Saturday, January 14, 2006

Let’s talk about sex

No, I’m not gonna be takin’ dirty. I just want to ask you a personal question. If you don’t mind.

When was the first time anyone talked to you about sex?

Was it with your friends at school, behind the bike shed? Was it when she said “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours’? (Nobody ever asked me to show them mine…and this at a time when the whole playground seemed to be showing each other various parts of their anatomy in an orgy of infantile exhibitionism. After a couple of years on the sidelines, I got a bit of a complex about it).

Was it your parents? Did your mum and dad sit you down one day after tea and, red faced and uncomfortable, try and tell you that, well, ‘You know, son, er, well, those noises you occasionally here on a Sunday morning when mummy and daddy are having a lie-in are not fighting – like you thought – it was, er, um, you know…’ And all the time you just wanted to get back to playing with your Scalextric (this was back in the pre-history, Jurassic days before Playstation).

Or was it when the teacher finally, and after much playground pre-publicity (‘he’s gonna be talking about Doing It’ snigger, snigger) strode into biology class with a couple of rabbits, and tried to persuade you that, on the night of your honeymoon, you and your wife will indeed be acting like rabbits, fortified with champagne, carrots and lettuce leaves.

Sex education in Poland

Yes, I have finally got the point of this post. According to the annual, international survey by Durex (adobe), the average age Poles hear about the ‘birds and the bees’ is when they are 13 years old (‘birds and bees’ is a rather strange euphemism, when you think about it – male birds and bees don’t even have dicks, and most bees never actually ‘do it’ at all – never: they are as celibate as a priest on bromide. Bee communities have special ‘gigolo’ bees, whose main purpose in life is to service the Queen – a bit like the UK’s Prince Phillip, in fact, but let’s not go there).

Thirteen years old. If they waited that late in London, these days, then kids would be hearing about the ‘facts of life’ about two years after they had first indulged in them – if, that is, they can find enough time for it, in-between binge drinking, breaking into the next door neighbor’s, and scoring the latest joint, or maybe something stronger. Modern day, twenty-first century kids are truly the devil incarnate.

But if they did first talk about sex at 13, then who talked to them about it? It certainly wasn’t their teacher at school.

Four years ago, during the election campaign, politicians could talk about nothing else but sex, sex and more sex. Should sex education be put on the syllabus, Polish moral guardians asked themselves over and over? In the election last year, the subject had disappeared. Perhaps they were too busy talking about gays – the new Polish Satin in satin pants.

Four years ago, however, sex was at the top of the list for politicians seeking to get elected, alongside inflation, unemployment, corruption, the usual…

The ex-communist SLD, which won the election in 2001, came to office armed with proposals for compulsory sex education in schools. .

In 2005, when they got unceremoniously kicked out of office, compulsory sex education was still not on the school curricular.

The problem was: what should be taught in schools? Should we teach kids ‘natural methods’ of ‘family planning’? (crossing your fingers and hoping for the best!); should we teach that sex should only be indulged between married couples? And what about sexual diseases? And so on…

For arch-Catholics, textbooks by well-known sexologists such as Zbigniew Lew-Starowicz – which are much like the old Masters and Johnson, ‘Joy of Sex’ books – are full of dangerous western liberal ideas and moral and sexual promiscuity. Catholics would much prefer books by people like Teresa Krol, with its lecturers on the dangers of sex, and the ‘sin’ of abortion.

The sex education debate is part of the Polish ‘culture wars’.

So, due to the politicization of sex education, politicians have found themselves at an impasse, and sex education has been left to those embarrassed parents.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the red faced parent is the last person who wants to tackle this thorny subject. A poll by CBOS found that though 57% of kids said they could confide in their mothers, only 20% said dad was as approachable.

“The level of knowledge about sexuality is embarrassingly low in Poland,” Wanda Nowacka of the Women and Family Planning NGO, told Trybuna. She presented the newspaper with a series of letters she had received from Polish teenagers. One said: “Is it possible to get pregnant in ways other than sex?” Or another wrote: “I have the symptoms of being pregnant, but I have never had sex.”

But kids are still having sex, even though some of them might not actually know that they are. Another poll in 2002 found that the average age of ‘loosing your cherry’ in Poland was 18 years and four months. This is relatively late by British standards (I lost my ‘cherry’ years when I was 16 years and three months! It was a major disappointment, but I can’t blame my rabbit assisted biology teacher for that, alas) but more and more kids are starting earlier here. Nineteen percent of 15-16 year old kids have already had sex in Poland.

Sex education is taught in some schools, usually at 7 a.m. before the main school day starts. But most kids are left to find out stuff for themselves, from embarrassed parents, or back behind the bike shed.

And with the new PiS government, with its arch-catholic political support, sex education will not be appearing on the formal school curriculum anytime soon.

But isn’t it time – the 21st century, no less - that kids got the facts? Until they do Polish youth will simply be fumbling in the dark.


At 1/16/2006 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Becca said...

I couldn't agree more.

I think as long as the Catholic church is the power behind sex education, through the embarassed parents, the average Polish kid is going to think that sex is something you discover on your wedding night, contraception means taking a deep breath and crossing your fingers, homosexality is unnatural and immoral, abortion is a mortal sin... the list goes on and on.

But it seems there is very little chance a 'scientific' approach to sex education would ever be agreed on to be included in school curricula. Any sex education I would like Polish kids to have access to would be denounced as promoting immorality.

(Oh, and scalextric ruuules)

At 1/16/2006 03:22:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

"the average Polish kid is going to think that sex is something you discover on your wedding night"

uhh ..... I can't imagine any Polish kids thinking that. Despite some lip service to the contrary, in practice there's very little stigma against pre-marital sex here (if there's a good chance that the relationship will turn into a marriage at any rate).

