Lest any confused individuals read about the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping (1) and imagine they should imitate it in order to raise some children potentially free of traditional sexual inhibitions, I will consider what ideal sex education would be really like. Although ideal sex education may not be possible under current legal conditions, we should think about it as a kind of goal to be aimed for someday in the distant future.
Even though it’s possible that Jaycee Dugard’s daughters may have grown up without traditional sexual inhibitions (see my previous post Stolen Youth: Jaycee Dugard PART 2) or free from what may be bluntly called traditional mental castration, I doubt that their early sex education (if any) was anything close to ideal. Quite the contrary, considering the mental state of their jailer it’s possible that they suffered excessive sexual attention (e.g. more than they requested). In that case it would be heartening to learn if the girls nonetheless grew up fairly normal and healthy. But I’m just guessing. We need to hear the girls’ own voices and reward their remarkable courage if they tell their story, even though sex hysterics would consider such a report blasphemous or high treason against political correctness. Selfish opportunists and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business hope and bet that all victims of even casual sex abuse grow up to become blithering idiots. For the benefit of the victims, the hysterics need to be proven wrong.
Just as some adults try to strictly censor children’s access to information, other adults like putting words in a child’s mouth. A classic howler is: “My child isn’t interested in sex.” Of course, after adults have carefully hidden sex and mentally castrated the child, she isn’t interested! If we assume that the only legitimate practice of sex is procreation, as some ancient religionists claimed (e.g. Thomas Aquinas), then unmarried children have no need and no business learning about sex. However, that point of view implies God wants human beings to be more similar to cows or sheep that only mate during the fertile period of the female hormonal cycle in mature individuals, rather than be similar to monkeys and apes that are sexually active even when infertile, including during pregnancy and even in juveniles before puberty. From the confused religious point of view, an ape is our “lower nature,” while our “higher nature” is closer to sheep.
In herd mammals like sheep there is actually a sharp difference between the sexual behavior of males and females. Males are always willing and eager to copulate, while a female is only receptive to copulation during a short part of her reproductive cycle. Even then, females in some species of seasonally mating mammals have to be forced or raped to breed. But in monkeys and apes, females are more receptive to copulation and even initiate sex, and sometimes even provoke males to copulate, so in effect males and females are more similar to each other (2). An important question any thinking adult must ask is: Should human beings strive to become educated apes, or spiritual sheep?
One of the more modern justifications for opposition to sex education in childhood is the confusion between physical maturity and so-called “mental maturity.” As I have pointed out previously (see Sexual Maturity) the brain grows and develops to maturity of structure and function before the genital organs have reached reproductive maturity. I am talking about physiological maturity, not some mysterious theory of mental or psychological maturity that is virtually synonymous with educational level (acquisition and understanding of information). In terms of the willingness and ability to learn, the brain of a ten-year-old is far superior to adults aged over 40, and any differences in “mental maturity” we see in those two age groups are actually due to education through formal schooling or life experience. The prudish belief that children aren’t yet able to “understand” sex is pure nonsense.
Analogously to the genital organs, maturation of the vocal organs is necessary to produce good speech, but children typically learn to comprehend their native language long before their vocal organs are mature, and such understanding sets the stage for eventual speech. Children begin practicing or playing at speech long before their vocal organs have fully developed, and such “baby talk” is perfectly normal. If a child’s brain doesn’t receive linguistic stimulation very early before the vocal organs mature, the ability to learn language will be impaired. When a child is very young she can even become bilingual or trilingual if her environment is rich in linguistic stimulation. The stimulation of linguistic experience from the earliest age is not useless but priceless. Nonetheless, according to the sheep-logic of sexual hysteria, prudes claim that the reproductive function of the sexual organs must mature before the brain can process (“understand”) sexual information. In reality, the exact opposite occurs: depriving children of sex education and sex play early in life causes complete or partial but certainly permanent impairment of sexual function.
Throughout most of European history scholarly thinkers traced modern civilized culture back to ancient Greece and Rome, but the discovery of extensive, sexually explicit “vulgar” art in the ruins of Pompeii during the Victorian period (when women’s ankles had to be covered in public) conflicted with the highbrow view of our culture’s ancestors. Granted, some of that ancient art portrayed primitive mythology and seemed exaggerated, e.g. the Roman god Pan copulating with a goat, and some Victorians were understandably upset by it. The Victorian solution was to hysterically condemn and censor any and all sexually explicit art as an aberration to be henceforth prohibited by law as “pornography.” In the 21st century we like to think we have advanced beyond the ankle-covered Victorians, but the laws prohibiting sexually explicit images written over 100 years ago are still in force today.
