Typos p. 257: un!ikely [= unlikely]; p. 270: naivetés [= naïvetés]; p. 272: Geschlectskunde [= Geschlechtskunde]
Instruction in Sex
The demand for the sex-instruction of children and adolescents is in the air, and this book would hardly be complete if I failed to make some reference to it. As, moreover, much confusion prevails in this as in most other matters to-day, it may be as well to state plainly what the need for sex-instruction amounts to and how it should be met.
If we regard child-education as the means of preparing the young to live decently and fully as adults in society, a knowledge of the functions of sex would seem as necessary a discipline as any other. I mean, of course, Discipline in sense two.
But since, as far as I know, no one up to the present has gone to the length of advocating for the young a practical training in sex, as a carpenter's apprentice is taught carpentering, the discipline in this connexion is commonly understood to mean no more than imparting the relevant information, or the "theory" of the reproductive functions. And since, as most authorities now agree, it no longer serves any purpose, and only reveals our dread of the whole subject, to limit this theoretical instruction to the sex-life of plants (botany), we are compelled, if we undertake the task at all, to instruct children in the facts of mammalian reproduction.
Thus, Sir J. Arthur Thomson, speaking of boys, declares, "I am sure that there is no use in trying to get past animal sex by expatiating on the pollination of flowers." (Sex-Education and the Parent, p. 18) and Guilfoyle Williams concurs. (Op. cit., pp. 164165). Konrad Höller is more emphatic. He says that "no department of knowledge is less suited to serve as a starting-point in sex-instruction than
Now it must be plain to any observant student of mankind that it would be both mistaken and unjustified to regard this instruction in the theory of human reproduction as a need equally pressing in every section of the population. Indeed, a good case might even be made by those who claim that sex-instruction, as a need, is entirely the product of artificial conditions; that when a natural life is led i.e., a life in touch with the phenomena of nature it is as superfluous as set open-air exercise, or instruction in rabbit-snaring would be.
Nor, if we look at the facts can this be doubted. The child reared on a farm is surrounded by birds and quadrupeds from whom he learns "that side of life" with every breath he takes. He sees cows, mares, ewes, and goats either taken away to be mated, or else mated in his father's yards or fields. Even when they are taken away, he knows why they have gone and what has happened to them. He discusses openly with adults why the shooting of hare stops in the breeding season, and when and how he can obtain a family from the doe rabbit he keeps. The cats and dogs about him all copulate and breed under his eyes. The whole of the sexual life of animals is discussed before him at his father's table or when he is within earshot about his father's premises. It is all casual and lacks the atmosphere of dread and dislike with which frightened urban adults envelope the question of sex when, if ever, they discuss it with children. It is not the occasion of a special little well-prepared speech, uttered either by father or mother with a half-frightened expression which is never there in other circumstances.
It is town life that has been chiefly responsible for creating the need of sex-instruction, and since, in towns, all that most children can do to solve the great mystery is to guess and gather scraps of information from friends as ignorant as themselves, it follows that the urban child, especially if he has led a protected life, may often reach adolescence with the ache of curiosity concerning human procreation still unrelieved.
Now, hitherto, these artificially bred town children have either been left to come by their enlightenment by chance this is the general rule or else they have been enlightened by a suitable adult about the time when they reach puberty. But the question as to who should enlighten them, whether parent, priest, general practitioner, pedagogue or somebody else, received almost as many solutions as there are families in the country.
It may be argued that we are logically under an obligation to give at least the town child correct data about sex functions, that is, if we regard education as a preparation for a full social life. Otherwise, the onus would be upon us to show why in this important matter alone ignorance is preferable to knowledge. Also I suggest that, apart from a natural feeling of curiosity about origins, the average child is, in any case, un!ikely to be more than temporarily interested in the subject when once he has learnt the essentials. The moment he knows, he will probably dismiss the matter from his mind for something more congenial.
