Both of my boys' sex education started at home, around the time they were toddlers. When they began to notice that some people had penises while others (ummm, like their mom) didn't, it led to other questions about private parts, sex, gender and more. We looked at kid-friendly picture books on the subject, discussed consent and body safety, and even touched upon sexual pleasure (including the fact that playing with your penis is fine, but it should not happen at the dinner table).
If you think I’m bonkers to have gone there at such an early age, I get that. It's definitely not a comfortable topic for all parents. But even experts agree with me on this one. The Academy of American Pediatrics, for example, stresses that you can begin having the "sex talk" with your child as young as 18 months and continue the conversation over the years as the topic gets more specific and complex.
I would take things a step further and say that not only should parents begin this conversation early, but schools should begin to tackle the subject as well—even as early as preschool or kindergarten.
If we want to teach our kids acceptance about sex, bodies, as well address important topics like consent and body safety, we need to start when they are young.
This doesn't mean that a kindergarten teacher should show students how to slip a condom on a model of a penis or anything like that. It's more about having open conversations about how bodies work and teaching young children important lessons about consent and body autonomy. And with the instances of molestation and sexual abuse at frighteningly high rates, even for our youngest kids, body safety is something that all kids should be taught at early ages.
Think about it: It's much easier to talk about sexuality and sex with young children than it is to talk about the same subjects with hormonal teens who likely want nothing to do with the subject (at least from the mouths of grown-ups). Why not lay the foundation when kids are young and less prone to embarrassment?
Shockingly, in America, fewer than half of all schools are required to teach sex education at all. Yep, you read that right. But get this: In the Netherlands, sex education is a requirement taught to all kids, starting as young as 4 years old. There's even an entire week dedicated to sex education and sexuality (and its connection to respect, intimacy and safety) in the Netherlands called Spring Fever.
"By law, all primary school students in the Netherlands must receive some form of sexuality education," explains PBS in an article on the subject. "The system allows for flexibility in how it's taught. But it must address certain core principles—among them, sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness."
And if you still think this whole thing is totally off-the-wall, you've got to check out some of the stats coming out of the Netherlands. Teens in the Netherlands don't actually have sex earlier than other teens. And when they do have sex, they have a high compliance rate with birth control (9 out of 10 teens used it the first time they had sex). Not only that, but they have one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. In fact, it's five times lower than the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S.
The truth is, if we want to teach our kids acceptance about sex, bodies, as well address important topics like consent and body safety, we need to start when they are young. And the responsibility can't rest solely on parents. Schools should be stepping up to the plate too. It's proven to work, and it just makes sense.