One way or another, children learn about sex at some point in the course of
growing up. In our culture, which is rather coy about sex generally and
especially so when it comes to letting children know what the whole big deal is,
their curiosity is awakened long before adults deign to actually give them any
solid information to work with. Generally children learn fairly early at least
the simplest basics – the externally visible anatomical difference between
boys and girls and the fact that grown-ups make babies (and this
involves a man and a woman) – without adults going into more
detail. Their approximate peers (particularly the ones slightly older than
them) will tell them all sorts of garbled stories about it, using
something the adults aren't telling you as a piece of one-up-manship that
works just fine even if the alleged facts are wildly inaccurate or, despite
true, grossly misleading. The sets of myths they tell each other
are, furthermore, split: the boys tell one another one set of myths, the girls
have their own; and what boys and girls tell each other is even more confused
and partial. The result is a remarkably effective recipe for confusion.
Adults will eventually tell them a certain amount about the subject, too: if
they're lucky, this'll be an adult who's genuinely concerned to equip them to
understand the topic, not one who's trying to exploit their confusion for some
ulterior motive. Usually, the adults are a bit embarrassed about discussing sex
and children pick up on that; which both teaches them to be embarrassed about
discussing the topic and reinforces their suspicion that this must be a
Very Important Topic, thereby strengthening their curiosity. Some sub-cultures
feel that, beyond the very rough basics, the proper approach is
educate children on a strictly need-to-know basis: stern rules forbid
doing anything that might actually lead to learning about the subject for
yourself and when we think you're ready to marry we'll tell you what else (we
think) you need to know. This ensures that children continue
only the confused mess of what their peers have told them. A more liberal
approach is to tell childen, at about the point where they're hitting or about
to hit puberty, at least the biological details of what's different on
the inside, between boys and girls, and how baby-making is
done. Adults might also take the trouble to warn children about the emotional
turmoil that accompanies growing up, even if their attempts to do so aren't
generally much help.
The problem with all of this is that the whole process just encourages an exaggerated conception of the importance of the subject. By all means, children need to understand that it has some importance to it. They also need to understand the biological facts – but it's counterproductive to teach them to be embarrassed about it and they'd likely be able to use the knowledge more sensibly if they weren't obliged to take it so seriously. So I propose a different approach to the whole topic.
Humans are animals – mammals, to be specific – who've developed some remarkably unusual things like language, culture and intelligence. Some other animals do have some degree of these, but humans have taken them to extremes, to the point where they dominate very nearly everything we do. Consequently, we have to learn how to use these things well. Fortunately, especially while we're young, we're very good at learning – which is why kids get to go to school, while they're still good at it. We don't lose the ability entirely as adults, but we're not as good at it as we were when we were children. Helping children to learn everything they need to takes a lot of work and providing food and shelter for them while they do so – and thus are too busy doing so to be able to sort out their own food and shelter – takes yet more time and effort.
Consequently raising children is burdensome. Humans are easilly smart enough to understand that and learn that it's true before we're old enough to actually bring children into the world. Consequently, if our intelligence was allowed to actually run our lives, only very dumb people would have children; and their children would be dumb, too. Any of our ancestors' contemporaries who were either dumb or whose biology allowed them to continue running on intelligence will have left relatively few descendants, compared to those of their contemporaries who were intelligent but whose biology messed with their intelligence just enough to trick them into having children despite the obvious down-sides. This being so for every generation in turn, we're all descended from the ones whose ample intelligence had a loop-hole in it – and so, our intelligence has that same loop-hole.
That loop-hole consists of a bunch of instincts that make us want to do things that will, if we go through with them, lead to us being parents. Which is a lot of trouble that you can easilly put off until you're well into your twenties, or even later, so it's a smart idea to not let those instincts trick you into any of this until you've got yourself economically well established, so that you can actually cope with the burden of raising your children. Since those instincts mess up intelligence, nature is kind enough not to inflict them on us until we've had a decade (and some) to make the most of our boundless capacity for learning. Until then, the instincts that encourage curiosity and play are hard at work encouraging us to discover the world in which we live and find out how to fend for ourselves. Those of our ancestors' contemporaries who didn't learn those things weren't able to provide their children with the victuals and shelter they needed whilst they were growing up, so not only had grim lives (due to lack of food and shelter) but didn't leave as many descendants as their contemporaries who did learn – who are, consequently, our ancestors.
So, as you live through your second decade, prepare to be hit by a bunch of instincts that may well make you very eager to get intimate with members of the complementary sex. Some of you might experience the instincts differently: nature's more complicated than I can explain in just a few paragraphs, so pay attention to where your instincts are trying to pull you. Whichever way those instincts do pull, be aware that it's often smarter to be amused by them than to obey them. Quite apart from parenting, you may find you care – or those your instincts want you to get intimate with care – about more than just the immediate experience of that intimacy: those instincts are going to complicate your social life. As a general rule of thumb, it's smart to get to know someone well, socially, before allowing your instincts to have any greater influence than to encourage you to get to know them.
It may sound a bit coy that I talk about instincts making you
get intimate with someone: but actually that's a pretty literal description
of the greater part of what they do. If you do get intimate with those
your instincts are dragging you towards, those instincts will reward you with
some pleasure: and hijack your intelligence a bit, interfering with your ability
to think clearly about what you're doing and why. At the same time, while
you're off balance, it'll sneak up on you with a bunch of stronger instincts
that focus a bit more closely on the ulterior motive behind all thses
instincts. At each level of intimacy, your instincts make sure you like going
along with what your instincts suggest; and less subtle instincts trigger to
encourage greater intimacy. The up-side of all this, for you, is that it can
feel really nice; and sharing that experience with whoever else is
involved can really strenghthen the social bond between you.
There are downsides. The relatively widely discussed ones include becoming
parents and transmitting various diseases: both of those can largely be managed
by taking suitable precautions. Your instincts may tell you not to bother with
that – they're not as smart as you, so they don't see that you can wait a
few years yet to have babies; don't let them fool you. Still,
even with those precautions, there's a downside: in fact, I mentioned
it just a moment ago: it
can really strenghthen the social bond between
you. I mentioned it first as part of the up-side, which it truly is
– provided the social relation it binds you to is healthy. It
works just as well to bind you into an unhealthy relationship, too: and
that can work out pretty badly. Getting to know each other well is a good way
to gain insight into which way such a relationship shall work out.