The more casually the information is imparted and the more matter-of-fact the tone of the educator, the better;
Also, I agree with those who argue that it is a mistake for adults, in the hope of making the matter sound nice and drawing-roomy, to drag in questions of love, unselfishness, devotion, and the beauty of it all. The child cares not a rap about the state of romantic intoxication that had to come over his mother and father before they could believe that they would be "happy ever after." All he asks to know is where he and other children come from. Tell him that mother grew him inside her body just as the mother cat grows her kittens, and he will be content. If later he asks for further details, give him them. But he will only suspect, or actually feel, the adult's dread and dislike of the whole subject if he or she finds it helpful helpful to the adult to add the make-believe of a Barrie comedy. When once, however, he has been answered simply and calmly, he will, as a rule, dismiss the matter and turn to the things, such as his soldiers, bricks, or ball, in which he is more interested. As to the ethical implications of human procreation, these may be imparted to him gradually, by precept and example.
What Bertrand Russell says of his own children is, I think, true of most average children, and to expect anything else argues the adult's embarrassment over the whole business.
Speaking of his son aged seven and his daughter aged five (this was in November, 1929) he said, "They have shown a
Personally, I may say straight away that I think these proposals not merely absurd, but in the unlikely event of their proving practicable, also dangerous. For if it were possible to realize them they would constitute the wrong way of solving the problem; and if the schemes they envisage are forced into being, it will be found quite impossible to make them function. For I understand by sex-instruction in schools, the plan to make this form of lesson the first truthful account of mammalian sexual functions which, together with indications of the ethical import of human procreation, the majority, at least, of the children will receive.
If we examine the problem closely we can hardly fail to endorse both these claims.
We have seen that sex-instruction is a need only in urban areas; for if the children of rustics have learnt the ethical implication of the sexual life, all they will need at about school-leaving age is to be told the facts about venereal disease, which any adult can tell them. The scheme would therefore amount to introducing sex-instruction only into the curricula of urban schools throughout the kingdom. Before this is done, however, are we satisfied that a classroom at school is the best place, the best environment for such instruction?
My own view is that it is an environment that defeats one of the most important rules which should govern all instruc-
These are some preliminary objections, and I am glad to find that, in advancing them, I am supported by no less an authority than Stekel, who stigmatizes the whole of the agitation for sex-instruction in schools as a "mental epidemic" and a form of "psychological exhibitionism." (Nervöse Angstzustände und ihre Behandlung, p. 219).
A graver objection relates to the known individuality of children and their peculiar attitude to sex-matters generally, as formed within the home and the family. Every child is not only different from the rest, but is also especially different in his adaptation to the phenomena of sex. Indiscriminately to address a whole classroom of children on a matter which, as we all know, has occupied the minds of each in a particular way, and to which each has already acquired a certain psychological adaptation (although the real facts may still be unknown to him) is therefore to try to standardize a matter which has none of the susceptibilities for standardization characteristic of arithmetic, geography, English, etc. And here again I find myself in complete agreement with Stekel, whilst even Hirschfeld leans this way.
"The problem of sex-instruction," Stekel says, "can only be solved individually. After their children have reached a certain age, the best solution is for the parents to introduce into their conversation, as a matter of course, allusions to sexual facts. This should be done without any solemn emphasis or mystery. Thus the children would gradually
A further consideration which makes it advisable to solve the problem of sex-instruction individually is the fact that all children of the same age are by no means necessarily in the same stage of either mental or physical development. Some will be ready, others unready, for the data as they are presented to the class as a whole. A few will be so unready as to be in danger of what Stekel describes as "prematurely picturing it too clearly." Nor have I much doubt that what may have been partly wrong in the case of the thirteen year old Gillingham boy, who was charged at Chatham Juvenile Court early in January, 1946, with improperly assaulting and causing bodily harm to a six year old girl, was that he had either been unready for what he had been taught in his sex-instruction class, or else it had been wrongly imparted to him. He told the probation officer about his sex-instruction at school and further stated that he "wanted to find out. It was curiosity more than anything else." (News of the World, 6.1.46).
