Sex no mystery at age nine

Linda Blackburne

Many young children who have not had any formal sex education know about the development of the foetus. Labour, natural birth and caesarians are also not mysteries to them, and they have thought about abortion and the contraceptive pill.

These are the findings of Jean Collyer, former health education advisory teacher for Cornwall, in Sex education in primary schools: a guide to policy development.

Her conversations with 72 eight to 10-year-old pupils counter the commonly-expressed opinion that children of this age are too immature to understand such "grown-up" things or that they would be frightened of sex education. "The children I have talked to are actively seeking information, from whatever source they can find, to help them explain the mystery of their own and other children's origin," says Ms Collyer. "I found that the majority of eight and nine-year-olds and all of the 10-year-olds knew about intercourse. Some of their parents and teachers were unaware that the children had this knowledge because the children were careful to hide it."

A second publication, Girls have long hair: what do key stage 2 pupils know about sex? by teacher Sandra Bourne draws three main conclusions following research in primary schools in the London borough of Enfield: * less than 25 per cent of nine-year-olds are able to name the sexual organs correctly; * most eight to 11-year-olds revert to stereotypes to explain gender differences, for example, boys have short hair and girls have long hair, and, all females, regardless of age, have developed breasts; * eleven-year-olds benefited from sex education programmes they followed when they were 10. The evidence suggests that an extension of the programmes for 11-year-olds, with an emphasis on relationships and feelings would be beneficial.

The publication is intended to help schools conduct their own sex education research.

These books also coincide with the launch of a bilingual sex education guide for special schools and teachers working with children with special needs. This guide, which publishers the Family Planning Association Cymru claim is the first of its kind, is being sent free to all special schools in Wales.

Joanna Laxton, FPA Cymru project co-ordinator and author of the guide, said: "Comprehensive, high-quality sex education for children with disabilities is essential to help them realise a fulfilled, happy and healthy adulthood. "

Sex education in primary schools by Jean Collyer, Pounds 7.95, is published by Forbes Publications, London WC2E 9ED. Girls have long hair by Sandra Bourne, Pounds 9, from Daniels Publishing, Cambridge CB2 1NS. Sex education for children with disabilities, Pounds 4.99, plus Pounds 1 pp, from FPA Cymru, Gwynedd LL57 1AX.

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