sex play in kindergarden?

October 16th, 2007

There's a story making the rounds in the Norwegian media about a certain day care center that promotes "sex play" among the kids. Aftenposten has the story in English (for the record the translation is a bit half assed and doesn't reflect the story completely).

Children, she said, should be able "to look at each other and examine each other's bodies. They can play doctor, play mother and father, dance naked and masturbate.

"But their sexuality must also be socialized, so they are not, for example, allowed to masturbate while sitting and eating. Nor can they be allowed to pressure other children into doing things they don't want to."

The argument here is that sex is a natural and fundamental thing and kids need to learn about it. Since sex play among kindergarden kids is not unusual anyway, it's just a matter of how we respond to it. Pia Friis is the manager for the day care center in question, and she argues that it's harmful to inflict guilt on kids for this kind of conduct. Furthermore, kids should draw their own boundaries. Her position is backed up by phychologist/sexologist Thore Langfeldt.

"The only thing that is absolutely certain is that children, sooner or later, will play sexual games and examine each other at the kindergarten (..)"

It is certainly a progressive thought to permit this in kindergarden. However, there is a wider context to this issue. People like to point out the double standards surrounding sex in our society. There is no doubt that a lot of people (whether it's many or most is hard to say) are interested in pursuing the topic of sex publicly. We are in a sense surrounded by sex. How many commercials and billboards have you seen this week that exploit sex to sell a product? How many movies have seen this month with sexual content? How many sex jokes have you heard? It's evident, people don't want sex hidden away, they want it out in the open. When it's hard to find a movie that doesn't make any reference to sex, it's a pretty clear sign. Meanwhile, a lot of successful tv shows like Desperate housewives and most of all, Big Brother, sell primarily on sex. If there ever was a time when sex was a private issue out of the public realm, it certainly is long gone.

And yet, sex is still a taboo subject. People are mystified by it. It's embarrassment, not a permissible topic. And so people maintain this charade of taboo while they indulge in it whenever it isn't banned. Why is it that the most obvious, tired jokes get laughs as long as they contain sexual innuendo? Because sex remains a repressed topic. People are not free to express themselves openly, it's frowned upon. While I think that sexual behavior is for the most part pretty unrestrained (or so it seems), discussing it isn't. Do what you want, but don't talk about it.

When I read this story my initial reaction was pure skepticism. "What on earth?" It's the same reaction that was quoted in the story.

"Sexual games don't belong in a kindergarten," she declared. "Children don't need more exposure to this in kindergartens. We think it will damage their health."

But that set off an alarm bell in my head. I had formed an opinion without even thinking about the issue. Wait a second, why exactly am I skeptical? Based on what? Based on current norms of society? Norms are completely relative, and they change. Unless there is a solid argument as to why things must remain as they are, it's pointless to argue against change. And what is the argument from this politician? None whatsoever. "This doesn't belong in kindergarden." "We think it could be harmful." How? What studies are you quoting?

If one thing is obvious to me it is that we don't know what to do about sex, how to deal with the subject. Our traditional norms of keeping it locked up have been gradually pushed back to the point where it surrounds us, but we're still not supposed to talk about it. As a society we are extremely immature about it. And most of all, "protecting kids" from sex has been a moral effort. All the while kids themselves are in fact just as sexual and we have a serious disconnect from the point where they are old enough to pursue sex to the point where their parents think they are old enough to acknowledge it.

Perhaps if kids in kindergarden were taught to not to repress their sexuality they would grow up into more mature adults. And maybe then we could do away with the ridiculous double standard and stop surrounding ourselves with sex all the time?

Maybe the kindergarden concept is a good idea, maybe it's not. But we should determine this based on facts determined scientifically. The stupidest thing we can do at any time is to dismiss ideas out of hand because they don't conform to our superstitions.

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1 Responses to "sex play in kindergarden?"

  1. [...] Another example would be: should it be permitted to clone humans? Or how about the old favorite: should sex play in kinder garden be encouraged (which I have absolutely no answer [...]