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Why we show children how sex works

In this week’s Newton, Line inserts a plastic penis into a moistened plastic vagina. All in the name of public information.

Programleder Line Jansrud i siste episode av Newtons pubertetsserie

The final episode in Newtons series about puberty anchor woman Line Jansrud show how babies are made.

Foto: NRK

Newton is a science programme for children and young people. The target group is from 8 to 12 years, that is to say children who have either entered puberty or are about to.

In the series about puberty we convey openly and frankly what happens to the body in the transition from child to adult. How the skeleton grows, why girls bleed, about spots and blushing and involuntary ejaculations. What happens to breasts and sexual organs, how the voice changes and how emotions are in turmoil. In short, how the human body grows and changes from child to adult in order to make babies.

The final episode deals with how conception happens. Breeding is the biological point of puberty, and thoughts on sex are part of puberty. With the aid of models, we show, as clinically and pragmatically as possible, how the sexual act plays out. We see this as a part of Newton's mandate to inform children about this aspect of the human body and biology.

We’re a factual supplement to all the other things children can access online.

Why are we doing this?

It caused an outcry when Norwegian children's book writer Anne-Cath Vestly told Norwegian children that babies weren't delivered by the stork, but came from Mum’s tummy. It caused an outcry when Trond-Viggo Torgersen made an open-minded series about the body 30 years ago. Today this makes us smile, because taboos fall and there’s more open-mindedness. Nevertheless, there is still ignorance surrounding the body’s development and function.

Knowledge dissemination on children’s terms is Newton’s agenda. We don’t answer all questions, but contribute to an open and factual tone when talking about natural processes. The last time this was done was in 1981, when Trond-Viggo Torgersen caused a stir with his series «The Body». The fascination with the subject and dedication to inform which was the undercurrent of «The Body», became our blueprint when we now, more than 30 years later, were going to make our own version.

It’s not enough to divulge that the sperm swim towards the egg.

The hosts of Newton are replaced every second year, and come from a variety of backgrounds. When Doctor Line Jansrud was hired, the time had come for a series about puberty. In addition to her professional knowledge, she’s passionately dedicated to the amazing human body. Hence we can approach the subject as easily understandable and unprejudiced as we want to, whilst using the communication techniques that Newton has developed over so many years: Go close up, use visual storytelling, be specific, exploratory and immodest.

What do children need to know?

Even though NRK have no obligations in relation to the school curriculum, the education system is a support in our assessment of what is relevant knowledge for this target group. According to the curriculum, pupils in Year 7 should be able to «describe the development of the human body from conception to adulthood». And, «to explain what happens during puberty, and to talk about the differences in gender identity and variations in sexual orientation». This is one of the reasons why we convey how human beings make babies.

In our opinion, it’s not enough to divulge that the sperm swim towards the egg. It’s apposite to inform how that happens. And it’s important to communicate that it should be a voluntary and positive experience for both parties. That’s why we talk about sexual desire in Newton.

It’s not enough to divulge that the sperm swim towards the egg.

We show the clitoris and the glans and explain that the body has different ways of preparing for conception. To as large an extent as possible we wanted to give corresponding information about female and male sex organs. For example, both genders experience swelling in their own way when their sex organs are stimulated. Put simply, «their sponge tissue is filled with blood», and both boys and girls will experience this as part of puberty. The lead motif throughout the series has been that the whole point of puberty is to get ready to produce babies, and the story doesn’t end before we have told how that comes about.

Live, naked models have been a trademark of the series. We wanted to show ordinary, average bodies. However, when we were describing the actual conception, we naturally used medical plastic models to maintain the clinical and pragmatic approach all the way.

Is it harmful?

Newton is popular amongst young and old. Several 6-year-olds regard Newton as their favourite programme. Hence we conferred with professionals at the Institute of Psychology at NTNU (The Norwegian University of Science and Technology) to ensure that the series isn’t harmful to younger children. That aside, we acknowledge that some don't want to see this subject matter, so each episode open with a regular warning, albeit delivered in a humorous way.

There is still ignorance surrounding the body’s development and function.

But for anyone who wants to know and doesn’t know what to ask – or who to ask – this week’s Newton episode about sex and such is a good alternative to ignorance and insecurity. We also make sure that several hundred thousand children access the same information about this important subject, leaving it up to the individual teacher to concider how graphically it should be shown and explained.

And not least: We’re a factual supplement to all the other things children can access online.

Translated by Tone Sutterud