I trained as a sex educator 10 years ago. Since then I've had a passion for this topic and regularly take educational classes at primary schools. The students are usually eight to 10 years old. Over the years, I have developed my own programme, in which the children engage as playfully, independently and actively as possible with topics such as body education, puberty and sexuality.
Above all I like the openness of children. I look forward each time to the moment when the children realise that the session isn't about anything bad or even disgusting, but that everything we do and discuss has to do with them. I like it when they realise that I really take their questions seriously and they become more and more curious and questioning.
Children who haven't yet reached puberty are usually very open and approachable on these topics. They are incredibly curious. Later, during puberty, other things come up: insecurities with their own bodies and maybe even difficult experiences. How to talk about sexuality and feelings isn't something people learn about at school or at home. I often notice this at parents' evenings: many parents would like to do the right thing by their children in this important area. But they often feel insecure about the best way to do it.
Sexuality is everywhere in our society: advertising at the bus stop, gay parents in a TV series, a sexist insult in the schoolyard, or when an older sister is making out with a boyfriend. These different situations naturally generate a plethora of questions in children that they then carry around with them. But the message they get everywhere is: "This is not for you!"
There isn't one question, but there are two main areas that are always the focus: One is about the children themselves and the physical changes in puberty (e.g. "When does hair grow under your armpits?" or "Is puberty awful?"). The other is about adult sexuality (e.g. "How does sex work?" or "Why is sex nice?").
Children are embarrassed if they see that the adults are feeling uncertain. But if you show them that you won't suddenly faint if you say the word "sex" and that you can laugh together about embarrassing situations, then natural curiosity wins out. To make it as easy as possible for the children, I set up a question box in the classroom, in which the children can anonymously place their questions. Sometimes the box overflows!
I would very much like to encourage parents to talk much more about bodies and feelings with their children. You'll notice that even if your answers are sometimes awkward or you can't always find the right words, children don't mind that. On the contrary! Parents should try to look children in the eye and enter into their world and experience.
I give this promise from the start in my classes: I will answer any questions that the children ask me. The answer should be appropriate for children and reasonable for all children. This is sometimes a big challenge, because the children are often at very different stages developmentally at this age: while some are already visibly at the beginning of puberty, others are still very young.
Children should be familiar with their bodies from an early age. They need words for the various parts of a body, they should learn to name their feelings, to stand up for themselves, to feel strong in their bodies and to keep boundaries without feeling bad. Children should get to know their bodies as true miracles, which they can accept and in which they can be comfortable and go safely through their lives.