Hickling reflects on decades of sex education

Retired sexual health educator Meg Hickling discusses sex, society, and the next five generations

Meg Hickling

Decorated sex educator Meg Hickling. Courtesy of Harbour Publishing.

The last time I was in a room with Meg Hickling, she was explaining to me how to wash my genitals properly. This grandmotherly registered nurse has taught sexual health education for over 30 years to children and parents all over Canada and abroad. Her early work informed the basic curriculum still taught in BC.

I was one of those kids, gagging at the idea of an old woman talking to me about sex, until she got started. My horror was quickly replaced by curiosity when I decided I wanted to know what she knew: the truth — not the hair-raising tales told by older or bolder kids on the playground.

Hickling stressed the importance of being totally up front with children from a very early age.

“If you lie to children or evade, then they won’t trust you,” she explained. “If you don’t have a basis through elementary school of sexual health education, then in your teenage years you’re in that phase that says ‘I know everything’.”

Hickling began her pioneering work as a sex educator in 1974, when traditional ideals like chastity and restraint were being traded in for the openness of the sexual revolution. As flower children were having children of their own sought advice on answering their children’s questions.

She was ready with answers, but recognizes that even now parents aren’t talking openly about sexual health with their children.

[pullquote]“The biggest group of sexually immature people are those who live and work in Hollywood.” — Meg Hickling, sex educator[/pullquote]She believes it’s unlikely that a person can be a sexually mature adult without a combination of early childhood sex education and parents who talk openly and honestly about sex. Since my generation was taught by Hickling, I wonder if our education was enough to help us become safe and informed adults.

“I know I’m not fully sexually mature,” admitted Hickling. “I’m still unduly influenced from time to time.”

She points to the media and internet as an indication of our society’s sexually immaturity.

“The biggest group of sexually immature people are those who live and work in Hollywood,” she lamented. “And we are so influenced by it.”

Hickling goes on to cite issues like pornography addiction, steroid abuse, and our culture’s obsession with being sexy as challenges that society will have to face. She maintains that much of what is found on the Internet today is either not helpful, or not true.

She tells me that the Swedes, who have been proponents of early childhood sex education since the 1920s, believe it takes five generations or more of quality sexual education in schools and from parents to have a sexual mature community.

While that may seem like a long time to wait, the recognition she has received indicates a society that acknowledges the importance of sex education. Hickling has received the Order of Canada, Order of BC, an honorary doctorate, and other accolades, and is a best-selling author on books for parents and children.

Mine will be among the first generations to receive a thorough grounding in sexual education. While it may be my great-great-great grandchildren who have sex education all figured out, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more Meg Hicklings to guide their way.[hr]

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