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
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.
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.
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:
A variety of approaches work well even within one family.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.