One of the complaints about sex education for children is that it sexualizes them. Generally, I hear this sort of thing from people who push for abstinence-only programs even though they don’t work. But whatever the motivations behind it, I think it’s worth taking a look at the idea that talking about sexuality creates sexualization, especially since it’s used to attack sex education.
For example, The Guardian has an article about Lynette Burrows, a “family values” campaigner who said:
I think parents have the absolute right to protect their children from this sort of education which is so unhelpfully obsessed with destroying childhood innocence, in a way that’s reminiscent of paedophilia. To me, anyone who wants to talk dirty to little children is a danger to them.
When I still worked in the Good Vibrations stores, I would sometimes find customers flirting with me. Granted, I enjoy flirting and if you see me at a party, there’s a chance that’ you’ll see me doing exactly that. But in the store, I’d have people flirting with me that I wouldn’t have expected to, especially since I didn’t initiate it. I used to wonder what that was about, until I realized that I was probably the first person that many of my customers had ever spoken with about their sexual fantasies, desires, and practices other than a partner or a potential partner.
From what I’ve seen, most people don’t have much experience in talking about sex with someone they’re not sexual with. As a result, customers would sometimes have sexual feelings, even when those feelings had nothing to do with me. And quite often, those feelings would come out as flirting. Actually, they’d sometimes come out in more direct ways, although that happened to me less often than it did for my female co-workers, especially the femme ones.
I think this sheds some light on the question of why some people think that talking about sex with kids sexualizes them. If you equate talking about sex with being sexual, then it’s only logical that talking with kids about sex is the same thing as having sex with them, right? And if that’s where your logic takes you, then not letting educators talk about sex would seem to protect kids from sexual intrusion.
Of course, this whole thing rests on the assumption that talking about sex is a sexual act. And while it certainly can be, it also doesn’t have to be. In fact, I think that talking with a partner about your wants and desires is better done when you’re not turned on since arousal often causes our boundaries to become a bit more porous. If you’ve ever gone grocery shopping when you’re hungry and come home with strange impulse purchases, you know how that can be. Learning to talk about sex without it becoming sexual is like making sure you’re not hungry at the grocery store. It’s a really useful skill because it helps you share your desires and boundaries without the influence of arousal. Reid Mihalko’s Safer Sex Elevator Pitch is an excellent tool for that, as is the Yes/No/Maybe list.
This is one reason why learning to talk about sex in non-sexual settings is useful. I know that a lot of people will hear that and think that I’m trying to sexualize life, but I’m actually suggesting something quite different- when we can take the arousal out of some of our discussions of sex, we gain much more clarity. When we practice that, it becomes much easier to share information, provide education, and foster sexual well-being. And of course, when we know how to do that, we can engage in conversations and sex education with children without it even coming close to sexualizing them or pedophilia.
The irony is that Lynette Burrows is the one who’s sexualizing the interactions between educators and children. For a trained, qualified, and experienced sex educator, it’s simply talking about sex. We understand that that’s not sexual. So why doesn’t she?