I have no intention of basing a plea on an isolated case of this kind. Nor would I venture to attack sex-instruction in schools on the score of it. Nevertheless, it seems justified to claim that an example of this kind does show, as Stekel argues, that sex-instruction is much too individual a matter to be amenable to mass or standardized treatment. For, whilst in the case of the Gillingham boy, the obviously faulty method employed led to a public scandal, we are left in the dark regarding how his school-fellows digested the material. Because they did not have to appear before a Juvenile Court
Besides, we should remember a fact too often forgotten by the advocates of sex-enlightenment in schools, which is that parents themselves are just as much individualized by their peculiar sex experiences and early adaptations as are their own children. Although they may hold their knives and forks, wield their spoons, and believe in "freedom" and a sense of humour, in exactly the same way as millions of their compatriots, we may feel certain that, in their attitude to sex, they will have peculiarities all their own. Even if they do not share the sex-phobia of the Western World, they will nevertheless have purely individual feelings about sex, which have affected the home atmosphere. The child, however, comes to his sex-instruction at school with this atmosphere about him. He is, therefore, different from his school-fellows both in his own reactions to sex and also in respect of his home atmosphere. He cannot come to his sex-instruction in the tabula rasa condition with which he comes to his history or arithmetic lesson.
Consequently, to a high proportion of those children receiving it, mass or standardized instruction in sex can hardly help being the wrong approach.
We must always consider the difference between the child and the adult in this connexion. Pressed by his conscious "need of having speedily to adapt his sexual impulses, the adult listens to any impersonal discourse on the anatomy and physiology of sex with the eager attention of a passenger in an air-liner listening to instructions about the use of parachutes, emergency landings, etc. He knows the information is vital. But the child, urged by no conscious need to adapt his sexual impulses, will demand only the satisfaction of his curiosity on the principal points still obscure to him. To the rest he will listen with much the same mystified wonder as aborigines living in mud huts might to a discourse on a modern fire-escape. He will silently ask
Freud, in condemning the policy of making sex-instruction a special subject brought to the attention of children at an age arbitrarily decided upon by the educationist, writes in much the same vein as his old colleague Stekel. "What is much more important," he says, "is that children should never be allowed to imagine that their elders are more concerned with maintaining secrecy about sexual matters than about any other subject which they cannot yet understand. And, in order to achieve this end, it is essential that from the very earliest years sexual matters should be discussed before them in exactly the same way as any other set of facts worth knowing." (Kleine Schriften zur Sexual Theorie, p. 14).
But, where this occurs, sex-instruction in school hours, if necessary at all, amounts merely to a process of adding precision and scientific authority to a body of knowledge already roughly assimilated.
Before leaving the consideration of the reasons why sex-instruction in schools is the wrong method of imparting information, there is one last point which I wish to make, and it concerns the character of the individual child. It is all very well to enjoin upon adults the duty of discoursing on sex questions before children in a matter-of-fact, casual and natural manner, but although I agree that this should be the tone, I would insist that not even the proper tone for such discussions would avail, if there is not, pari passu with the gradual enlightenment of the child in sex matters, a steady building up and consolidation of his character. For where character and a disciplined nature are lacking, sex information may simply be the spark that ignites the tender. As Dr. Iwan Bloch declares, "all enlightenment will be
Turning now to my second point that the proposal to give sex-instruction in schools (understood in this chapter always as the first approach to the subject under the guidance of an adult) is absurd because it is unrealizable, I state it as my conviction that, as the teaching personnel for this kind of instruction, even if agricultural areas are excluded, is likely to be very much more limited than the advocates of the scheme suppose, it is idle to discuss a programme of sex-instruction which is to apply to the whole nation.
After two thousand years of the inculcation of sex-phobia upon all civilized people, and three hundred years of intensive conditioning in the more acute forms of this monomania in Anglo-Saxon countries, it is not going to be merely difficult but also actually impossible to implement any legislation providing for sex-instruction in the schools throughout Great Britain and America.
Seeing that, as might have been expected, the gifts essential to the pedagogic art have been found insufficiently distributed over the population to provide an adequate supply of good teachers for ordinary instruction in our schools, it is romantic to expect that a sufficiently large personnel will be forthcoming for sex-instruction, the most difficult of all.
