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Sex Education Considers Society

( Originally Published 1923 )

Sex Education Considers Society as Well as the Individual.—The ideals and purposes which we seek to cultivate must be based upon the actual needs and potentialities of the individual. The end results must be both attainable and satisfying to the personality. At the same time the conduct which is to come out of our training must be acceptable to the enlightened demands of the community. This means that standards of conduct must be such as to be fairly uniform for all individuals, and that the customs or usages of the community must be taken into account as well as the peculiarities of the individual. Sex education is moral education quite as much as it is health education.

The process of adjustment is between individual impulses and satisfactions and the requirements of social life; but the latter are not to be considered in any final or arbitrary way. It is true that many of the demands which the community makes upon the control and even sacrifice of the individual have arisen from generations of experience as to the most effective way of reconciling the impulses, moods, whims, and desires of the individual with the similar demands of other individuals. But it is also true that the individual's adjustments are influenced by factors other than those which are strictly sexual; and that with changing conditions and ways of living, the sexual requirements and manners also change.

The "sound," "wholesome," "right," or "moral" attitudes and conduct are those which fit into the opinions and controls that society has found workable, and which at the same time fit into the well-being of the individual. It is a necessary part of the child's education to develop the concepts of duty and obligation, as well as the concepts of right and privilege. These are not to be imposed as vague abstractions that are arbitrarily demanded of a helpless humanity; they are to be developed as practical working adjustments which arise from the interplay of individual impulses, desires, prejudices, and so on. And in this process we must make use of all the resources at our command, the child's feeling of dependence as well as his aggressiveness, his religious sentiments as well as his curiosity, his response to the pressure of the public opinion of his community as well as his revolt against the conventions.

It is well in this connection for the child to get the idea that the demands of the community through its customs and conventions contain a degree of validity derived from long experience. But as the child grows older he may well be helped to understand that many of these conventions and practices, being the result of trials and errors, must be held subject to change with the growth of knowledge and understanding. That is to say, it is quite as necessary for the child to learn that the usages of society are subject to change, as it is to learn that his own habits must sometimes be modified. And nothing is gained by pretending that ultimate wisdom and finality of social standards have already been attained. While such pretense may be helpful to the parent in his attempt to impress upon the child the authoritativeness of what he is trying to teach, the inevitable reaction later will more than compensate for the fraud.

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