All About Sex: How Things Change

I’ve never understood America’s strange reluctance to discuss sex with each other or their kids. While doing research for a WIP, I came across an interesting site. The page starts out this way:

Sex education, as it is understood today, was unknown until about 200 years ago. In ancient and medieval Europe sex was seen as an integral part of life, not as a separate, problematical issue which needed special study. Sexual knowledge was acquired spontaneously together with all other kinds of knowledge. Children did not live in a “protected” world of their own, but took part in virtually all adult work and leisure activities. Since the majority of the population lived on farms close to nature, boys and girls had ample opportunity to observe the mating of animals. Indeed, it was not uncommon for people to share their house with their cattle. Neither the highest nor the lowest social classes enjoyed much personal privacy, but there was also no squeamishness or embarrassment about the natural bodily functions. Families were used to bathing and sleeping together in the nude. Courtships and pregnancies were discussed openly, and women gave birth to their babies at home. The “facts of life” were never a secret to anyone, and as soon as they reached puberty, both males and females were considered ready for marriage.

While I don’t think sharing a house with cows is advisable, I don’t see the harm in children growing up cognizant of sex. Being open about it would teach them it’s part of life and nothing to be nervous or afraid of. 

I am not advocating children engage in sex at a young age, only that they be told about it and its place in life. Neither do I think parents should demonstrate the act for them. ;/ But keeping it hidden and not speaking of it turns sex into a mysterious, darkly compelling thing they can’t wait to explore. We all desperately want to know about a thing no one talks about. The continuing Puritan attitude in America is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

In the U.S. the most successful of these new crusaders was Anthony Comstock, the secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock had begun his career as a fighter against the “demon alcohol”, but later devoted his life to the eradication of “obscenity”. With his slogan “Morals, not Art or Literature”, he set out to prevent the dissemination of sexual knowledge and to end all public discussion of sexual matters. His intense lobbying efforts persuaded Congress in 1873 to pass the so-called Comstock Act, which made it a felony to mail any “obscene, lewd or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, writing, paper, or other publication of an ‘indecent character’ “. Comstock himself was made a special agent of the Post Office. This gave him the right to open other people’s mail, and soon he was able to establish a veritable reign of puritanical terror.

Gee, makes me glad I wasn’t alive back then.

… in the second half of the 19th century, most Western nations were gripped by an unprecedented prudery. Ignorance and hypocrisy carried the day, and thus many hard-won civil liberties were quickly surrendered. The phenomenon is, of course, also known as Victorianism, after the English Queen Victoria, whose reign fell into this period. Still, we have to realize that the sexual repression was international. England and the United States were neither better nor worse than other countries.

Like everything we are taught, sex is filtered through the standard of the day. If your parents practice a religion that decries sex as filthy and something only animals should do, then that’s what you’re going to learn.

It’s knowledge that will keep your kids safe. We might be living longer, but puberty happens in the teens, just like always, and if you don’t teach your children how to handle that sudden overpowering drive, bad shit’s gonna happen. Preaching celibacy and turning a blind eye will only get you unwanted babies and ruined lives.

We’re all familiar with the “condom over the banana” device used in some sex ed classes, but if condoms aren’t being passed out along with the visual, what’s gonna keep semen from meeting egg? If I thought a child of mine was ready to be sexually active, I wouldn’t hesitate to get them contraception (to prevent pregnancy) and condoms (to prevent STD transmission). They’re gonna do it anyway. Why not make sure they do it responsibly?

Over the years, this sexual ignorance exacted a horrible price from society in the form of unhappy marriages, unwanted children, and wasted lives. Its full cost in human suffering will, of course, never be known. Still, at the end of the 19th century, at least some of this suffering was so obvious that it simply could no longer be overlooked. An ever growing number of men and women became nervous, depressed, or even physically ill because of their sexual problems, and any treatment remained ineffective until these problems were recognized.

It’s a fascinating read. Go here to access it.

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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15 Responses to All About Sex: How Things Change

  1. cindyls1969 says:

    I agree with this completely. That being said, sitting down with my eleven year old and talking about sex is still an activity that causes me to sweat buckets. But, I encourage her questions and hope like hell that the answers I give her are enough information that she can put off finding out for herself for a little while longer.

