Mount Kenya
Standard Eight

Jury out on proper sex education time

You and your family must decide when to discuss such matters.

You and your family must decide when to discuss such matters. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Qn. “What is the ideal stage of training children to begin understanding their sexuality? I get a lot of conflicting advice out there”Yours is a very difficult question to answer, if only because sexuality is such a broad and sensitive subject. A slightly different way of approaching your question is to try to understand the stages a child goes through in his development and to seek to understand what the different stages mean to the minor in his development. It must be obvious for example that at the age of three, a child will understand things that a one year old will not.

As time moves on, an eight- year- old will already be at school and will have mastered the basics of reading, writing and mathematics in ways that a younger child will not be able to. Sexual development occurs at the same time as the child “grows up” and acquires different skills.In his 1938 book ‘‘Facing Mount Kenya’’, Jomo Kenyatta goes to great detail to explain how children of his tribesmen were exposed to education in general, and in other chapters explains how the growing child was exposed to different aspects of learning.Mothers were the first teachers for the children. From toilet training, they were also responsible for language development. This was in the earlier stages done through lullabies and in time songs, soon to be followed (as the child grew) by stories of all types.As the child grew older, the circle from which the child was exposed grew, including the father, siblings, grandparents and other relatives. As the years of adolescence approached, the education became more complex and in a sense more age appropriate. In traditional society, parents, uncles and aunts played their special and specific roles.As the all-important ceremony of initiation approached, the education became more urgent and intense, in a manner that today resembles the Standard Eight exams; Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). In many ways, the two challenges (circumcision and KCPE) are very similar, in terms of the age and intensity of “examination”. In the ideal world, both should prepare the child (or person) for entry into the next phase of life, adolescence and high school which in some ways are the same thing.Within your question, I sense some urgency to “tell the children about sex” before a certain age, is reached.By Standard Eight, all children will have known whether they are a boy or a girl (for most, this happens at the age of two to three). Is knowing whether one is a boy or a girl “sexual knowledge?” In a similar vein, virtually all children in Standard Six or Seven will know that it takes a boy and a girl to have a baby. Is this sexual knowledge? If it is, then who taught the child that a male dog and a female dog must somehow come together for puppies to be born?In Jomo Kenyatta’s book, we read how detailed the education system was. There is for example, a description of the act of “gweku” which is an event that takes place between later adolescent boys and girls. According to the author, the boys are allowed (encouraged) to enjoy the warmth of the breasts of the girls, and are allowed to do all the touching the parties would like, but are not allowed penetrative sex. This, the author tells us, “strengthens the participants in some psychological way”. Sex, the young people are taught, is for married people and came later in life.These lessons in sex are, in all cases, age appropriate. What you tell a 10- year- old about the dogs and where puppies come from is clearly different from what you tell, (or more accurately) confirm to his 14- year- old brother who is about to be circumcised!This rather long winded story is aimed at telling you that education in life is continuous and there is no one date or day that you sit your child or children down to tell them about sex. Long before you sit them down, many will have heard from friends, teachers, media, books, and might be upset that you are treating them “like children”.You and your family must decide what your children eat, where to go to school and must also decide when, and in what language to teach them sexuality and everything else you decide to teach them.

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