Unsolicited information is invasive
Saturday October 8th, 2011
Children's curiosity about human sexuality is a slowblooming flower. There is no reason to force what happens naturally in time. So when is the best time to start teaching children about sex? When they ask, and with respect for their cognitive life station, not with an eye on some ideological journey's end.
When a child of four asks how a baby gets into mummy's tummy, he is not seeking a graphic description of sexual intercourse. I am not suggesting the stork myth; for a four-yearold a simple reference to seeds and eggs usually suffices. As he grows, his questions - and our answers - will become more precise.
It is reasonable to impose objective knowledge - arithmetic, grammar, biology - on young children without their consent. That is in fact the public education system's only inalienable mandate. But I believe it is ethically wrong, and psychologically invasive, to burden children prematurely with unsolicited information regarding their sexuality that can be and should be acquired at a time when sexuality is pertinent to their lives.
I am therefore troubled by educators' jesuitical trend, in the interest of inculcating social approbation for atypical forms of sexuality that only manifest in puberty, of "answering" sexual questions that have not been asked.
For you cannot talk honestly to anyone about "gender," which is an unproven theory, not a fact, or "sexual identity," an abstract idea, without also talking about real, biological sexual desire. But children in what is known as the "latency" period in the years before puberty do not think abstractly, or consciously experience explicit sexual desire. Which is why in this period they exhibit no spontaneous interest in learning specifics about how sexual desire is gratified, much less considering whether the object of their desire will be a person of the opposite or the same sex.
Young children are egoists and intensely aware of their vulnerability. Their interest in an adult's private life extends only so far as it pertains to their own need for love or security. Children don't see adults as "male" or "female" in their own right; they see personal relationships with themselves at the centre: "father," "mother," "grandmother," "uncle," "nanny," or "teacher." How and with whom these adults express physical love for each other is of no particular interest to them if they themselves play no role in that drama.
From toddlerhood, girls and boys exhibit strong curiosity about how they differ physically, so that knowledge is well established before kindergarten. They also understand at an inarticulate level that their biological sex and their destiny are intertwined. Therefore, since gender dysphoria is rare and no cause for celebration, any discussion of sex that undermines clarity about a child's own biological nature, or that treats as normal a disassociation between psychological and biological reality is a betrayal of children's right to biological confidence.
But what about homosexuality? Advocates for early sex education feel teaching about difference in sexual orientation will entrench attitudes of tolerance and acceptance if taught very early. It won't. It will sow confusion and even anxiety.
Here's why. The campaign to legitimate homosexuality as a shame-free behaviour was modelled on feminist and anti-racism campaigns for equal rights. On the surface, the parallels seem logical.
But they don't work when it comes to childhood education. Femalehood and colour are immutable and visible biological realities. Boys can see girls; white children can see children of other colours. From the moment children grasp the notion of fairness - and that is very early indeed - they can be encouraged to treat different children they interact with fairly, at no expense to their own biological self-confidence.
But in extending the paradigm of "acceptance" to homosexuals or children with gender dysphoria, you are not dealing with a concrete reality; you are dealing with people children haven't yet met and cannot conceptualize. Children don't see homosexuality. How is a child supposed to "accept" or extend the fairness principle to invisible people who will only materialize years later?
Many parents - and not all of them Christian evangelicals; I am one such parent and grandparent - want their children to associate sexuality with morality. They prefer that children learn about sexuality when they have the cognitive maturity to appreciate the humanizing benefits of modesty, high selectivity, self-discipline and deferral of gratification. And they feel perfectly competent to teach those values themselves. That is, or should be, their right.
It is well understood that even benign intimate physical touching of young children is off limits to anyone but a child's parents or their proxies. Tooearly sex education is the intimate touching of a child's mind, and should also be off limits to anyone without the express permission of the child's natural protectors.