Human Life Education

Chapter Three: Sex Education Is Largely Non-Verbal

Dr. Jack and Barbara Willke, parents, pro-life workers (Reprinted with permission from A Reader in Natural Family Planning 106-108.)*

Jack: I would like to go over the ground with you, about this whole business of sex education and what it is. We continue to use the words "Sex Education" which is maligned as well as cheered. But the most important single thing you can say is that if you call it something else, like "family life education" or "becoming a person" or any of the other various semantic adjustments of these terms, then those who don't want sex education simply get all the more irritated, as though we we're trying to sneak something in without proper identification...

Barbara: By sex education we mean several things. We mean an on-going continual process. It begins when the parents first bring that little one home from the hospital; and it doesn't end until that child leaves their home to begin a life of his own. It's that encompassing. It is largely non-verbal. Very, very little sex education is ever verbal. It is a value thing, it is a life style; and whether you declare it to be non-value or not, for the child it is learning to understand his identity as a full, mature, masculine person, or as a fully developed feminine person; and to understand what it means to be this sexed person with these gifts. It is a broad and encompassing thing; it is not a heart-to-heart talk, nor is it the curriculum, or anything like that.

Jack: It is largely also non-biological; probably 98% of all of the sex education that any of us got was non-biological. But let's start at the beginning. It takes twenty years. Most of it is accomplished in the first five years. That statement may shake up mothers and dads listening out there; because as you well know, and as they well know, most didn't do any sex educating in the first five years. But that's where it's all at.

What do we mean when we speak of educating to human sexuality? What are the dominant sexual roles that a woman plays out in her life? One of the two dominant roles is that of being a mother; another one of the dominant feminine sexual roles is that of being a wife. For the vast majority of the girls who will be educated under you, those are the two major specific roles that they will play: mother and wife. That doesn't mean that there won't be many other aspects to this area, but it does mean that these are intensely sexual roles; and they are specifically feminine. Now, how does one learn to be a mother?

Barbara: Have any of you ever seen a mother sit her little child down and say, "Now honey, this is what a mother is"? Never! The children learn it by watching their mother, every hour of the day, for weeks, for years; and by the time they're two and a half or three years old, they can play out what a mother is to the last inflection in her voice. They indeed are little mimics! And they know very much about what it means to be a mother:

Do mothers like little children? Do mothers like to take care of little people? Do mothers think it's nice to have children? Or would they think it would be so much nicer if they were a daddy? Do mothers like other people's children? What are mommies all about?

These little people watch every day. But probably even more important is: What's it like to be a wife? Because again they're watching their mother:

And how do wives treat daddies? Is it nice to be married? What's marriage all about? Is marriage when these two people give each other the silent treatment for days on end; or there are loud voices, and they are not very nice to each other? Or is marriage when two people seem to like each other? Oh, they have their problems here and there; but then there is that smooching, and they always seem to have their little funnies together. What's marriage all about?

These big eyes are busy watching, and learning very deeply what these roles are all about.

Jack: You see the little girl; she tags along after her mother, hanging on her skirt (if she can reach it!); and she learns what moms are all about. She learns how moms treat kids and react. The same is true of her little brother.How many of you haven't smiled tolerantly at that little mimic who at maybe age one and a half or two - reaches out, and stretches and grunts like dad just an absolute mimic of his dad. And we smile at this little guy tolerantly.

And yet we rarely think that, just as he consciously or otherwise, has picked this up from his father, and will repeat it in his life; 30 years from now he will be treating his wife exactly the way dad today has shown him how a husband treats a wife.

Are you gentle with her? Do you understand? Are you helpful? Or do you exploit? Are you intolerant? How quick do you fly off the handle? When does one shout? When does one turn on his heel and walk out of the door? When does one finally get fed up and come in drunk? When does one raise his hand against her? Or does he ever?

All of these things we learn - and we learn very deeply from watching our dad. We watch him in his presence, and his positive relating aspects to mother; and we learn by his absence. Because in this particular case, when the going really got rough, dad solved that problem by cutting out; by deserting; and that was the way that intolerable situation was solved. But the lad whose father used that solution to a domestic problem, who is now grown to adulthood, and is a father and husband himself, has two or three times the chance of using that same solution to domestic strife, than he would have had if his father had stayed with it, worked with it, worked things out, made it go. We mimic what we come from.

Oh, we can be different, of course. But we will be different only by a conscious on-going effort of our will to be different. Otherwise we tend to blur into that reflex learning and reacting mechanism that IS the way dad treated mom. That IS the way you fight-when you get mad at each other. That IS the way you are concerned and tender toward the other. That's the way we hold our fork. And that's the way we pile our clothes or don't; it's so many reflex things. But that's where we can be different. We all know the tee-totaling son of an alcoholic father; but we understand that his is a conscious continuing effort of his will. It is his decision that "I will be different." What is less happy about that tee- totaling son is that he may have well developed certain neurotic traits from living under the shadow of a neurotic man, or a neurotic woman.

But we do become, to a very large extent, "chips off the old block." We learned then how to be a father, how to be a mother -these intensely sexual roles - we learned by witness, by the presence or by the absence, of that dominant adult in our life who occupied that role. Obviously if we have no parents, then antie, or grandma, or foster parents, or a procession of such, fortunately or otherwise, are the ones we then ultimately mimic.

So, our first point: How do we learn sex? We learn it in an on- going fashion. And as you all know, the pure biology of reproduction is a very simple thing. Any of us can put a pre- teenage child down in front of us and, with pictures or charts and a little talk, tell him or her the entire story in 40 minutes. That's no great problem. They probably learned it already anyway. Sex education, then, is largely non-verbal. Sex education is largely non-biological. It's witness. Sex education speaks to a value system. And that is the warp and the woof of the entire story of educating to human sexuality.

Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. ... In any case, each one should love his wife as he loves himself, the wife for her part showing respect for her husband (Paul to the Ephesians, 5-28; 33).

Next Page: Chapter 4: Reproduction vs. procreation
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