that!" Others shock you. "I can't believe they asked that—in 5th grade?!"
You'd be amazed at how much 5th graders have heard about sex, and how little they really know. It can put parents in an awkward position. On one hand, they frequently assume (incorrectly) that children understand far more than they actually do. Consequently, many overlook the sexuality basics, neglecting to pass them on to their children. On the other hand, mom and dad may hold back on more explicit sexual issues, assuming (again incorrectly) that "5th graders don't need to know such things."
The reality is, children are bombarded with sexual messages from friends, TV, movies, songs, the Internet. Many messages are inaccurate, perhaps irresponsible, even exploitive; a few may be factual; typically none contain the values you want your child to learn. Is it any wonder 10-year-olds ask sexually simplistic AND explicit questions?
The best way to ensure that your child receives accurate, value based sexuality education is for you to be the primary provider. This is not to suggest that sex education doesn't belong in schools. On the contrary, many excellent school-based programs exist (and for some students, these programs are their only source of factual information). But these programs need to be viewed in conjunction with, not in place of, parent-child communication about sex. A home/school partnership is ideal.
Don't be discouraged if you've had little open discussion about sex with your child. It's never too late to begin. Perhaps your reluctance was due to embarrassment, uncertainty, fear, or maybe you were simply unaware of the need.
Whatever the reason, you might begin by acknowledging that to your child … something like, "you know, sexuality has always been a hard subject for me to talk about. I do think it's important and want to answer your questions, to listen to your concerns and views. I also want to share with you my values around sexuality."
You needn't hold a formal session. In fact, the more informal, the better—you'll both feel more comfortable. Take advantage of naturally occurring "teachable moments"—a magazine article about teenage pregnancy, a news report on HIV/AIDS, a local program on sexual abuse. These are wonderful discussion starters. If your child has not begun experiencing the changes of puberty, surely some of her friends have. This is a perfect issue to address with 5th graders, since typically they have many questions and fears about it.
There are all kinds of opportunities and sexually related topics, if only you're open to them. And remember to address those issues you assumed were too advanced. As witnessed by the sampling of questions, children have bits and pieces of hearsay, a lot of confusion, and an abundance of curiosity about sex. A good rule is to explain what you think they want to know—and more.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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