By: Bayynat editor
Among the many sensitive issues that parents need to tackle cautiously while dealing with their children is sex education. Whilethe child develops and matures into an adult, he will need to know more about his sexuality, anatomy, reproductive system and intercourse. However, the issue must be treated with accountability and responsibility.
His Eminence, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) discussed the matter as a part of dialogue that was included in the book, “World of Our Youth”:
How may we teach sex education to our youth?
I do not limit the issue to any particular range; we may need books to explain a particular idea, as we must also tell the people of the injunctions of the Shariah on the issues of sex so that they may know their responsibilities in the area according to the Shariah.
I began an attempt to answer question directed to me, and I spoke candidly on some sex issues which affect the community. Sex education is like any other subject; we have to teach it but with a functional approach, regardless of whether it is through books or school programs, conversations at home, or general debate.
Sex is something that affects the body of a person and how he deals with his impulses. It is normal that one should know all this. What we view as socially forbidden may be a result of traditional baggage. Therefore, confronting custom means that we must substitute it by wisdom to avoid creating more negative aspects than those we are trying to rid ourselves of.
What are the parameters of this education? Is there a specific age at which we can begin instruction?
Islam has opened the door to sex education for all Muslims with respect to the sexual relations which the Quran discusses somewhat candidly. Indeed, on the subject of marriage, the Quranic terminology employs linguistic forms which suggest more sexual than contractual connotations, as in its use of the term "nikah".
Indeed, if we want to study the noble Sunna, we find that there are hadiths on sexual issues which pertain to relations, legal rulings, and ancillary topics. In more than one hadith, sexual organs are so candidly and naturally covered that one can only infer that the milieu of the (prophetic) message saw nothing immoral in the topic.
We may find some hadiths which deal with the conversation between the Prophet(p.) and someone who came to confess to having committed adultery (zina). We see that the last question directed to the perpetrator concerning the sex act used a term which people today may shy away from expressing.
In this manner, we find related hadith issues pertaining to women in menstruation, pre-menstruation, the post-partum period, as well as matters pertaining to the state of man after sexual relationship (janabah)etc.
When we study the books of the jurists and the chapters that relate to sex, we see that there are clear, candid discussions on the specifics of sex, regardless of whether they pertain to sexual organs, the sex act, or some related issue.
We also find that the earlier scholars discussed sex in their books through rare stories, witticisms, and jokes transmitted in a manner that may be considered immoral by the present society. We find that some old books written by pious, ascetic, pure scholars consist of chapters that describe methods which are not conventional and familiar in the sex act. Their justification was that they felt books such as theses might make the spouses learn sexual conduct, whereby they would comply with their own natural desires as well as those of their spouses, and would therefore need not satisfy those desires outside of the marital life.
This confirms that Islam adopts sex education by virtue of its relationship to the Shariah rulings -the commendable, the obligatory, or the forbidden -which relate to this aspect of the life of the human being. When we study this issue, however, we focus on it in the light of the principle that this discussion is not within the sphere of the forbidden but that of the lawful.
The evolution of cultural and social mores may have helped cultivate negative attitudes towards sex education or some specific aspect of it. This is especially true if the circumstances surrounding these mores, in the reflection of the youth or children, lead to negative results: it will cause subconscious reactions in the child or youth, leading him to stray from Islamic guidelines.
From this perspective, the subject has to be studied in much detail and caution before its thematic associations could be known relating to the personality of the human being seeking such instruction or the factors that influence this life. What I would like to stress is that sex education did not begin with contemporary developments. Islam did so earlier on every issue so far discussed.
What is the method for explaining these issues to our sons and daughters? To what length should we go when discussing this issue with them?
There issues are exactly like the other educational issues which need to be explained to children. There may not be need or a conductive atmosphere to offer a detailed analysis to a child; we may explain childbirth exactly as we do planting or the incubation of an egg.
With respect to the foregoing questions, I have indicated that society strongly rejects these methods, even though they may be evident. It is absolutely necessary that we educate society in this respect, and introduce the matter as a general societal perspective, providing fathers and mothers with the proper methods of sex education which they may give their inquisitive children.
Which is better, teaching sex education in the family or at school?
We are not able to delineate the issue so clearly that we can classify it to within a particular scope, for children may need one type of teaching within the home, when they ask about childbirth, become conscious of their private parts, find siblings who are anatomically different. In this case, father and mothers may certainly teach the children in a well-balanced manner, giving the child correct but comprehensible answers.
We also need the school, for the systematic education of schools is necessary, especially since some school subjects relate to health, the study of animals and their reproduction, etc. The children are taught subjects they need to know, and through these they receive detailed explanations on subjects relating to the body.