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a system of medical and pedagogical measures for inculcating in parents, children, adolescents, and young adults correct attitudes toward sex.
Sex education aims at promoting the harmonious development of the younger generation, at increasing knowledge of sexology and understanding of childbearing, and at instilling a sense of responsibility for the health and well-being of one’s future wife or husband and children, that is, at strengthening marriage and the family. It is concerned, therefore, with complex medical, pedagogical, and social problems whose physiological, health, pedagogical, moral, ethical, and aesthetic aspects are closely intertwined.
For many centuries, the approach to sex education was determined by traditions sanctified by religion. It was not until the 20th century that attempts were first made to approach the problems of sex education scientifically. In the second half of the 20th century, teachers, sexologists, and social and government organizations everywhere have become interested in the subject. This is due particularly to the dissemination among young people in many capitalist countries of views rejecting any restrictions or moral standards in sexual life (“a single sexual morality: free love”) and to the increased incidence of venereal disease, abortions, and childbirth among minors.
Many countries, including the United States, Sweden, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the German Democratic Republic, have programs for preschoolers, schoolchildren, and adolescents that provide anatomical, physiological, sexological, and hygienic information on sex. In the USSR, sex education is begun later, during the eighth grade in high school. Its principles are based on general educational principles. The subject is part of the general complex of educational measures used at home and in preschool institutions, schools, and youth organizations; parents, teachers, and medical workers follow the same approach. Sex education is differentiated according to sex, age, and the children’s and parents’ degree of readiness, and it proceeds step by step. It presupposes both a favorable moral atmosphere and hygienic living conditions.
In the first stage of sex education, preschool children are taught elementary habits of hygiene and rules of behavior. Care is taken to prevent stimulation of the erogenous zones, chiefly in the genital area, by uncomfortable clothing or parasitic worms in the large intestine.
At the age of two or three, the child becomes aware of its own sex, begins to understand physical differences between boys and girls, and asks such questions as “Where did I come from?” These observations and questions are part of the natural process of learning about the environment and do not as yet have any sexual character. The child’s questions should be answered in a language that he or she can understand, briefly and without such unnecessary details as a description of the structure and function of the genitals. This might arouse his interest in sexual details he knows nothing of and consequently did not ask about. Since a child does not usually try to find out more precisely where children come from until he is five to seven years old or begins to wonder about the role played by the father until he is six to eight years old (R. Neubert), he can be satisfied with such answers as “I gave birth to you in a maternity hospital” or “You grew in my stomach.” Examples from the life of animals may be used, but one should not be evasive or tell the child he was found among the cabbages, brought by the stork, or bought in the market. The embarrassment of adults, their refusal to answer a question, or their soon-exposed lie arouse the child’s distrust, increase his interest in a mysterious side of life, and make him want to satisfy his curiosity by talking with supposedly better-informed older friends.
Young schoolchildren are taught general moral, ethical, and hygienic rules important for normal sexual development. As in the other stages of sex education, sensible rules of health and diet play an important role. The preschooler or young schoolchild may fall in love, generally with an older, usually attractive or strong person, try to be physically close to this person, follow him about, and caress him. In such cases, attention should not be fixed on this attachment. Instead, the child’s attention should be diverted to new games, to reading, and to other occupations; the infatuation will go away by itself. As in the other stages of sex education, positive examples of correct relations between parents and other adults are important.
The third stage of sex education corresponds to puberty. This period is usually not accompanied by health problems, although the child may become irritable, inattentive, and easily fatigued. The parents should inform him about the physiology of the developing body and teach him appropriate rules of hygiene. It is essential for the parents of a girl to prepare her for the onset of menstruation; according to surveys, 70 percent of girls receive this information from their mothers. Boys should be told about nocturnal emissions. Girls must be taught rules for personal hygiene and instructed to keep a menstrual calendar. They should be told about proper clothing to be worn and rules of diet and general health to be observed during their menstrual periods. Boys too should be informed that nocturnal emissions are a natural phenomenon and that they require observance of elementary hygiene. Persistent but tactful efforts should be made to combat masturbation, which is often excessive at this time; however, this should not be done by frightening boys with warnings of its supposedly terrible consequences.
The chief goal of the fourth and fifth stages of sex education, for adolescents in the final grades of school and for young people who have finished school, is to make them aware of the relations between the sexes as a comprehensive moral, social, and hygienic problem, to explain the principles of sexual hygiene, to discuss the prevention of venereal disease and abortions, and to clarify moral and ethical questions and marital hygiene.
Adolescents at the stage of puberty seek and try to fulfill their ideals. They are very critical and quick to quarrel with adults and often overestimate their own moral qualities or, on the contrary, suffer from their imaginary shortcomings. A developing young woman seeks to please those around her, and this wish gradually becomes the principal motive of her conduct. She then tries to please men and share experiences with them and seeks love and affection. To attract attention, young girls try to improve their appearance with stylish hairdos, clothing, and cosmetics. They also seek more exact information about the “secrets” of love.
Young men at this stage try to affirm their ego by maintaining that they can do anything an adult does, including smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages; they also begin to pay attention to girls. Previous attachments to friends of the same sex often recede into the background. Young people try to suppress their vague desires but do not know how to do this. They are shy with members of the opposite sex and often seek help from adults, but only if it is given tactfully. The advice of parents and teachers with regard to behavior is gratefully accepted, but if advice is given in the form of orders or prohibitions, these are disobeyed openly or secretly. Young people are attracted and influenced by an adult’s ability to see beauty in nature, art, work, or man and to be agreeable, respectful, and considerate with regard to others.
Sex education is carried out by parents and medical personnel and by teachers, both in and out of the classroom. It also takes place in workers’ collectives by means of lectures, talks, pamphlets, popular-science films, and special evenings devoted to the subject. In addition, sex education is carried out in civil-registry offices and in cultural and medical establishments.
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A. N. SHIBAEVA