With the benefit of calm hindsight and a better sense of humor, what might ideal sex education be like in the future? First of all, we must assume that someday there will be legislative reform so the hysterical laws prohibiting sexually explicit images and child sex play will have been repealed. There can be no ideal sex education for children as long as parents and other teachers must live in fear of legal prosecution. Although it’s difficult to imagine that the current hysteria will ever end, that’s a requirement before anything else. That may not be any comfort to children in the here-and-now who are suffering legally enforced sexual neglect, but I don’t see any responsible alternative. So let’s start the dialogue and imagine that someday in the distant future there are no more laws prohibiting genital nudity or any kind of contact with children’s “private parts” (as opposed to their presumably public parts).
Ideal sex education should be accurate, balanced, and comprehensive, start early, continue throughout life, and be age-appropriate. It’s widely acknowledged that very young children learn more by modeling than by instruction, and there is evidence that children across the world and throughout most of history learned about sex by watching their parents (3). So after decriminalization of sex the next ideal step would be to provide very young children with family videos of parents and other young couples in their daily lives who first talk about sex and having babies in front of their children. Professional actors can be more effective than average parents who may have a lot of shame-baggage to cope with even after sex is decriminalized. Toddlers and preschoolers may not understand adult conversation that includes the vocabulary of reproduction, but they are extremely perceptive of moods and tone of voice, so hearing an adult discussion that is calm and warm has great value for young ears.
While parent-actors in the videos are talking about sex, child actors should be occupied playing e.g. with toys or other children. Adult actors can then become physically affectionate with each other, while the child actors occasionally glance over at the adults. The videos should portray realistic not dramatized interaction. The adults’ behavior should be very casual and playful, smiling and laughing to communicate safety to the child-observers. Adult models should not be poker-faced during sexual foreplay. Very young children should also be exposed to much older models (e.g. a widowed grandparent) fondling themselves manually, if not masturbating at least pleasuring themselves without shame. A narrator could explain that the grandparent doesn’t have anyone to be close to.
If a first-born or only-child is uninterested in other activities when parents become physically affectionate with each other, then the child may feel lonely and want to be included in cuddling. That’s fine and should be allowed. Ideal models should not express disappointment, impatience, or jealousy. Rather, parents should welcome the child’s “participation” lovingly with hugs and kisses. A child who wants to join her parents in cuddling is not being unreasonable. If some adults feel a need to hide in the dark then they are the ones who are behaving unreasonably. Parents who hide aren’t protecting any child, they are protecting themselves. Ideally, there should be more than one child present (even at different ages), so the children have the opportunity to become physically affectionate with each other if they want to.
Parent actors should take a break from their physical affection to cheerfully explain the need for mutual consent, adequate hygiene, and the limitations of immature anatomy (e.g. “do not attempt penetration”). When adults are sexually functional there is no rush to get it over with. Child actors in a video can portray listening to such verbal instruction and then model requesting and granting consent, adequate hygiene, and harmless sex play with other child actors. Dialogue can and should be humorous. Very young children who have the benefit of seeing such a video would be prepared for witnessing parents and other models later in real life.
Children are more likely to prefer each other’s company in sex play as in other activities, because children tend to have short bursts of high energy and their approach to everything is exploratory and playful, while adults tend to conserve energy for longer-term endurance and they focus on an end result; adults get bored with the imaginative and repetitious character of children’s play. Very young children don’t like being too serious for what they consider excessively long periods of time, which may interfere with dynamic brain development. Kids should always have access to many other children and adults who feel part of a community. I don’t think keeping children isolated in a “nuclear family” is ideal for children. Exclusive access to or exclusive “possession” of any child or adult serve no purpose other than indulging pathetic jealousy. Several individuals sharing affection is a model of social harmony, so especially in this day and age of declining fertility I think parents should seriously consider some form of polyamory. In a general atmosphere that is sex-positive, children expressing a desire for sex play with each other is normal and healthy.
If a parent prohibits her child from enjoying sex play with another child, we may suspect that the parent is guilty of emotional incest toward the child. Emotional incest is particularly pernicious for daughters, who already have the difficult task of overcoming their “negative Oedipus complex,” i.e. overcoming their erotic attachment to their mother and instead beginning to see males not as rivals in competition for the mother’s attention but as an even more interesting erotic object. A responsible parent helps a child venture outside the mother-daughter bond and cultivate emotional engagement with other children, including males.
In such an uninhibited atmosphere very young children in the future may be curious to inspect the genitalia of parents close-up, including touching and feeling the adults’ external organs. Parents should welcome such natural curiosity with smiles and calm explanations, e.g. explaining that when a sexually functional female is very aroused the tip of the clitoris protrudes erect (and sometimes spontaneously even when she is not very aroused), and internally the clitoris extends and forks around both sides of the vaginal opening so penetration by a penis is pleasurable – once the vagina is big enough after puberty.
