Sex and the Santa simile: the wrath of prudish parents
These days Santa’s a spectrum, and you’ll find primary-schoolers right along it. There are literalists, mythologists, heads-in-the-sand-ers and out-and-out-sceptics.
And then there’s That Child: the one running up to their peers in the playground and yelling triumphantly: “IT’S YOUR DADDY WHO EATS THE MINCE PIE!”
I hear the analogy drawn between Santa and sex education all the time. Santa and the Baby Tree are the same: convenient, magical, gentle parenting aids painted in child-friendly colours. It would be irresponsible and antisocial to debunk them. To do so would be to ruin childhood, to destroy innocence. Worst of all, to disrupt the social fabric. No one wants their kid to be That Child.
The trouble is, it’s not a good metaphor. I think only one of these is a happy and harmless white lie – no prizes for guessing which:
So no: I don’t believe parents have a duty to spread disinformation about sex for the benefit of other children. This means accepting one or two embarrassing moments. Children like knowing best, so there’s going to be a certain amount of: “Did you know girls have vulvas and they have three holes and one of them is a vagina?”
Other parents are going to be unhappy about this. You’re marching right into their grottoes yelling: "TUG HIS BEARD! GO ON!" What can we say to parents when this happens – parents who feel their parental autonomy has been threatened by our straight-talking ways?
1. Tell me, is there something in particular that you’re worried about?
As a first port of call, try playing life coach and answer with a question. You’re more likely to have a productive conversation if you can get people to be specific.
2. Thanks – it sounds like all these conversations are paying off! I’m trying to talk little and often to stop it getting weird, because I want my child to keep confiding in me
If you can pull it off, accept whatever they’ve said as a compliment – whether or not it was knowingly paid. Because who doesn’t want to remain their child’s confidante through puberty and beyond?
3. Look, I know there are ways of delivering it, but I basically believe the truth can’t hurt
Read: “…the truth can’t hurt as much as the horrible, awkward moment when the lie is rolled back and the disgusting and shameful truth is exposed.”
4. I’m glad you asked, because I think this is really important: I’ve seen research that being clear about the facts and using the correct words is the best protection for children from exploitation
Use with care: this one can be a cheap shot. Remember, the endgame for most of us is more than just risk avoidance – it’s growing responsible, sexually healthy adults who have fulfilling relationships.
5. I know – I’m never sure how far to go either. Have you seen Outspoken Sex Ed?
We know from talking to teachers that many parents’ objections to sex education comes from a fear of the conversations they might have to have afterwards. Cure their nerves: prescribe a resource they can rely on.