Sexuality Explained

Sexuality Explained: A Guide for Parents and Children
By Louise Kirk with Jessie Gillick
£12.99 paperback from Gracewing (free delivery for UK orders)
$19.95 from Freedom Publishing Australia
200 pages A4

Description of the book

Sexuality Explained uses stories to engage children’s attention, and that of their parents too. The conversational style gives a warm and friendly feel to the biology which is explained in growing detail as the book develops. This, and the repetition between the chapters, makes facts easy to remember.

The book is aimed first at parents. It is recommended that they read it as a whole, to forearm them for their children’s questions, and to help them decide when they may wish to address which topic. Chapters are in the main written separately for girls and for boys, though joint chapters cover sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the principles behind contraception and natural family planning (see Contents List).

Child-friendly diagrams are used to illustrate the biology of the female and male reproductive systems. These respect children’s modesty.

Textboxes add to the variety of the text and contain additional nuggets of information. Important or unusual terms are picked out in bold and explained in the Glossary which follows each chapter.

The chapter is completed by a page of Points to Remember, which consolidates the lesson and gives parents a framework if they wish to teach in their own words.

At the end of the book, the biological diagrams are printed on their own, one to a page, to be cut out and arranged in any order. This gives parents the wherewithal to illustrate private lessons without reference to the given text. Children can also be asked to assemble the diagrams, and so comment on what they have learnt. The complete set can be downloaded and printed out.

How do you use the Guide?

With every freedom. It is not intended to be a ‘how-to-do-it’ course but is designed to accompany parents and guardians throughout the years when their children are growing into maturity. Parents are encouraged first to read the whole, and to be ready to answer their children’s questions. When they decide to teach in a more formal way, they can:

  • Read a chapter with their child as it stands.
  • Explain a topic, or part of it, in their own words, using the diagrams and Points to Remember as a framework.
  • Give a chapter to the child to read. This is particularly appropriate as the child grows up.

A variety of approaches work well even within one family.

What age group does the Guide cater for?

Parents can read it at any time, the sooner the better. Children would ideally begin pre-puberty and be taken through into their mid-teens. Age ranges are set against each chapter (see Contents) but these are given as guidance only, since children vary enormously in their maturity. Young people in their twenties are also intrigued by the Guide, catching up on truths which school sex education omitted.

School sex education is surely comprehensive?

Even well established sex education programmes and science textbooks can be surprisingly out-of-date. Mucus and the sexual chemistry of the brain are rarely taught, and the known failure rates and side effects of popular contraceptives, such as the Pill and the condom, are often inaccurate, especially as they apply to young people.

Every effort has been made to ensure that Sexuality Explained is factually correct. The diagrams are derived, with permission, from ones by Dr Thomas Hilgers, founder of NaProTECHNOLOGY, and each chapter has been read by at least one doctor with specialist knowledge. The Guide has also been extensively piloted among parents, many of whom have contributed their ideas.

Would young people not prefer a film?

Sex education is not like education in any other subject, since it touches us at the deepest level, describing how we began and who we are. It bears upon our self-worth as a loveable person capable of giving ourselves in love. Who teaches, and how, becomes part of what is taught. No film can convey warmth and security, or answer questions.

Is the book religious?

No. The Guide starts from the premise that all human life is of equal dignity and worthy of the greatest respect. From this, and from making observations about our sexual nature, it shows that sexuality is much more than a plaything. Love-making cannot be described without acknowledging its potential for giving life, and vice versa; both aspects of the sexual act are designed for a single and permanent relationship. The Guide further shows that sexual activity does not lead automatically to happiness; misused, it can cause grief and lasting damage, to oneself and to others.

Parents as the best educators in sexual matters

Much of a child’s sexual education is already picked up within the family from example and observation. However, there are aspects to puberty, or the “becoming able to procreate”, which are not self-explanatory and which can be bewildering. Children turn naturally to their parents for answers and have a right to hear from them a full account of the changes which are about to happen to them and which can, without sound guidance, throw them. There is something profoundly moving about learning for the first time how you came to be from the very persons who gave you life. Children feel it, and parents feel it too, and so the trust between them grows into a more adult friendship, one which will last not only through adolescence but into full maturity and beyond.

Many parents find it hard to teach

That is why Sexuality Explained has been written. Sexuality is a modest subject and it is natural to shy away from speaking about it. However, the task can appear much more difficult than it is, and the rewards are many, including the new level of trust which develops between parent and child.