At 1/16/2006 09:43:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

I have to agree with MF. 'Lip service' is probably not the right phrase, in this context, but apt.

Poles have a 'designer catholicism'. And they don't have the influence of the Puritans, like UK abd US do.

At 1/17/2006 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Becca said...

yeah, lip service... no you're probably right. But I still get the impression there's a bit of guilt hanging about regarding the pre-marital sex.

At 1/17/2006 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

Indiscriminate sleeping around is definitely disapproved of. But there's virtually no pressure to be a virgin at marriage. This is related to the old boy-girl social contract in Poland were sex is allowed but pregnancy is expected to lead to the altar sooner rather than later.
Parents might not like it but their memories are too good to have many illusions (and there's an excellent chance that that's how they got married as well and that their kids know that, which limits the amount of self-righteousness they can indulge in).

I don't get the idea that there's much guilt involved, but there can be embarassment about a variety of issues from being caught (parents arrive home unexpectedly) to visibly pregnant brides (not exactly a rarity here).

At 1/18/2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Becca said...

Maybe my experiences aren’t entirely representative but I have met people my age who believe that although they have premarital sex, they should be following the teachings of the church more closely and refraining, or getting married!

Of course a huge proportion of people in their mid twenties are already married and very few moved in with their partner beforehand.

If they indulged in pre-marital sex it was a hurried affair while the parents were out, like you said.

I see Polish society as still very shy when it comes to pre-marital relationships. When I lived with my German ex-boyfriend in the UK nobody batted an eyelid, but when I first moved in with my Polish boyfriend here in Warsaw last year, there were raised eyebrows aaaaaaall around.

At 1/18/2006 02:12:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

I've had a couple of 'hurried affairs' 'when the parents were out' in south London, and I don't recommend it.

As usual I think we have to distinguish between the religious and the secular in Poland - two groups in conflict here as much as they are in the US. But generally, in the cities, young cahtolics seem to enjoy their sex without the guilt that say the British used to torture themselves with.

and we also should remember that Poland is not like Ireland...the Irish never had communism, where morals could be very relaxed, abortion was common and people just didn;t talk about any type of 'sexual deviancy'.

At 1/18/2006 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

Becca, now I understand, IME living together without the benefit of marriage isn't normally distinguished from indiscriminate sleeping around.

A slight exception can be made when a) you're more or less officially engaged b) the living together takes place at the parents' place.

Slack can be cut for foreigners as well, if you introduce him as your fiance you might raise fewer eyebrows (or not ...).

My favorite parents arriving home unexpectedly story is from a gay acquaintance whose parents found him and his 'friend' sitting in the living room half-dressed in a state of determined non-chalance. Denial is a wonderful thing; the parents (pretended to)/believe(d) the story they came up with to explain their half-dressed state (it gets so warm in April here).
They even (pretended to)/believe(d) that the gay porn they found in his room was for a report he had to do for sociology class .... twice.

At 1/20/2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Gustav said...

I may have something to add, as I've been living with my fiancee for nearly 2 years now. Of course, when she moved in she was certainly NOT my fiancee, and the move-in happened rather quickly after the relationship began. Though I rarely see her parents, I did meet, speak, and dine with them on several occasions, and I never, ever was treated with anything but respect and hospitality. And they knew from the beginning that their daughter was living with me - she had moved from their place!

We're not exactly talking about modern-age hip parents either. We're talking about a retired blue-collar workers who have their roots in the country, and visit there often.

There was not so much as a raised eyebrow from any member of her family.

I once had a girlfriend here who went to church every Sunday, and when I challenged her about her being sexually active she responded: "Yes, it's a sin. But I know it's a sin." - I think she meant that she didn't deny that what she was doing was wrong, and could ask forgiveness for it at confession. I think.

At 1/20/2006 02:47:00 AM, Blogger beatroot said...

Which is nice! I wish I could do bad things and then visit someone in a little box and it would all go away.

But you are right. I think urban Poles are pragmatic about most things. And sex is one of them.

At 10/25/2006 06:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I am polish, and I definitley believe sex education needs to be taught in schools, but comparing to other Western countries I have to say POlish people rely enjoy having premarital sex. The problem with Poland is not sex it is the fact that many teens are irresponsible about it. They think the pill will do the magic trick when in reality only condoms can protect STDS, and people should have their partners tests and girls who are still virgins should get the HPV shot. Unfortunatley, in Poland there is stigma about going to the doctor and asking for such tests. I mean women don't even go for monograms unless cancer runs in their family, which is really sad and that's why when they detect cancer it is often too late to do anything in Poland. People pretend they are conservative no women reading during mass no altar girls in most churches but yet they think drinking, smoking, and premarital sex activity is wrong. The point is there is a difference of being a spiritual progressive Catholic Christian like I am and a hardcore traditionalists who omits communion, clings onto old fashioned rules and really commits the bigger sins and ills in society. Living in North America is truely a gift, I love Poland, I wish it could be like other western countries, but unfortunately it isn't and I would go crazey trying to understand why they don't go to communion because of birth control but when they drink alot they don't consider it a sin. The reality contraception is not a sin, but alcoholism and unprotected and premarital affairs are the sins!!!

At 4/30/2009 06:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's wrong with "loosing cherry" when you're 18? at least boys and girls know a litle bit more and usually are more responsible!

Look at all the young,single mothers in UK who had lost their cherries" when they were 15-16. Some of themy would have more than one kid. Got drunk on a Saturday night and there you go...
Got drunk on a Saturday night.

There's nothing to be produ about if you're loosing virginity when you hardly got rid of your own nappy.


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