First off, let me just say that I think kids should absolutely be taught about sex, their bodies, and LGBTQ issues. I say this as someone who was groomed by a relative. The people arguing that talking to kids about sex is “grooming” have got it backward, a point made in many ways in the article below but most strongly in these two paragraphs.
“But most important, early sex ed opens up lines of communication between kids and responsible adults. “If we start giving off the impression that sex is a topic that when you ask me a question … that I’m going to start acting weird and funny and dishonest about it, they quickly pick up that this is something off-limits,” says Emily Rothman, a health-sciences professor at Boston University. “So they’re either gonna think, Well, I can go to my friends or I can go to the internet.” By which she means: to porn.
The larger point of this kind of instruction is what the Dutch call “sexual assertiveness”: “If somebody is saying or doing something that makes your body feel uncomfortable, you’ve been taught how to notice that and what to do next,” Rough told me. One aim of communicating freely about sex with a teacher or another trusted adult is the “development of a trusting, trustworthy relationship with a grown-up who has the child’s best interests at heart.””
I was raised in a family and neighborhood that was predominantly Catholic. We didn’t talk about sex in our family, and we sure as heck didn’t talk about gays or anything else. We had some rudimentary sex education in school, but nothing all that encompassing, and to be frank, that education came years after the sexual abuse had already started for me.
When the abuse started, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what was happening or why. I didn’t understand why my body reacted the way that it did. I knew that we didn’t talk about sex. I “knew” that because my abuser was an older boy, and my body did what it did in response, it must mean I was gay, and being gay was bad. I didn’t want anyone to know I was gay.
I’m not gay, and there’s nothing “bad” about being gay. One, or both, of those bits of knowledge, might have made a huge difference in the continuing abuse I suffered for a long 7-8 years, but I didn’t have that information because my family didn’t talk about those things, schools didn’t teach those sorts of things and the general society of the mid-1970s into early 80s America didn’t convey that information.
I cannot even count the number of times male sexual abuse survivors have told me they didn’t even realize they were being abused until they were well into adulthood. I strongly believe that is because no one taught us what it meant to be abused. No one taught us the difference between sexual orientation, gender, and sexual violence. We had to wait until we were adults to, hopefully, heal and figure it out. Some never do.
I am sure there are plenty of female survivors of sexual abuse who would tell you similar stories. They didn’t tell anyone because no one was allowed to talk about sex. They were being taught how to dress and sit but not how to recognize the signs of abuse because we shouldn’t fill their minds with such thoughts. Or worse, they were being taught that anyone of any gender paying attention to them sexually as a result of their own behavior.
Since you didn’t, and school isn’t allowed to, teach them someone else will. It might be online or in person, but there is nothing more attractive to real pedophiles than kids who lack the basic skills and open communication with adults to tell on them.
Kids who are aware of their bodies and their place in the world can openly talk about sex with trusted and safe adults, understand what it means to be LGBTQ in some basic fashion and what to do when someone makes them feel threatened, making for poor targets. That’s not grooming; that’s teaching them basic self-defense. That’s teaching them the truth and the basics of reality.
I know a lot of supporters and people in the child abuse community don’t want to hear this, but I will not stand by while we practice things that make children less safe. Lacking knowledge about these topics does that. You’re not protecting them. You’re endangering them.