At the cost of the children to be educated, and under the
The experience of some seventy years in our State schools, and of centuries in other schools, has abundantly shown that, in order to make our national educational system function at all, we have been compelled to employ hundreds of thousands of fully certificated male and female teachers who were no more vocational pedagogues than the soldiers in a conscript
Anybody doubting the truth of this statement should himself try to test the knowledge, whether of history, geography, or English, possessed by the average adult who was educated at a primary school, and even the adult who ultimately reached a secondary school. A sidelight on the state of affairs will be found in Mr. McNicol's excellent book, History, Heritage, and Environment.
If, however, in order to teach any ordinary subject effectively, as Mr. McNicol would have it taught, for instance (Op. cit.), special gifts are essential, and these cannot reasonably be expected to belong to every member of our army of teachers, how much more hopeless must it be to expect large numbers of men and women to possess the extra-special and largely temperamental gifts required for successfully instructing a class of children in sex! For let all the advocates of sex-instruction in schools remember that in no other subject are the personality and general character of the teacher of such paramount importance as in this one.
"That is why," says Konrad Höller, "not everyone who is master of the facts is on that account qualified to discuss them before school children. More than in any other question, the personality of the teacher is here the important factor." And he adds, "He who believes that he will be unable without embarrassment to treat of sexual questions before a class of pupils will be justified in declining to undertake the duty. For if sex-instruction is to be given to clear the air and to forestall the generation of a foetid mental atmosphere in the child, it must be given in plain sober terms, without a trace of hesitation, or of faltering expression, and free from any obscurities or picturesque ambiguities." (Die Sexuelle Frage und die Schule, p. 26).
It seems unnecessary to labour so obvious a point. Every-
I understand that already the authorities, as might have been expected, are encountering serious difficulties in finding the suitable personnel in sufficient numbers for duty as sex-instructors, and it is no secret that large numbers of male and female teachers have, as Höller foresaw, declined to undertake the work. According to Dr. Meyrick Booth, there is a considerable body of opinion in scholastic circles against class instruction in this subject (see Op. cit. p. 122), and yet, as Höller points out, it would be a mistaken policy and a dereliction of duty on the part of teachers to support the claim advanced in some quarters that the task should be given to doctors and clergymen. For, not only is there nothing in the medical or theological curriculum which prepares a man for the rôle of a good teacher, but there is also nothing in a licence to practise medicine, or in the ceremony of ordination, to prove that the average doctor or priest has the temperamental and other personal qualities which are required of a good teacher in any subject, not to mention this very difficult one. (Op. cit. p. 27).
When we bear in mind, moreover, that, in spite of the perfectly sound and sensible claim that sex-instruction should be given in plain, sober terms, with perfect naturalness and calm, there is about the whole relation of sex to life a character which in one direction borders on the ethical, and in the other on the emotional (especially is this so with older children) in a way that no other school subject does, the idea that all this can be successfully imparted to a whole class of unselected children, except by a man or woman of very exceptional personal and other qualities enabling him
Nor, when we speak of plain and sober terms as fitting to sex-instruction, should we imagine that a discourse on sex before a class of children can or should be delivered without reference to the social implications of sex, and without an undercurrent of innuendo regarding the peculiarly sacred character of the reproductive functions. This is a condition often overlooked by the more superficial of the purveyors of modern Thought. Because the Manicheists and Puritans have tried to establish a tabu in regard to the sexual life, more enlightened people are not bound to discuss it as if it were no more than diet or football.
It is not helpful, for instance, to say, as Mr. David Wills does in his shallow book, The Hawkspur Experiment, (p. 165), "If only we can learn to talk about copulation as naturally as we talk about digestion we shall have gone a long way to making a world fit for children to be brought up in." Nor is he alone here. I could quote others who share his point of view.
Now, it is most earnestly to be hoped that the world will never learn to do as Mr. Wills bids, because, if it did, it would mean that the fundamental difference between digestion and copulation had been overlooked and forgotten. An act which may foist a new being, a new character, a new consumer and a new responsibility upon the community, which may lead to a whole concatenation of blessings or disasters for posterity, can never and should never be talked about as we talk about digestion. It is much too serious and sacred, much too momentous socially.
That is what I mean when I say that an undercurrent of innuendo regarding the peculiarly sacred character of the reproductive functions must pervade any public address on the subject not actually given in a school of medicine. If Mr. Wills and his like think that we can talk as naturally
But where are the teachers who, besides all the other qualities necessary for the task, have the art and mastery to couch a discourse for children on the reproductive functions in such terms as to convey the sacredness of the subject without sermonizing, moralizing or sentimentalizing?
