Is there a right age to talk about sexuality with our children? Many parents and legal guardians that are going through this moment today try several methods to make it the most elucidating as possible. But is there a correct approach to this issue? Based on the Pedagogy of Affection—an innovative proposal by educator Paiva Netto, successfully applied in the school network and in the social and educational programs of the Legion of Good Will (LBV), with the goal of forming Mind and Heart—educator Suelí Periotto* ponders on this theme that still produces a great deal of doubts among parents: which is the best time to breach the subject of sexuality with one’s children? Check out the anwers:
As from what age is it important to talk to a child about sexuality?
Suelí Periotto — Actually, there is no standard age to talk about this subject. A child’s curiosity arises according to the information it receives in the places where it socializes. However, parents must be attentive to answer every question a child may have that should arise from external influences other than from its home environment.
Before anything else, it is important that the child should have a well-founded family base, one in which the existing relationship between parents and their children affords a degree of freedom to deal with any subject, including sex. In the face of everyday situations, it is indispensable not to evade any issue. A relationship of trust, respect and companionship must be the goal of parents throughout their children’s lives, who must, in turn, regard their parents as a reference to have their doubts cleared.
Is there a more appropriate manner to answer these questions to children?
Sueli Periotto — Answers must observe two parameters: Clarity: Satisfying the child’s curiosity with regard to the theme; Objectivity: Explain just enough to satisfy the child’s understanding according to its age. It is important to bear in mind that there is no need to go too deep into the answers given to such questions from children, as they do not yet have enough maturity to absorb all the explanations.
Are there different approaches for girls and boys?
Sueli Periotto — No, there aren’t. Since this is still largely a taboo subject for many parents, there has always been a certain amount of resistance, obstructing the path to a more natural treatment of the subject of sexuality in the family environment. Many parents used to wait for their children to reach a certain age to—only then and in a roundabout and overcautious sort of way—begin some form of dialogue on the subject that usually ended up not being frank and open.
Nowadays, however, the reality is a little different. The theme springs up among children through different stimuli: it comes up in schools or on neighborhood streets, in talks with friends, acquaintances and neighbors; in the Internet, websites or chat rooms; or even due to shows aired on the media.
It rests on the shoulders of those responsible for children to be very watchful of just who are in the child’s circle of relationships (both real and virtual) and just what the little ones are watching on TV. It is necessary to establish clear limits for children since many approaches often fail to provide the safe basis that can actually give children an adequate sexual education. Quite often, on the contrary, they promote a misguided kind of education from which comes the terrible vulgarization of sex, understood as a “simple act of sexual mechanics”, detached from the indispensable notion of Love, in its highest form, as educator Paiva Netto revealed to us. As a matter of fact, in his literary essay The Gospel of Sex (Elevação Publishing House), as from page 21, he clarifies the following:
“Love is not a nasty expression of desire. It goes far beyond earthly misconceptions and, at the same time, lives within the Human Being, keeping him/her morally alive. As the humans’ irremovable factor, Love is a generator of Life. Being everywhere, it is everything. Therefore, he who does not love cannot be considered civilized if he disobeys the Human and Social Solidarity Law of He who is the planet’s highest leader: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. Only in this manner, shall all of you be recognized as my disciples’ (The Gospel of the Christ according to John, 13:34 and 35). (...)”.
And the President of the LBV continues:
“The nature of sex
“For those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, what has little to do with sex itself is the so-called ‘casual sex’, usually performed without any caution, leading to precocious pregnancy, even during preadolescence, where one does not have the maturity needed for such responsibility (...).
Sex is, above all, Love. And, when imbued with Love, it becomes a wonderful thing. It lasts longer than Malherbe’s Roses2. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-215) warns us in his Paedagogus (The Instructor): ‘We should not be ashamed of talking about what God has not been ashamed to create’. But now, when the subject of sex is discussed quite a lot, people who curiously consider themselves free seem to only think of getting into bed with someone (laughter). On the other hand, when Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) portrayed the enigmatic La Gioconda, a sexual act took place in his work of art. The same act happened when Michelangelo (1475-1564) painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or carved the unsurpassed statues of David and Moses (‘Parla!’3). The discovery of penicillin by Flemming (1881-1955) is another sexual act (in this case, of Science). Sex is essentially creation, and Maternity is its sublimation (...). The nature of sex is to create. In this sense, there is no greater sexual being than God”.
A suggestion then to parents and teachers when approaching this and other themes that should come up eventually, is to not lose sight that intuition is a great ally in caring and raising our sons, daughters and pupils. To base ourselves on the light of Ecumenical Spirituality when dealing with all subjects is the right decision to make in our lives, eternal Spirits experiencing an ongoing evolutionary and learning process.
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1 Suelí Periotto is the Supervisor of the Pedagogy of Affection and the Ecumenical Citizen Pedagogy and the principal of the José de Paiva Netto Educational Institute in São Paulo (Brazil). She has Doctorate and Master degrees in Education from PUC-SP. She is also a conference speaker.
2 Malherbe’s roses — A verse by the French poet François de Malherbe (1555-1628): “And rose, she lived as roses live”, meaning a fleeting lifespan.
3 ‘Parla!’ — The same as “Speak!”.
Version: Robert Rajabally
Revision: Silvana Bosso