Nothing seems to get people more hot under the collar than the subject of sex education for Children. At what age do we tell children where babies come from and how they are made. There is currently a row about whether telling kids the biological facts at age 5 or 6 is too young. At what age do you have "that talk". I went to a Roman Catholic primary school and was told aged 10. That was probably about the right age. I must say that I didn't really care. I couldn't foresee a situation where my parents would do such a thing so I assumed it happened when you were asleep. Given that the British use the phrase "going to bed with someone", it all seemed to make perfect sense and I guess this was even more validated by my first wet dream.
As to when the real picture began to emerge, that happened over the next 2-3 years when I started to notice strange things happening when I saw attractive girls on busses and in conversation with mates who had elder brothers (who unlike mine hadn't left home). When I was 13 or 14 our biology teacher gave us a lesson where he tried to impart some more usefull information about sex. He told us about VD and how it was transmitted and about contraception. He told us how he'd had sex and shortly after a scab came up in a rather private place. He said how he'd prudently been to the doctor and been told it was unrelated, but this was the sensible thing to do. After that I found him rather hard to take seriously. I guess when I was about 22 a whole new aspect to sex emerged. Up until then it had simply been about fun, babies and VD. All of a sudden AIDS raised it's nasty head. All of a sudden sex became deadly.
I first heard of it through my sister, who was a nurse living in the USA. She told me that there was this terrible illness, that nobody knew what the cause was that was killing all of the gay's in LA and San Franscico. Not being gay and not living in America, I wasn't too concerned. As we all know, there was far more to it than that. Within a couple of years, Mrs Thatcher and her government gave us wall to wall public health advertising and we all knew about AIDS. There was the advert with the Iceberg. Then Richard Branson, always quick to spot an opportunity to get his name in the public eye, launched the Mates range of condoms. By the time AIDS really became an issue, I was in stable relationship, so in a lot of ways it has passed me by.
I guess that I could say the fairly minimalist sex education I had worked pretty well. I've never had VD and I had my kids at a time of my choosing. To be honest though, I think that is probably more to do with the fact that I'm attracted to women who are quite sensible about such things, than any great effort on my part. I read all of the debates in the press and I am struck by the lack of common sense in all of the discussions. When I was 18 I went to live in Stockholm for a while. The Swedish have a completely different attitude to public health. On my first day in Stockholm, I visited the Culture Centre at T-Centralen station. On walking in I was greeted by a huge montage of breast. Some of these were quite shapely, some were a bit saggy, but for every two pictures of a nice pair of breasts, there was one of a horribly mutilated pair, with scars and horrible bruising. Now not reading Swedish, I couldn't see what this was all about, but assumed some sort of Tracy Emin style modern artist had put it there to shock. When I got back and discussed it with my then girlfriend, she looked at me like I was an idiot. "That is a public health awareness exhibition. It shows the breasts before the mastectomy, immediately after, and then following plastic surgery, it is there to show women that they need not fear that the surgery will permanently mutilate them". I quickly discovered that sex education in Sweden was light years ahead of the UK. Unfortunately this didn't mean I was ravished by sex crazed women everywhere. It actually meant that people were able to conduct relationships a bit more sensibly than teenagers in the UK seemed to.
I discussed this with my Swedish friends and they could not believe that the UK was so far behind. It seems with some Roman Catholic schools refusing to administer the HPV vaccine, we are still stuck in an outmoded way of thinking.
I honestly don't know what is a good age to start, but by the time a child is 14, I think it is essential to know all of the facts. This includes the mechanics of the act, the risks, the responsibilities. I think that it should be taught in a framework of morality. This is not because I think any teenagers will necessarily listen, but because I think it is important that teenagers learn self worth. If they want to be promiscuous and sleep around, that is a decision they are perfectly capable of making. I think that it is far better for society if sex is generally conducted within the framework of a stable relationship. This is especially true for teenagers finding their feet in the world. When having sexual intercourse for the first time, surely you should be taught that it is far better do this with someone you care about and trust? If it is just with someone you have casually met and has got you drunk, can that really be good initiation into the adult world. Especially as such relationships are far less likely to take proper precautions. I'm not a fool and I know many people have started out like that and it has done them no harm. I'd just suggest that for the purposes of education that is not a best case scenario. I know a couple of pretty good drivers who started their driving career by stealing cars when they were 14. Responsibility can develop, but it isn't bad to teach it.
Now if you read this because of my attention grabbing headline, you may wonder what this awful truth is that they never tell you. Well, the sad fact is that sex is a trick played on us by nature. What do I mean by this? Well raising children is very hard work. Men and women often have wildly different tastes and interests. Why on earth would you want to get together with someone who you have nothing in common with, for the privilidge of spending the next 20 odd years earning money to support a bunch of ungrateful little oiks, who see you as an unpaid cook, driver and cleaner. When you get old and they could repay the favour, you get stuck in a stinky home and forgotten. I'll tell you why, because sex is rather nice. We enjoy it and it blinds us to the obvious character defects of our partners. How many times have you heard people say "I had nothing in common with X. I don't know why I stayed with them for so long". Well I do, it's clear. How many times do you hear "I don't mind the arguments because the making up is such fun" - suckered again. The truth is that sex is the sugar coating on the medicine necessary to keep the human race going. It is the one thing which will make us tolerate anything.
The one thing I'd teach kids before I taught them anything else about sex is this. It is impossible to make a rational decision when sex becomes involved, so open that door with care. And yes I know, I haven't always practiced what I am preaching, but hey you've gotta try.