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No Kidding


new internationalist
issue 158 - April 1986

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Children are children; adults are adults. These pages are
for NI readers who don't fit into either of these categories.

[image, unknown] Is it normal?
You might have heard about penises and vaginas; about periods, hormones, ovulation and erections. And you will certainly have heard about love. But there are some subjects that are not often mentioned. Here is the NI's summary of all you ever wanted to know about sex - but were afraid to ask..

Illustrations: KORKY PAUL

.for children to be interested in sex?
Here are three places where there are completely different rules about whether children should have sex. Most people think that it's important to have some rules - to stop children hurting each other or being hurt by adults. Which of these rules do you think are the best?

Children learn about sex through caressing their own and each others' bodies, often in public and with their parents' approval. They start full intercourse around 12 years old. Men caress men and women caress women in public too. But actual sexual intercourse is always done in private.

Most children are told about sex, either at school or by their parents, but they are not allowed to experiment with intercourse until they are past puberty. Laws prevent them from seeing sex on the cinema screen and from having intercourse until they are over 16.

Boys and girls go to separate schools and, if their family can afford it, the girls have to wear a veil to cover their bodies when they get into their teens. Sex is rarely mentioned and men never touch women in public. The greatest shame is for a girl to have sex before marriage.

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It is impossible to know how interested in sex children would be if there were no rules at all to stop them experimenting. In every country of the world the main things preventing children experimenting with sex-play are the attitudes of adults. And some adults are much more strict than others. Which of the things below happened to your parents when they were young? Which of these things have happened to you? Do you think they are sensible or silly?

Keeping boys and girls apart, especially in situations where they might touch one another: separate schools, separate toilets, separate bedrooms, separate sports.

Making children feel that sex and genitals are dirty: they are punished if they caress their genitals, are made to cover their genitals in public, even when they are swimming.

Teaching children that sex should not be discussed they never hear adults talking about it and when they ask questions about sex, adults look embarrassed, change the subject, or answer as briefly as possible.

Telling children about the dangers of sex - that it can hurt, it can make them pregnant, it can give them diseases - but not about its pleasures.

Operating on girls' and boys' genitals to make them less sensitive: a girl can have her clitoris cut off and her vagina sewn shut, a boy can have his foreskin removed.

Preventing children seeing sex: parents sleep in a different bedroom, or wait until their children are asleep before having sex; sex on television is only shown late at night.

.for women to love women
and men to love men?

[image, unknown] When people are young their closest friends are usually children of the same sex: girls play with girls and boys with boys. They share secrets, hug one another, fight and tease and tickle each other. So it is not surprising that some girls want to have sex with girls and some boys want to have sex with boys.

· One in ten women have had sex with another woman, according to surveys of women in the UK and the US.

· Two out of five men have had sex with another man, according to surveys in the US.

.for people to have sex by themselves?
[image, unknown] 'Masturbation' is a very long word for a very simple thing: touching your genitals for pleasure. Sometimes the pleasure is just mild and comforting. But sometimes your caresses will lead to a whoosh of strong pleasure that is called an 'orgasm'. When a boy reaches puberty a teaspoonful of whitish liquid called semen usually comes out of his penis when he has an orgasm. But young boys have orgasms without semen coming out. A lot of people have their first orgasms by touching themselves. It is a good way of learning what kinds of caress you like best.

Babies start caressing their genitals before they are one year old. And scientists studying babies have observed boys and girls as young as six months having orgasms. One in three girls have masturbated to orgasm by the time they are eight and half of all boys have done so by the time they are ten according to one survey in the US. Five out of every six women and 94 out of every 100 men in the US masturbate, even if they are married.

Seven out of ten women who masturbate do it by rubbing their clitoris with their fingers. (In case you don't know, the clitoris is a little bump of flesh just above the hole you pee through.) Eight out of ten men who masturbate do it by rubbing their penis with their hand.

Most orgasms are in three phases: 'arousal', followed by the 'peak' and then 'contractions'. Here are some words people use to describe what each phase feels like (the feelings are strongest in the genital area):

arousal - tingling, tense, delicious, hot, intense, swelling.

peak - explosion, release, sudden, overflow.

contractions - throbbing, waves, spasms, shudders, vibrations, in men this is when the semen comes out in little spurts.


If you are planning to have sex with someone for the first time do stop and think about it carefully first Is it really what you want? Lots of young people - especially girls - are pressurised into having sex before they feel they are ready. If you're not sure whether you're being pressurised, try this test: imagine what would happen if you said 'no'. If saying 'no' means you'll be laughed at, or rejected, or threatened, or hurt in some way, then you may be having sex forced on you against your will. If you've tried the 'no' test and you're still not sure it you want to have sex, do try to find an understanding adult to talk to about it.

.for adults to have sex with children?

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One family in four contains a girl who has been sexually abused - i.e. raped or caressed sexually as though she were a grown woman - by an adult man, often her father. This estimate comes from research in Australia, the UK, the US, Egypt, India and Israel. Often the experience is so frightening and upsetting that the girl finds it difficult to enjoy sex afterwards and finds it hard to trust any man in the future.

Having sex with a child against his or her will is rape or sexual assault. But adults often touch young people without their permission. This is a kind of assault too.

You have the right...

1. ...to say 'NO!'
If a child can't say 'no' to an adult and have that 'no' respected and obeyed, then any physical or sexual contact between an adult and a child is like rape. If you don't want to be touched - by anyone, even your mother or father - you have the absolute right to say 'no'. Even if it hurts someone's feelings. Even if it causes embarrassment. Even if it gets someone into trouble.
SHOUT if you have to!
And if all that doesn't stop them, talk to someone you know about it afterwards, or look up Rape Crisis in the 'phone book and speak to someone there.

2.... to privacy
But you should respect other people's privacy too.

3.... to protection
In the playground, on the street, in the woods. This means good nursery schools and daycare centres, more teachers and community policing, flexible working hours for parents. It also means protection against physical mutilation - ear-piercing, tattoos, scarring, removal of the clitoris or foreskin - until you are old enough to decide for yourself.

4.... to knowledge
About how to have sex, about the pleasures and the dangers.

5.... to contraception
If you want it. So you can have sex without having a baby until you want one and feel able to look after one.
And if you are sure that these five rights are upheld you can feel free to use your right...

6.... to say 'YES'
With the person you choose, when you're ready, and not a second before.

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New Internationalist issue 158 magazine cover This article is from the April 1986 issue of New Internationalist.
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