Warning: This post contains sexually oriented topics- especially in relation to childhood sexual development and related subject. If you are uncomfortable with or do not with to see this sort of content, please do not click the “Read More”.
It is no secret that I do believe children should be given more agency than we currently allow them in our society. The ideology that childhood (and by this, I mean the period lasting from birth to the age of majority for whatever country you are in) is sacred and that childlike innocence needs to be preserved is only a recent development stemming from as early as the Victorian Era. It is a new concept for us historically speaking- and it is one that thousands of non-Western cultures around the world don’t share.
This ideology ultimately forces the unnecessary infantilization of our children, or those viewed as younger than us- and this often extends well into their adulthood. The result of it is an overzealous need to “protect” them from all the dangers of the world.
How do we protect them, though? It’s certainly not through education and equipping them with the knowledge and practices that they need to be safer, no… Instead, our idea of “protecting” our children is to deny them exploration, exposure, and even access to comprehensive education- and to punish them when they get themselves put in poor circumstances because they lacked the knowledge and controlled experience to keep themselves out of them.
Furthermore, we do so mostly on the basis that they, at a base, starting level, are automatically “not mature enough” to handle or understand it, or take it seriously enough; ultimately, the ideology that childhood innocence needs to be protected and maintained at all costs causes us to severely underestimate our children’s capability for rationality, logic, and maturity- and we often say that they are not or outright cannot be rational, logical, or mature; that they are too young, too underdeveloped to understand fully what is going on.
What all of this often leads to, however, is the exact thing that we say of them in order to justify our actions: stunted mental faculties involving rationality, maturity, and logic; the inability to make well educated and well thought out decisions concerning their bodies and lives… In other words, that forced infantilization of our children holds them back and endangers them in many ways by damaging and stunting them- becoming a self fulfilling prophecy that therefore creates a repetitive justification for continuing to treat them in such an ultimately detrimental manner.
Ant it’s true… Ultimately the entire westernized parenting process- as well as the social stereotyping of our children- becomes a self fulfilling prophecy; if we continuously prevent children from exercising their autonomy and agency, prevent them from exploring in safe environments with appropriate guidance, refuse to allow them exposure to “the adult world” (the world “outside of” school), and deny them comprehensive education? Then we are directly to blame when they do not develop into rational, mature, logical people; we are the cause of their lack of education or knowledge- and the trouble that gets them into; we are responsible for the slowed development of mental faculties- mental faculties which are not inherent, but which must be given ample opportunity and exercise in order fully develop.
Not providing safe, healthy, open, and comprehensive learning environments wherein they are treated as capable individuals damages and stunts children’s ability to not only become productive, self-sufficient, self-led individuals who have high self-image and confidence… But also intelligent individuals who are capable of making sound, rational, logical, and educated decisions about their life, health, and other things.
One of the areas that this rings glaringly true, I feel, is in their sexual health, development, and wellbeing; sex is one of the most controversial subjects- one which everyone discussing it ultimately has an opinion on… And when it comes to the subject of Young Adults / Teens and sex specifically, the power struggle between those opinions can get outright nasty at times- and everything is in dispute.
We question whether comprehensive sexual education or abstinence based education is the better option (Science long ago gave us a definitive answer in favor of comprehensive sexual education); we question what the correct age is to begin discussing sex with our kids (my Mother’s policy was “if she’s old enough to ask about it, she’s old enough to know the truth of it”); we question whether or not this age or that age is mentally or emotionally equipped and capable to deal with it (they usually are, I promise)… We have seen the argument a thousand times, rehashed a million different ways.
Despite being so controversial and argued about, however… Sex is also a Taboo subject. As a taboo subject, it’s talked about far less- and far less openly- within Westernized societies than it should be… Especially when it comes to talk about our sexual experiences… But I believe that not talking about sex is ultimately detrimental. The biggest group that I see it as detrimental to a lot of the time is teens and young adults– and our penchant to condemn them for, attempt to protect them from, and outright withhold information concerning sex and sexual health from them is a part of this “protect the children” ideology and perpetuates the problems that come with it.
On one hand, though, I do understand the arguments against it.
Child Grooming, Sexual Predators, Teen Pregnancy, STI transmissions, Child Sexual Trafficking… These (and more) are all very real, life altering and sometimes life endangering threats that revolve around sex- and young people are often particularly vulnerable to them. Still, educating them about sex and sexual health also means educating them on how to identify these threats (and avoid them), internally evaluate themselves with a critical eye, and take appropriate precautionary measures during sexual activity… And if you want responsible, well adjusted, knowledgeable children with a decreased chance for risk or risky behavior than these aspects of sexual health cannot be ignored or left out of the equation.
There is also the question of maturity; even as a teenager I thought I was infinitely more mature than I was. In a lot of respects I genuinely was ahead of my peers thanks to the parenting style of my parents, but at 25 now I can see that I was not as mature as I believed myself to be… Yet in another 2, 5, 10, 50 years from now I will likely look back and say the same thing again and again; with age comes wisdom and experience: an altered outlook that forces you to re-evaluate past events through a different lens and measure it against the knowledge you have now versus what you knew then. This is a fact that is undeniable.