  2. A.M.B. says:

    As a parent, I take a similar view with my children (which I discussed a little in my post about “sloth sex,” here: http://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/is-the-childrens-book-adorable-or-lewd-and-unsuitable-for-small-children/). My oldest are only 5 and haven’t asked any questions, but, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, we are ready to answer their questions and tell them information in an age-appropriate way. Also, my children will go to a school district that provides comprehensive sexuality education (not an abstinence-only program).

    • That’s good about the school, but do your kids know they can ask you about sex? Because our culture is so inundated with mixed messages, prudery, and fear about that topic, kids soon pick up on it and hold back, keeping questions to themselves because they don’t want to rock the boat or make you feel uncomfortable.

  3. Kate Aaron says:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying, although I’d have to disagree on the received wisdom of the prudish Victorians! If there’s one thing I learnt studying them, the Victorians were responsible for a huge /increase/ in discourses around sex and sexuality, as Foucault noted long before me 🙂

    Here in the UK, sex education (when I was in school) began at 10 or 11, although I believe it’s younger now. While the system still ain’t perfect, it’s better than kids learning what they think is the truth about sex in the playground.

    • It’s been a while since I was in high school, so I don’t know where they are right now with sex ed. I’m also guessing the schools up north are more liberal about such classes than those in the southern states, but I’m only guessing.

      If you had a daughter and she came to you at, say 15, and said she was ready for sex, how would you handle that? Would you get her contraception or try to makes her wait?

      • Kate Aaron says:

        Well I’d probably try to dissuade her. Firstly, it’s still illegal at 15. Secondly, accidents happen however careful you are. The rest comes down to her emotional maturity: some people are ready for sex at 15, some people aren’t ready at 25, any age of consent is essentially arbitrary. But I’m not naive enough to assume that my hypothetical daughter would listen to her old mum nagging her, so I’d make sure she knew what was available to her in terms of protection (against both pregnancy and STIs) and hope I’d educated her enough that 1. She’d be sensible if she did have sex, and 2. She’d come to me if there was anything she wanted to ask, or anything went wrong. I think that’s about all any parent can do.

        • Hormones don’t care about legality. A friend of mine had a 15-yr old daughter (she’s 18 now). I listened to this kid sit at the breakfast counter talking about how much she wanted a little baby while the friend ignored her.

          It was clear as a bell what she was telling her mother, who was putting away groceries and chattering as if hearing nothing serious. She was pregnant within months.

          1. Mom wasn’t listening to her kid. Me, a relative strange to that girl, heard her loud and clear.
          2. She had to drop out of school because of the pregnancy and get her GED later.
          3. Mom ended up doing most of the child-rearing while daughter resumed her interrupted party time.
          4. Father was nowhere to be found.

          I’d have had that kid on birth control pills within the week. You can’t ignore an announcement like that and hope it will go away.

  4. HBIC says:

    If your kids are in a house with a tv, a supermarket with magazine covers (not talking porn, just gossip rags and such), if they listen to radios, or if they have any contact with other kids who do any of the above then you need to be ready to discuss sex with them. Extra ready, in fact because you want to make sure they’re getting accurate, non-sensationalized information whenever possible.

    We are surrounded by sexual references these days; it’s ludicrous to think we can keep them completely in the dark. We actually had “the talk” with my oldest but have decided to keep things more casual with the younger ones – answering questions when they have them, explaining things as they show interest, etc.

    • Sex is everywhere, but it’s not always presented in a healthy way. The habit of pre-teen girls wearing makeup and tottering around like tiny hookers is disconcerting, to say the least. My kid would hate me because I’d never allow that. They grow up so fast already. AJ’s sister has a couple of kids I run into now and again. They’re at fun ages right now, where everything is still a discovery.

  5. diannegray says:

    So Comstock is the culprit! 😉 I’m glad I wasn’t around in those days either.

    I was always open with my kids about sex when they were young and they knew they could come to me and ask me anything (not that I always had the answer – particularly with the boys!) I don’t have grandchildren (yet) and they all seem to be in healthy relationships. But I don’t like how the media portrays young girls with high heels and make-up and then everyone wonders why they grow up unhappy and generally discontent with life. But I guess ‘unhealthy body image’ is for another post 😉

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