Reading Amy Frykholm’s sex education article (Christian Century, June 13, 2012) reminded me of my own pubescent experiences. Oddly enough, I got my introduction to puberty and sex at Hopkins (MN) Jr. High in the mid 1950s. I didn’t know then, but I guess it was quite unusual for the time. By contemporary standards it was very basic. I recall that boys were sent off to one classroom and girls to another. Whatever it was that the girls were told was a mystery to us. We tried hard to find out, but no one would talk. As for we boys, we learned about pubic hair, erections, wet dreams and deodorant. Later, in a joint class, we learned the basics of what causes pregnancy, although any relationship between that and sex between human beings went over our heads.
All the kids in my neighborhood got a copy of The Facts of Life and Love for Teen-Agers (1953) at about the same time, so I figure the neighborhood parents must have got together on that one. In any case, it filled in a few gaps, left others, and provided enormous room for speculation. Even illicit copies of Playboy failed to adequately inform. Too much airbrushing of the essentials in which we boys were interested.
It may have been basic, but my wife got not even that in her small town Oklahoma school system where such talk was considered off limits for a variety of squeamish reasons. My Kansas cousins learned mostly by experience, of which they apparently had an abundance, but I didn’t figure that out until years later.
So what about today? From my point of view, knowing more is better than knowing less. Obviously, it’s impossible for kids not to know a great deal more in today’s media market where things sexual are at the core of much advertising, television and movie plots, books, magazines, and the Internet. At the same time, the sheer ubiquity of it all means that the importance of sex to the fullness of human life is shoved into the background, covered by the static of sex as sales gimmick. They see and hear but do not understand. The connection between raw information and the moral interpretation of it requires sophisticated mentoring for young minds that are just learning the discipline of moral decision making. I doubt that we have made much progress in that arena.
Somewhere back in the days of my early teen years, in spite of the rudimentary information we got, there were also caring adults to help us think things through, not just in terms of consequences, but more important, in moral terms of what was respectful, responsible and honest. It didn’t keep me from blundering my way into adulthood, but it did provide a platform from which to launch forth. Maybe that’s what’s needed today as well.