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Practical Object Lessons In Sex Instruction For Different Ages

( Originally Published 1940 )

The first introduction of the child into the mysterious world of the sexual life, which is such an acute question in these days, was once upon a time no question at all, for originally the sexual life was no mystery whatever. As the morbid outgrowth of a dualistic view of life, in the course of time sexual ignorance and sexual secrecy has become the ideal and the privilege of the "better" classes, who may permit themselves this luxury.

Yet, everywhere in the country, and in our great cities where people are still living in a more primitive and natural manner, everything is much less concealed. In some exceptional cases this leads to great evils, but as a general rule I have found more real modesty and chastity in these simple and natural people than in the rich. It is only a pity that the spirit of imitation which leads to a preference for the errors of the rich has not been ineffective, and even amongst the most reasonable people the bad example of hypocrisy filled with unchaste thoughts is ever more honoured, while at the present time the more educated families are at last beginning to abandon this stupidity as far as they themselves are concerned.

The more everything is artificially concealed at first, the greater is the necessity afterwards for judicious enlightenment. It is, however, very hard to correct what has once been spoilt. For here we are dealing with the souls of children, who are already in a state of more or less sexual exaltation through the old regime of hypocrisy. Here we must individualise very tactfully, for it is a biological law that morbid cases display much greater differences than normal physiological cases. And thus the characters of our children, falsely developed through concealment of the truth, diverge enormously, just as the educational tact of the parents differs enormously.

In family circles opportunity is readily found to broach the sexual question, perhaps through an event in plant-life or animal-life, or a pregnancy, or a chance remark of one of the children. These opportunities are generally neglected, for people think "there is plenty of time." And then comes the time, almost before one expects it, when the children are no longer so innocent, and evil influences have already begun to make themselves felt.

I was quits astonished at the brutal way a mother answered her 8-year-old son when he asked, "Mummie, where do babies come from?" She replied: "Who's told you about it?" "I don't know, mummie." "You know very well; who has been talking to you about it?" "Dietrich who lives next door" (a much older boy). "And what did Dietrich say?" The boy repeated a little stupid nonsense. The mother then said: "Dietrich knows nothing at all about it; when daddy comes home he will teach you better." But I never heard whether when daddy came home he taught the boy a little of the truth, or gave him a box on the ears. Perhaps the mother had forgotten the whole incident before the father came home; and the boy would be all the more pleased.

In the school it is not easy to find a good opportunity but lessons on plant- and animal-life, or the storytelling hour afford sufficient opportunity even in the primary schools to give the scholars an elementary idea. Furthermore, it is absolutely impossible to instruct them correctly in the life-history of plants and animals without touching lightly on the subject, unless it is purposely intended to keep them in ignorance.

An Object Lesson in Sex Instruction

A little curly head may unexpectedly pop up and cry: "Please, teacher, where is my little brother coming from?" The teacher: "What do you mean?" The scholar: "Yes, mother said I was going to have a little brother and I asked her where he was coming from, and then she said she couldn't tell me now, but I should know when I was bigger." Teacher: "Fritz, what a silly question for you to ask: where do the little brothers and sisters come from? Where does every-thing in Nature come from? Why everything grows. You all know very well that little children grow too, don't you? First of all they are so small that they cannot be seen and then they keep on growing until they are grown up. You are half grown up already. Then again, when things grow it is not like building a house, where we bring wood and stone together and lay the pieces one on top of the other; growth comes from the inside, like the pips inside an apple, which some day may grow into new apples. Just in this way also the first tiny beginning of a human being grows inside the body of a grown person, and bye and bye becomes a child and grows up too. Otherwise it would not be possible."

"Does the father also have children?" asks one of the scholars. "No, the father does not have any children; he has his work outside to attend to, but the mother looks after the children, doesn't she? And that is why your mother loves you so much, at least, when you are good. And that is why you should always be good and never disobedient. Your mothers take a lot of trouble with you, especially when another little brother or sister is growing; you must understand that it is rather hard for her. The little baby grows rather big, and then it seems as if everything in her must either bend or break. But when it is all over, we are all happy, and then you can play with your little brother bye and bye."

