Dr. P. Where do babies come from?
This is the truth. I was told that babies, including me, since I was asking about my own origins, were obtained from a woman on St. Louis Avenue one block away. When I asked the initial question at age four or five years old, “Mom, where did I come from?” I noticed that there was a significant and uncomfortable pause before she responded.
This hesitation and initial silence, in itself, told me something: this was a question that caused people discomfort. Yet my mom was trying the very best she could, given the moral/ethical sex-negative atmosphere of the very conservative post World War II late 1940’s. This was how most parents dealt with the sexual-reproductive questions that most children eventually asked of their parents.
When I persisted, the answer finally given was the one I mentioned above: “From a lady on St. Louis Avenue.” Somehow, even as a child, I knew that a follow-up question “Well then, where did that lady get me?” would be fruitless. I had learned that not only were these types of questions not to be asked—because of the discomfort they caused—but that the answers were not informative or truthful but were evasive.
My parents, as far as this touchy topic was concerned, were not “askable parents.” They loved and cared for me and as I did them, but I never broached the topic again. I set myself on becoming self-educated about the topic and one result is what I am today, a sexologist.
As with the majority of my peers at that time in American culture, well-meaning but inhibited parents were not reliable sources of information about sex, reproduction, love and relationships. I believe that the situation has not changed very much for the better today, over five decades later.
When I poll my Human Sexuality class by asking “How many of you (34 students or so) think that your parents were the primary and reliable source of your sex education?” only about 2 or 3 hands are raised. When I ask if students’ peers and trial-and-error experience from “on the job training” was the primary source of learning about sexuality and reproduction, then the answer is almost every student. There are many “errors” in this process. This has to change.
Sexual knowledge is sexual power, and it eliminates the curiosity that propels many ignorant (don’t confuse with “innocent”) kids into premature sexual activity. “What is this thing called love?” Sexually well-informed children (in facts and attitude, not acts) have been shown to conduct themselves in sexually responsible and caring manners when they finally, at a demonstrably later age, engage in sexual activity with another person. They are also safer from unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and sexual victimization or exploitation.
Denying sexual information from children should be considered a form of child abuse or neglect similar to keeping them malnourished or denying them learning to read or write.
All these situations can produce an emotionally stunted or socially impaired individual. With young people, sexuality is like Pandora’s Box. She was forbidden to look within and we know what happened. If you tell your youngster “Sexuality is a wonderful thing, but not for you yet. We won’t even tell you all about it now. It’s in this drawer, but you can never look into this drawer until you are older and when we tell you that you can. O.K., we are leaving the house now. Behave yourself.” What would you do in this situation?
The primary goal in my Human Sexuality class is not so much to inform the students about the basics of human sexuality and reproduction, love and relationships in a world of diversity, but to produce “askable” parents, which these students are likely to become. I would hope that they will do a better job than did their parents, of raising sexually informed and value-bearing children.
When instructing our own children about sexuality, gender, reproduction, love and relationships answer all the questions that you can, when they are asked, to the best of your ability. If you don’t know the answer, look it up together. No question should be unaskable, nor should any be unanswerable. Start at the earliest age when the child’s curiosity about the topic expresses itself. Please, avoid being April Fool’s all the years of your life.