Tonight I was put into an unusual predicament. The local elementary school plans to host presentations to discuss sexuality and sexual health with students from Kindergarten to grade five. My kids—my little babies, will be told about “all the different holes” in their bodies, what they are and how they work. Not completely sure if I was okay with this idea, I joined my wife to listen to the speaker, Saleema Noon, give the skinny on all the ideas with which she planned to fill our kids’ heads. Apparently I was only one of the 60 concerned parents who questioned what our kids would be learning, and above all, why are kids will be learning it.
Saleema Noon is an attractive, 30-something, sexual health and family life educator with a wide range of experience working with children, teens, and adults. I lifted part of that statement right from her website. She has a B.A. in Family Sciences, and later completed a M.A. in sexual health education, a decision she says that was provoked by her counseling grade 10 boys and pregnant teenage girls with little or no factual sexual knowledge. The teenagers she counseled were vulnerable to peer pressure, due to their ignorance of sexual responsibility.
Introducing the night’s festivities
As a dad I didn’t know what to expect. On one hand I want to be the one to discuss sex with my children, but at the same time, I’m not sure about at which age I should broach the subject, and how much I should tell them when I do? Noon was completely straightforward and came across as matter-of-fact. She explained that this is the stance she regularly takes in her workshops, which were offered as either two night sessions where parents joined their children, or as a single session for each age group held during the regular school day.
If the school was offering parents the choice, they were unequally weighted: For the parents-included nights, the students would be split into groups grades K to 3 and 4 to 5, and there would be room for only about 50 of our school’s 470 students in each session. However, the daytime course would be separated into individual grades, except K and 1 are usually lumped together. This provides Noon with the opportunity to dig deeper at an age-appropriate level, to arm kids with the correct information before they make erroneous assumptions while talking about it with others on the playground.
Three reasons for bringing the topic up with kids:
Saleema gave three convincing reasons for discussing this material with young kids:
- To remove the stigma associated with sex. Sex is a beautiful act that has been confused by incorrect perceptions, which is why you often hear of sex as being “dirty”. By the time kids reach grade 5 they have already developed an embarrassment toward it, and this group requires additional calming to get the giggles out.
- To revert the damage done by the portrayal of sex in contemporary media. In one of her sessions a young girl spoke out, “Sometimes people have sex when they’re drunk!” Noon always addresses the reproductive and pleasurable aspects of sex, but breaks down the image that everybody is doing it. She gives older kids the opportunity to ask questions anonymously on paper, which she collected into a book to share with us. One anonymous child asked, “Do they really ‘do it’ in 007 movies?” Even if we don’t think they’re learning about sex, they are.
- To protect kids and youth from sexual predators, peer pressure, and abuse. She uses scientific language, (body science), to arm our kids with the correct vocabulary to identify their parts. Scientific language is important because it removes the stigma. Rather than describing touch as being good or bad, she teaches children about appropriate and inappropriate touch, and what to do about it. Studies have shown that the majority of predators are known to the child, so the children are always better off knowing that some touch is inappropriate and that it is okay to tell a trusted adult.
Noon was armed to the teeth with books and handouts, stories, anecdotes, and practical knowledge that set us all at ease. She had the entire room singing her song before the night was out. The books she recommended spanned the globe, some from England, several from American Girl (I prefer Being Girl from Saleema’s resources page of links), and others written by her mentor, Meg Hickling. I quickly glanced through: What’s Happening to Me? (for Boys), (there is also a version for girls), The Care and Keeping of You (Girls), and It’s So Amazing!, which has the least enticing drawings of boys and girls through various stages as they age.
Sexual health, education, and prevention
Sexual health and self-examination is a primary concern for her. In 2007 she was diagnosed with first-stage breast cancer without any genetic history whatsoever. Fortunately, through early detection and immediate treatment, she is now cancer free and continues her work raising awareness of the disease. Her recommendations are for boys to test themselves weekly, and girls monthly, a discrepancy she noted because girls are less at risk of developing cancer until they reach adulthood. Plus, as the genitals often produce healthy nodes during development, she doesn’t want to raise concerns that lead to fear.
I was completely surprised to hear that our boys and girls are reaching the beginning stages of puberty as age 8 or 9 nowadays, when previously these signs didn’t appear until they were 12. A question came from the group as to why this is, which led to a discussion about the ongoing research into the effects of the additives in processed food. Studies have shown that children in rural areas who eat organic or other naturally grown food still experience these changes at a later age.
At the end of it all, parents should feel comfortable that Saleema Noon’s talk will be helpful and not harmful. Her sessions are geared to discourage experimentation and dispel the myths before the kids reach middle and high school grades, by teaching respectful language, healthy choices, how to set boundaries to avoid peer pressure from TV, movies, and other kids, and how to protect themselves from entering into relations against their will.
My favourite question from an anonymous child was, “are u sure we’re responsible to handle this information?” Noon reinforced her stance that she teaches along the guidelines set by the ministry of education, and only gives children the scientific knowledge about how to discuss the changes in their bodies. She leaves any discussion about when it’s okay to have sex, and under what conditions, up to the parents. Often parents have their own rules, set by culture or religious background, and she doesn’t want to impede upon the parents’ right to provide that guidance to their children.
By working cooperatively with health departments, education systems, and parents, the end goal is to produce a society of sexually mature adults who make decisions based on accurate information, mutual respect, and personal Religious and cultural beliefs .