'Children are better off being children'

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The Independent Online
John Clark and his teenage daughter, Martha, have a close relationship, but not so close that they talk about sex. Neither party would wish it any other way, writes Clare Garner.

"I think it's about respecting boundaries," said Mr Clark, 49, a university lecturer who lives in north London. "I don't think I should be obliged to talk to Martha about sex. I don't think it's necessarily appropriate." He recently overheard two school girls discussing flavoured condoms and oral sex. 'Well,' he mused, 'I'm not going to start talking to Martha about flavoured condoms, quite honestly'."

Martha, 16, has never felt the need to talk to her parents about sex. School, she said, has provided her with all the sex education she needs. "I think our school is particularly good on that because it's a girls' school," she said. "We've got a lot of female teachers who want us to know about it."

At 12, she was taught how to put condoms on carrots and every year since, the lessons have become "more serious", focusing in particular on HIV and Aids. Martha said she would tell her parents if she wanted to go on the Pill. "But I wouldn't need their support that much," she hastened to add.

Mr Clark outlined his approach to parenting. "Our family line is that children are better off being children than growing up, which means you don't necessarily talk to them about sex all the time," he said. "That's a good excuse, isn't it!"

He is more concerned with establishing a "good quality relationship" with Martha so that if she needs to talk she can, than spelling out the mechanics of sex.

"The idea of having a set of rules that between the age of 12 and 14 you discuss the various positions of sexual intercourse and alternative forms of contraceptive is ridiculous," he said. He remembered how awkward he felt when he was called upon to explain certain scenes in films and soap operas: "What I had to do is not flee the room - which I was definitely tempted to do."

Even Shakespeare has proved problematic. "We went to A Midsummer Night's Dream," he said. "It's very explicit what's happening, that this donkey is having sex with a fairy. What are you going to say about that?"