On the whole, therefore, it seems inevitable to conclude that, for the two reasons discussed above, sex-instruction in schools is not only wrong but, even if it could be proved right, is also quite impracticable. Nevertheless, if I judge my contemporaries, their arrogance and their self-complacency aright, I feel sure that within measurable distance of time not only will sex-instruction be provided in all schools, but there will also be a pretence on the part of the authorities of having found the qualified personnel in sufficient numbers for fulfilling this educational programme satisfactorily. What lends countenance to this prophecy is the progress already made in the direction indicated, and, above all, the weight of influential but shallow opinion everywhere noticeable behind it.
Meanwhile, those who have a better understanding of the requirements and of the special character of this kind of instruction will have appreciated that the best, safest and only decent way of providing for it is in the home, within the confines of the family and its circle of intimates. So that we have now to discuss the means whereby parents themselves, or those chosen by them, can undertake the task.
It is hardly necessary to enumerate the many competent educationists and psychologists who favour this solution. From Rousseau to August Forel and Ch. Féré, from Drs. A. Moll, Pfister, Stekel and above all Freud, to the Englishmen Dr. Meyrick Booth and the Rev. the Hon. E. Lyttleton, comes an almost unanimous plea in favour of sex-enlightenment by parents. And many thinkers as different, for instance, as Dr. Moll and Dr. Lyttleton believe the parent
A few of them, however, point to a peculiar difficulty that faces parents in their rôle as sex-instructors.
Guilfoyle Williams, for instance, writes, "Parents find it difficult to talk over matters with their grown children, and children find it almost impossible to discuss matters with their parents." (Op. cit. p. 73).
Dr. Lyttleton is both more precise and more emphatic. He points to "the prevailing shyness, or reserve which exists between parents and children, especially on the father's side, in relation to such subjects as this." (The Training of the Young in Laws of Sex, pp. 75, 77, 104).
It is impossible, of course, in the circumstances taken for granted by both these authors, to deny this shyness; but it is characteristic of Dr. Lyttleton's whole book, which teems with misunderstandings of the real issue, and is otherwise full of astonishing naivetés, that not once does the fact of this shyness suggest to him that the method he recommends and expects parents to adopt, may be wrong. Not once does it occur to him that the shyness to which he constantly refers, and to which he calls attention only because he has so often observed it, may be the result of parents attempting the impossible.
Confidently and in complete good faith, I retort to both Mr. Guilfoyle Williams and Dr. Lyttleton, "All honour to the mother and father who feel shy in the circumstances which Dr. Lyttleton's method of sex-instruction would call into being! No one with more sensitiveness than a rhinoceros could feel anything else!"
What are these circumstances?
They are the same in almost every home in the land at the present day, for such homes as we are led to infer Bertrand Russell's to have been, are relatively rare. Among the great majority the atmosphere, where sex questions are concerned, is as follows the children are bred to regard all water-closet and sub-navel allusions as strictly tabu. No
They cannot help noticing as we have seen, children miss nothing the wiles and subterfuges to which the giants about them resort in order to escape unseen to the water-closet, and the embarrassment these same giants display if they are caught emerging from it.
In one middle-class home I used constantly to visit in the first and second decades of the twentieth century, it was intimated to me through a third party, but actually by the head of the household himself, that I did not observe sufficient discretion about going to the water-closet, and made too much noise there, pulling the plug, etc.
Now, in view of the inevitable association of organs below the navel with the water-closet, the secrecy enjoined upon all concerning these organs, and their complete concealment in everyday life, "that side of life" naturally becomes shrouded in mystery, and in time a feeling of shame and uneasiness becomes habitually connected with them.
If then, in such circumstances, an adult is suddenly confronted with the task of having to break the spell and to speak nakedly about parts which are never allowed to be naked; to have to discourse openly about organs whose merely excretory functions have been as scrupulously hushed up as their procreative ones, he or she may surely be pardoned for feeling acutely embarrassed. On le serait à moins!