What sparked this was ultimately a post that I found on Tumblr tonight. It reads:
I get that some people develop kinks from an early age and that’s fine. But don’t really get into it until you are Legal. First off 16 is really young and you may be a “mature 16” but you still have a lot of growing up to do […] Trust me when I was even 18 I wish I knew a fourth of the things I know now about these things as old as that saying is its true. It may not seem like it but there is a HUGE difference between being 17 and 18.
So get off my tumblr and other tumblrs like mine. These tumblrs are not for you. They are for LEGAL ADULTS! 18+ high school is not the age for sexual exploration.
First of all, if you “wish [you] knew a fourth of the things [you] know now about these things“… Then our educational system has failed you; hands down, if we had received proper, comprehensive, and all encompassing sexual education then we wouldn’t be left sitting here thinking “I wish I knew then what I know about sex now“- and this is evident by the fact that people who receive such education are much less likely to express thoughts such as this; this thought in and of itself is a direct result of a complete failure of our educational system to appropriately prepare us for the real topics of life- both sex, and other topics.
Secondly, I have a problem with someone making the assertion that there is “a huge difference between being 17 and 18”.
Yes, in terms of life experience and lessons learned, sure. They may as well be a thousand years apart. But the same can be said about the ages of 14 to 15, 15 to 16, 16 to 17, 20 to 21, 25 to 26, and so on, however; there is a large gap in outlook and experience between you then and you now even in the span of a single year. We are not the same people today as we were yesterday- and this is ultimately true no matter what age you are.
If we are discussing differences in terms of mental acuity, comprehension, logic, reasoning, and related things, though, there is still little actual developmental difference between an 18 year old and a person who is 4 months shy of their 18th birthday. Not enough, at least, to say that one is more able or capable of making decisions with life changing consequences than the other- especially not when we expect them to make decisions which have far greater impact before they even reach their age of majority.
In reality, the only real and tangible difference lies in whether or not you are considered a legal adult in your area. Even then the age of majority ranges from 18 to 21 even within the United States alone; the age of consent for sexual intercourse itself even ranges from 14 to 21.
The part about this post that really struck me, though, was the last assertion that “high school is not the age for sexual exploration“. It struck me because when looking at the data collected by multiple agencies, it becomes clear that- whether we like it or not– 15 to 18 is the prime time of sexual exploration and experimentation for our youth; the average age of one’s first sexual encounter is 16 to 17 years of age, and usually this is with someone of their own age group- a fellow minor. By the time they even reach the age of majority, even, over half of the teen population masturbates regularly. (all simplified statistics gathered from Kinsey Institute data).
Even my own sexual encounters started before I was a legal adult; I was performing non-intercourse sexual acts with females by the age of 7, with males by 13, and had intercourse for the first time when I was 15… My own first exposure to BDSM came when I was only 15 as well.
However, while the person above may wish that they knew “a fourth then of what they know now”, I wish that I had had guidance above all else; someone that I could have talked to openly about these things, who could educate me on them and would not withhold information or tell me “wait until you’re older”… And while my mother was relatively open about it, a Parental figure is not always the most optimal choice for various reasons (including shame, bad parental relationships, and more). If I had had the opportunity for additional guidance- either from a peer, or anyone else- instead of hitting wall after wall of ageism and “sex is not for kids”… Then I truly do not believe that I would have made some of the mistakes that I did over the course of the years.
This is not me advocating for an acceptance of sexual relationships between minors (or between minors and adults) however. Nor is it to be taken as me advocating for the right of minors to have sexual relationships (though, if we’re being serious, I do think it a little odd that sexual acts between two consenting minors of any age is actually illegal). Please do not misconstrue it as that. No. It is and will only ever be an advocation for access to safe, reliable education concerning all sexual topics in an effort to genuinely protect our kids.
The fact is that it is a given that our children know about and have already been exposed to sexual themes and media by these ages. It is also a 50-50 chance that any 16-17 year old that you walk past will have experimented sexually in one way or another. If High School is not the most optimal time to begin discussing sex in a more comprehensive, all encompassing, and educational capacity… Then I genuinely do not know when the right time will ever be.
What I do know, is that it is certainly easy to look back on an instance 10 years ago and say “I wish I had known more”. And while providing people with Educational Knowledge isn’t enough to fully prepare them and reduce the instances of such thoughts later in life… Refusing to provide it at all does not, however, address the fact that others still do need to know more- and they are often searching for that educational knowledge elsewhere, increasing their chances of potentially getting it from sources which may or may not be giving them healthy, safe information.
Actively making it harder for them by blocking people from and outright telling them that they cannot have access to safe, trustworthy information about sex (vanilla or bdsm flavored)- that they cannot be exposed to sex in a safe environment with proper guidance- at a time when they are at their most sexually vulnerable… Is completely and utterly irresponsible in face of the data; withholding access to safe, trustworthy, and healthy information is ultimately only going to land them in the same spot you are in now, saying the exact same things.