Friday,19 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1222, (20-26 November 2014)
Friday,19 October, 2018
Issue 1222, (20-26 November 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Once upon a time - Sexual education

To help youth meet the challenges of growing up, moving from the teen years to becoming an adult, educators should aim to boost the confidence of the young.

Where do babies come from? Many parents, finding this question too unsettling, may opt for ambiguity over honesty, leaving their children to figure it out as they go along. Back in the 1960s, there was much the same bewilderment, and educators needed to offer help to perplexed parents.

In his 1962 book, Tawgih Al-Morahiqin (A Guide for Teenagers), Aziz Hanna Dawud, a professor at Teachers College in Cairo, said that parents should answer all their children’s questions about sex as clearly as possible. This would help develop a bond of trust in the family and encourage children to look for answers closer to home, he said.

According to Dawud, parents shouldn’t wait for their children to ask questions. Instead, they should volunteer bits of information as their children are growing up. As children reached puberty, they need someone to explain, in full, the biological changes they are experiencing.

Sexuality and its social context could give rise to endless questions, which grown-ups should be ready to discuss in order to defuse some of the bewilderment of the young, he added.

Since the 1960s, when the book was written, many changes have occurred in society, all of which have added layers of complexity to providing sex education. Dawud noted that with every technological change that comes along, life becomes a bit riskier. Before motorcars, traffic accidents were unheard of. Before the cinema, children had less exposure to graphic depictions of sex.

By the same token, today’s social media offer new challenges to parents that previous generations didn’t encounter. Take sexting, for example, a new term for the exchange of explicit self-photographs, or selfies, between young people.

This phenomenon started only after the proliferation of camera-equipped phones and tablets with Internet connections. Today’s educators have to add this phenomenon to their long list of worries.

Dawud advises parents to help young people, but to try to not be intrusive. It is better, he says, to wait until the topic of sex comes up in conversation before offering a comment or opinion. This would be less embarrassing than trying to lecture a teenager about this emotionally charged subject, when he or she might be busy playing a favourite videogame.

Even before puberty, Dawud says, children are likely to explore their sexuality. This is part of the growing-up process, a byproduct of the curiosity that is the hallmark of childhood. Things get more complicated as children become teenagers, at which time educators will have to address the questions of intimacy, taboos, peer pressure, and abstention, among others.

Masturbation, Dawud says, is normal among boys and girls during puberty. There is no reason for parents to feel uncomfortable about it, or instill guilt in their children. It is actually guilt, rather than the habit itself, that can undermine the mental health of the young.

Most teenagers suffer from anxiety, and parents as well as educators should help them reduce this, rather than add to it, he suggests.

The challenges created by the transition to adulthood are considerable, and we must try to boost young people’s confidence, rather than reinforce their insecurities.

Although being curious about one’s body is natural, an obsession with sex can add turbulence to the mental growth of the young, Dawud notes. Sexuality must not be seen as a problem but as a healthy aspect of life. And because the first years of exposure to sexuality are tough on youth, educators must offer them reassurance and help them adapt to the realities of adult life.

Teenagers learn a lot by trial and error, but they are also willing to listen to those whom they trust. If educators and parents remain supportive, this can reduce the anxiety of the young, Dawud concludes.

In societies such as ours, where marriage is often delayed and sexual taboos proliferate because of customs and the onset of religious conservatism, Dawud’s words ring true. The mix of sexual urges and hyper-vigilant morality can be inflammable, adding still more pressure to those who are approaching adulthood.

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