Yet, such is the situation in which average parents find themselves when they are exhorted by people like Dr. Lyttle-
Obviously the situation is a false one and the circumstances leading up to it entirely wrong. Hence the wisdom of a Rousseau, a Stekel and a Freud, in arguing that the process of enlightenment should be gradual and should be started at the earliest possible moment. "Qu'ils apprennent de bonne heure ce qu'il est impossible de leur cacher toujours," says Rousseau. And then addressing the educator of the child, he adds, "Si vous n'êtes pas sûr de lui faire ignorer jusqu'à seize ans la différence des sexes, ayez soin qu'il l'apprenne avant dix." (Emile, Livre IV).
The rule should be, said Freud, "that children should never be allowed to imagine that their elders are more concerned with maintaining secrecy about sexual matters than about any other subject." (See p. 263 supra). "After their children have reached a certain age," says Stekel, "the best solution is for the parents to weave into their conversation, as a matter of course, allusions to sexual facts." (See pp. 26061 supra). I take it that "a certain age" means when children first understand what is being said to them.
These three men surely give the clue to the whole mystery. For where can there be any shyness or embarrassment if, by gradual stages and pari passu with the child's development, so much familiarity has been cultivated with the facts of human, procreation that, when the time comes to dot the i's and cross the t's of the whole subject, the parent's duty is reduced merely to adding precision and scientific definition to a body of knowledge already roughly held by the child?
Various authors give various ages when the haphazard and casual talk about sex-matters, whether across the breakfast, tea, or dinner-table, or on walks, should be begun. Rousseau is clearly in favour of starting before the age of ten. Hirschfeld suggests any time between the age of seven and fourteen, but the nearer to seven the better. (Geschlectskunde. Vol. I. p. 142). August Forel says vaguely "begin in childhood," but it is clear from the context that he means about
What purpose can we serve, however, in trying to fix any definite age at which the enlightenment should begin? For not only do children differ conspicuously in their psycho-physical development, but we should also remember that in a healthy and soundly bred family, children of eight or ten may be sitting beside children of four or five. The point is that, no matter how young some of the children may be, the talk will take into account those who can understand what is being said. The children who cannot understand will, at all events, come to complete understanding, having long been in a position to grasp certain elements of the conversation, or, at least, have a vague idea of their meaning. If, therefore, the parents, without forcing the note or actually contriving opportunities for the discussion of human procreation and the functions of sex, allow the normal events in their circle of relatives and friends to provide for such discussion as the occasion arises, without postponing the subject until the children are out of the way, it will usually be found that there need be no lack of suitable matter to be woven, as Stekel suggests, into the conversation.
Now, I know of only one nation where this is habitually done by all classes, and that is France. True, I speak of my own intimate knowledge of France in the last decade of the nineteenth and the first and early second of the twentieth centuries, and I cannot say with certainty that the same conditions now prevail. Owing to England's pecuniary
When, at the age of ten, I was invited by some well-to-do French friends of my parents to pay my first visit to Paris, I stayed with these people for a fortnight at their luxurious home near the Bois de Boulogne. Nor is it astonishing, if we bear Freud's human psychology in mind, that my most vivid memories of that brief stay in the French capital all relate to experiences connected with sexual or water-closet material. For instance, I still recall the shock I received when, for the first time, I witnessed the free and easy way with which the parents in this family discussed "forbidden" subjects with their children. They were three in all Fernand (aged eleven), Alice (aged nine) and Jean (aged six), and they all discussed water-closet and sub-navel matters with their elders as openly as if they had been commenting on the weather. The allusions to sex were never either salacious or indecent and kept pace, as it were, with the age and understanding of the child concerned; but it was all frank and above-board, done with a light touch, and not untinctured with wit and satire.
Fernand, for instance, used openly to scoff at his mother with mock complaints about the time she had made him wait for the closet in the morning and, pointing a finger at her, would compel her to laugh. Another day, a different approach would be made to the same subject. But all these interchanges were enjoyed by the younger children and their father, and no sign of embarrassment could be observed, except perhaps in myself the stranger.