Explain that the healthy penis likewise becomes erect when very aroused (as well as spontaneously sometimes even when not very aroused). Explain that the shaft is quite hard or stiff, while the tip is more like a sponge that springs back to shape when it is squeezed. (That is in contrast to the protruding tip of the erect clitoris which is hard all the way to the end.) However, the male testicles are sensitive to excessive pressure so they should not be squeezed although they may be handled gently. I imagine that children will be more than curious – they will be intrigued – to see the healthy male organ operational. I imagine that healthy girls in a sex-positive context will find such observations interesting, informative and entertaining, and normal children will probably ask to watch again. It’s possible that girls have evolved an instinct to observe and verify healthy male sexual function (along with other qualities) in order to choose a desirable mate.
Parents who are sexually dysfunctional due to shame-training and sexual neglect during their own childhoods, may feel ashamed of their dysfunction and reluctant to reveal their dysfunction to their children. That sad situation may be improved by consulting a good sex therapist who may not be able to cure permanent clitoral erectile dysfunction but may help parents reject the tendency to feel ashamed of a defect that was not their fault. A few parents may feel so ashamed that they hotly deny their dysfunction and instead accuse anybody who is sexually functional of being a “sex maniac” and/or “demon-possessed,” etc. I’m not a psychiatrist but perhaps in such extreme cases anti-psychotic medication may be helpful.
Under ideal conditions sex can and should be casual, entertaining and even slapstick. While consent, hygiene, and unplanned pregnancy are serious business, the primary purpose of sex is to have fun. An old joke is: Sex is only dirty if you do it right. That’s only a joke, so lighten up. Ideally, adults should openly and unashamedly express their desire for genital stimulation and their pleasure in such stimulation. If some adults lack sexual desire or have trouble enjoying sex, they shouldn’t become models and pass on their problems to their children. Sticking to family sex education videos would be appropriate in such cases. Adults who were raised in shame and are sexually dysfunctional clearly need “privacy.”
Children’s first sexual experiences should be carefully monitored by responsible adults, and eventually when children get a little older there should be continued adult supervision at a distance. Children who have the benefit of such ideal early experiences would probably initiate and enjoy sex play with other children regularly. Such early stimulation would be beneficial for developing healthy genital function, as well as serving to promote and maintain social harmony. By the time they finish preschool such children should be enthusiastic to learn about the human body in general, health and disease, and the community around them, as well as eager to become constructive contributors to their loving community. The current, bizarre tendency of adults to be paranoid and hysterical about nudity and sex while ignoring the more frequent and most deadly dangers children face in daily life, is not a trend that any responsible adult should want to continue.
Since parents also have a duty to teach kids discipline and self-control, opportunities for sex play should be contingent on good behavior. Opportunities for sexual pleasure may be structured as a reward and incentive for education and good citizenship. Just as ancient peoples failed to see any use for fossil fuels and considered petroleum not only worthless but even messy and dangerous, people in the future may discover that sexual pleasure is the greatest fuel yet for advancing civilization.
Ideal sex education would not only benefit human beings during childhood as well as the future parents they become when they grow up, but will also benefit the first generation of parents who provide the ideal experiences. Widespread sexual dysfunction in women today may explain why they tend to be overprotective of children – following their kids around everywhere under the guise of protective surveillance. Overprotective mothers may be using their children as a substitute for their own unsatisfying sex life. Rather than passing on the sick body shame you learned from your miseducated parents, try to become a responsible sex educator for your children and you will be a happier parent.
While we strive toward ideals, it’s Ok to make some mistakes. Healthy children are strong and resilient, and may even become stronger and more resilient by having the freedom to learn from their own mistakes. There is increasing evidence that young people today who were the victims of over-protective parents suffer a lack of self-confidence as well as lifelong dependence on their parents. Many college students today are emotionally fragile and react to everyday problems as if they are emergencies. They can’t bear uncertainty or the thought of possible failure. If a child is emotionally abused or neglected (much more common than any other form of abuse or neglect) she may be fragile and incompetent, but we should not treat all normal healthy kids as if they are helpless invalids who are hopelessly incompetent. The normal qualities of courage, creative thinking, and welcoming challenges that were taken for granted in previous generations are disappearing today.
With modern knowledge, contraceptive technology, and a bit of courage, people someday could create a better society without widespread sexual dysfunction and hysterical priorities that distort children’s needs for protection from real harm. How truly shameful that many adults today drive while sleep-deprived (just as deadly as drunk driving), smoke during pregnancy, and decline to breastfeed, while frantically worrying about nudity and sex play.
- Dugard, Jaycee. A Stolen Life: A Memior. Simon and Schuster, 2011.
- Dixon, Alan F. Primate Sexuality. Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.
- Josephs, Lawrence. How Children Learn About Sex: A Cross-Species and Cross-
Cultural Analysis. Arch Sex Behav (2015) 44:1059–1069.