Of course, the older the scholars are the further one may go with the explanations. Sooner or later we come to the definite question: what part the father takes in it. This seems to be an almost insuperable difficulty with children.

A mother of delicate feeling once showed me a good way out.

I was attending a confinement in a simple but honest family and all at once a cock began vigorously treading a hen. The little girl, a pretty child of about 7 years of age, asked her mother: "Mummy, what is the cock doing, biting the hen?" "No," replied the mother, "that has to do with the laying of eggs. You like nice fresh eggs, don't you, Annie?" "Does the cock lay eggs then, mother?" "No, you know very well only hens lay eggs." "But, mummy, what is the cock doing that for?" Violent labour pains interrupted the conversation; when all was quiet again, the child asked once more: "But what does the cock really do, mother?" "You should ask the doctor; he can explain much better than I can." "No, no," said I, "you are telling her so nicely about it." And then she told the whole story.

"If there is no cock, there are no eggs, and if there are no hens there are no eggs either. Each of them can only make one-half of the egg: the cock has half-eggs, so small that they cannot be seen, and the hens have tiny half-eggs just the same. The cock lays one of these half-eggs in the hen's warm body. That's what he was doing just now. And then when the two half-eggs have become one egg, and this has had a few weeks to grow big, she hen lays the big egg in the warm nest in the fowl-house. If it is left there and the hen sits on it and keeps it warm all the time, then a little chicken grows out of it; or if you eat it instead, then you grow and become a big girl."

The child wanted to hear more, but her mother's pains increased, so she was sent to a neighbour's.

On some such plan quite a good explanation may be constructed. It can certainly not seem strange to any child that the little egg should remain for a time in the body and then pass out, while with the more advanced children one may speak of how it lies mid-way between the urinary canal and the intestine. How far one may go in this direction depends, of course, upon whether sufficient anatomical instruction regarding the human body has been given or not.

In the secondary schools we can briefly trace the course of the development of the individual from the ovum to man, and finally the sexual evolution, as we will attempt to do in Chapter 40. Perhaps here and there it will also be possible to give the pupils a correct insight into cell-life by means of the microscope or cinema.

If by chance the child has already acquired some impure impressions of sexual things, he must be energetically reminded of the seriousness and sacredness of this subject, and the banal will then disappear from his mind. Much depends here on the teacher's tact.

It is easy to repress untimely mirth if one of the scholars as "enfant terrible" says anything disconcerting, by promising reward or punishment according as the scholars know on the morrow what has been taught today; a few words of foreign origin that they must learn with it, work wonders. Thus an impression of impure feeling will be changed into one of proper modesty.

But after all there is one difficulty that the schoolmaster cannot overcome. He is master of the situation in the school; if he were not sure of himself there, he would not have broached the subject. But in the scholars' homes! Although he may have carefully explained the importance and sacredness of the subject, it is not his fault if the child chatters stupidly about it at home, in and out of season. Then the storm breaks:

"Child, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Where did you learn such things? Good gracious, do we send our children to school to learn these things? Let the fellow hold his tongue!" and so on.

Although that does not matter to the teacher, it is not very agreeable. At any rate the storm does not last very long, and the child will be thankful for the truth on this problem about which his parents had always deceived him. And the next time the child will be more careful.

But the child's words may call forth jeers and cause jokes when he is talking, not with his parents, but with narrow-minded people. Poor child, to be trusted to such people! Yet in this case it is doubly good that the teacher has done his duty; otherwise the narrow-minded people would have had the first word, and the good impressions would have come too late. Now the teacher has immunised the child beforehand, and he will feel an aversion to anybody shameless enough to profane such a holy subject. The teacher has saved the child in time. And if by any chance he is blamed, and told that such things are no part of school instruction, he may reflect that such reproaches are always heaped on those who truly try to do their duty; and always by persons who neglect to do theirs.

Of course, every teacher will have sense enough to make a very cautious beginning, if he does not know the state of public opinion in his district, so that he can first feel his way, and at first he will give only some little explanation appropriate to the occasion. He will then always find that this is very thankfully received.

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