In the French nursery songs, moreover, it was noticeable that allusions were casually and naturally made to parts of the body which in England are never mentioned. Children of three were already taught to sing them. One French
That this point of view, together with its practical application, is wholesome and sane, I do not for a moment doubt, and I cannot help ascribing its prevalence in France partly to the fact that, at least during the period I speak of, Rousseau's Emile was widely read by all classes in that country. For although there is unquestionably much to condemn and deplore in this author, some of his views on education, doubtless because they derived from a culture still largely aristocratic, are well worth studying; whilst his advice about sex-instruction is everywhere more sound and rational than that of the English educationist of the Lyttleton type.
Years later, when I was acting as Rodin's private secretary, another experience confirmed my view of the soundness of the average French parent's attitude to sex-instruction. Rodin's doctor had a lady friend in Paris, whom I knew, and at week-ends I would often spend some of my leisure time with her and her family at their flat in the Rue de la République. On one occasion I called to find them all on the point of going out and they asked me to accompany them.
So off we went the lady herself, her three children, all under fourteen, and myself and, on arrival, were ushered into a room adjoining that occupied by the parturient. We sat down and waited, and must have stayed there at least an hour and a half. But during the whole of that time, with the three children eagerly taking in every word that was said, sisters and mother-in-law constantly wandered in and out reporting progress, and in the freest possible manner discussed every phase and feature of the expectant mother's condition.
As I watched this scene, I could not help picturing the mysterious gesticulations, dumb language and horrified whispers which would have marked the behaviour of adults in a similar situation in England that is, if anything so monstrous could be imagined in that country as the introduction by a responsible and self-respecting adult of three young children into a room adjoining that in which a child was about to be born.
But it is precisely this gradual and natural acclimatization, so to speak, of children, from their earliest years onwards, with the facts of human procreation, which constitutes the best possible method of imparting to them the truths about "that side of life." For, when this method is naturally employed, how can there be the shyness of which Dr. Lyttleton speaks?
Moreover, there is this important consideration to be borne in mind a consideration nowhere alluded to by Dr. Lyttleton and his like that puberty, which is the life-stage usually recommended and chosen by blunderers for "spilling the whole of the beans," is actually the worst time at which to start introducing a child to the subject, especially if the instruction is to be by the parent. For at puberty there is already a ferment active in the budding adolescent which makes it more difficult for him or her to apprehend with the
Thus, Rousseau rightly observes, "Il faut, ou que leur curiosité ne s'éveille en aucune manière, ou qu'elle soit satisfaite avant l'âge où elle n'est plus sans danger" (Emile, Livre IV).
Dr. Hirschfeld also accepts this view and quotes with approval an excellent passage from an article by Alma de l'Aigles, in which she says: "No age is less suited to sex-enlightenment than puberty. For at that age the child feels changes taking place within his being, the extent of which he cannot estimate, and sensations the limits and strength of which he does not know . . . Long before the time of ripening, the child surely has such a superbly detached and objective interest in all that is connected with nature and human life, that it behoves us to make the utmost use of this phase of development." (Geschlechtskunde. Vol. I. p. 141).
Similarly the Frenchman, Dr. August Forel, discussing the Sexual Question in Pedagogy, writes: "The adult nearly always . . . unconsciously attributes his own adult sentiments to the child. What excites the sexual desire of an adult is quite indifferent to the child. It is, therefore, possible to speak plainly to children to a certain extent on sexual
Puberty would, therefore, seem the least appropriate age at which to start the process of enlightenment. Since, however, the proper handling of this matter at an early age is, as we have seen, hardly practicable outside the home, there appear to be compelling reasons for making the duty of sex-instruction devolve wholly upon parents or parent-substitutes. To every other method there are incircumventable objections.
It may readily be admitted that, before the majority of English parents acquire the requisite light touch and Olympian detachment satisfactorily to solve this problem for themselves, they will need re-education of a comparatively drastic kind. To shirk the difficulty of receiving this re-education, and meanwhile indolently to allow public authorities to relieve them of all responsibility in the matter, may seem the easiest way out, but it involves a grave handicap for their children. The line of least resistance is perhaps more tempting in this matter than in any other we can think of. Nevertheless, of all facile solutions, none can be imagined which may prove more deleterious to the life of the nation than precisely this one.