The Guide and its use by schools

Studies continue to show that parents are not only the natural teachers of their children, but also the most effective. The UK government’s official Sex and Relationship Education Guidance July 2000 (DfEE 0116/2000)* emphasises this: “Schools should always seek to work in partnership with parents. This is essential to effective sex and relationship education.”

The Guidance goes on to say that children and young people want to receive their initial sex and relationship education from their parents and families. It adds that parents should be given help and support to teach well, and be closely involved in the sex education programmes devised for their children’s schools, which should in turn reflect the ethos and faith of the school community.

Sexuality Explained gives schools a tool to fulfill this responsibility. Teachers can recommend the book, which lends itself to group discussion in which parents can exchange ideas and support each other and so strengthen the whole school community.

The Guide also gives teachers and community leaders a lot of discussion material which could be used as the basis for workshops among older children.

This guidance was confirmed in the Department of Education’s March 2013 response on Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education.
Primary school governing bodies are required to consider sex education, but are free to decide not to teach it, provided that they have a written policy statement to that effect.
Secondary schools do have to cover sex education, but guidance is non-statutory and there is still a lot of flexibility on how it is taught.

UK/Rest of World Australia USA/Canada

Reviews and Praise

This book has exceeded all my expectations. The introduction is excellent and shows parents how they can initiate a conversation with their children. The type is easy to read, the page layout are balanced and well demarcated, the boxed inserts are very helpful in clarifying or adding information. The 'Points to remember' and the Glossary after each chapter summarise essential facts and eliminate the need to go back for information. The illustrations, too, are excellent, easy to understand and their simplicity is a welcome bonus. A great deal of information is presented in a logical and coherent fashion – all in all a wonderful achievement.

Dr John McLean, Associate Specialist in Genitourinary Medicine

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that 'to see the miraculous within the ordinary is the mark of highest wisdom.' This remarkable guide encapsulates that spirit of adventure that should be the hallmark of dialogue between parents and children concerning love and responsibility. Any parent with a passionate heart for investing in their child's present and future morality will draw from it empowering insights and sensible ideas to help form the hearts minds and bodies of their sons and daughters with a new sense of vision purpose and hope. I applaud the author for making such a valid contribution to building a society crying out for an adequate anthropology.

Edmund P Adamus, Director, Department for Pastoral Affairs, Archdiocese of Westminster

Through her emphasis on natural fertility, Louise Kirk rejects the dangerously sterile tendency of a so called “sex education” that is hedonistic, selfish and amoral. Cultivating an awareness of procreation is essential in developing good formation in human sexuality that is naturally ethical, healthy and positive. It shifts the emphasis away from “sex” to the mystery of being a woman and of being a man, which is really what sexuality means. I am happy to commend Sexuality Explained, a Guide for Parents and Children to parents, and to those who support them and work respectfully with them.
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Bishop Peter Elliott, Episcopal Vicar for Education, Melbourne (helped prepare The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality)

Beautifully illustrated with whimsical pencil drawings and biological diagrams in a similar style, Mrs Kirk gives parents and their children a wealth of information that not only covers the detail of puberty and reproduction but also deals with such things as the nature and purpose of the mucus cycle, the chemistry of sexual bonding, teenage relationships and issues surrounding dress. And what a difference it makes to young people, their friendships and their future families to have sex education presented in this framework.
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Nicola Wells, Family Education Trust bulletin, UK

This book, by an experienced Natural Family Planning teacher and Catholic mother of four, is a first-class resource for Christian parents, worried by the liberal ideology behind the sex education lessons their children will receive in secular schools but who feel they lack the resources to tackle the subject themselves. The underlying theme is convincing young people that they are worthy of respect, thus giving them the confidence to resist peer group pressures. The book has l0 chapters and, starting from a biological perspective, demonstrates how body, mind and spirit are integrated within human sexuality. It is designed for different age levels and each chapter includes a list of "Points to remember" and a glossary. The important thing, as Kirk reminds the reader, is finding the right time to approach the subject. She includes different conversations between a father and son, and a mother and daughter. Kirk reminds us that "Nobody knows what damage even one child may suffer from inappropriate group teaching. Sex is a modest subject... children's modesty is just as important and is part of their armoury of self-restraint." 
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Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald