Have you read the books by Diana Gabaldon? The Outlander series? If you haven’t, then you should because they provide some wonderful examples of Outlander sex education.
Now, by sex education, I’m not referring to the sex scenes that happen between the two main characters, Jamie and Claire. I’m talking about glimpses of parent-child sex education that are shared throughout the book. Even though the books are set in the 18th century, the author portrays an approach to sex education that is very relevant in the 21st century. That is, sex education that is based around natural everyday conversations about sex, without the shame.
Talking about sex with kids can be awkward for parents, as they usually don’t have any positive memories of their own childhood sex education. And we can’t always look and see how our friends talk with their kids about sex, as it is often something that happens in the privacy of the family home. Which means that you have to try and work it out for yourself.
Anyway, my sister told me about the Outlander books, and told me that I must (not should) read them. So I read the first one and before you knew it, instead of buying myself a pair of Irregular Choice shoes for my birthday, I had bought the entire set of 8 books instead! They are that good! But it wasn’t until I had reread them for the second time, that I started to notice the examples of sex education. The Outlander books provide glimpses of what an everyday approach can look like.
So, this blogpost is based on my third reread, with more examples to follow as I work my way through the books again. Luckily, I am a fast reader!
And in case you are wondering, I haven’t watched the tv program to know if Outlander sex education is reflected on the screen. I’ve only read the books.
These examples are taken from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon 1991. A Dell Book.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
This chapter is all about the wedding of Jamie and Claire. Claire has been married before but Jamie is a virgin, which means he has kissed a few girls but hasn’t actually had sexual intercourse before. In this scene Jamie shares with Claire, what his expectations of sexual intercourse would be like.
“Was it like you thought it would be?” I [Claire] asked curiously. He chuckled making a deep rumble under my ear.
“Almost; I had thought – nay, nevermind.”
“No, tell me. What did you think?”
“I’m no goin’ to tell ye; ye’ll laugh at me.”
“I promise not to laugh. tell me.” He caressed my hair, smoothing the curls back from my ear.
“Oh, all right. I didn’t realize that ye did it face to face. I thought ye must do it the back way, like; horses, ye know.”
It was a struggle to keep my promise, but I didn’t laugh.
“I know that sounds silly,” he said defensively. “It’s just… well, ye know how you get ideas in your head when you’re young, and then somehow they just stick there?”
“You’ve never seen people make love?” I was surprised at this, having seen the crofters’ cottages, where the whole family shared a single room. granted that Jamie’s family were not crofters, still it must have be the rare Scottish child who had never waked to find his elders coupling nearby.
“Of course I have, but generally under the bedclothes, ye know. I couldna tell anything except the man was on top. That much I knew.”
So what is the Outlander sex education lesson here? I like this scene because it reflects how we often make incorrect assumptions about sex, when we don’t have enough information. Jamie may have been given the details about sexual intercourse when he was younger, but he might have been too young to fully understand what was being said. Which is why ‘one talk’ just doesn’t work.
In this scene, Jamie is still lying in bed with Claire, but he shares some of the advice that his friends have given him about what to expect of his wedding night.
“… I had considerable good advice offered me on the subject last night, from Murtagh and Rupert and Ned. A good bit of it sounded verra unlikely to me, though, so I thought I’d best use my own judgement.” [Jaimie]
So what is the Outlander sex education lesson from this scene? Kids will hear lots about sex from a wide number of sources: friends, tv, music, books, the internet and more. More often than not though, the information will be inaccurate. The challenge for kids though, is in working out what to believe. If they are lucky, they will have a parent that they can go to with their questions. A parent who will help them to make sense of what they have heard and will provide them with information that they can understand and satisfy their curiosity. The kids who don’t have an askable parent, are the ones that have to turn to google to find the answers to their questions.
You can find out more about answering kid’s questions in my book, The Sex Education Answer Book: By the age responses to tough questions kids ask parents about sex (for parents of kids aged 3 -14).
In this scene, Jamie is talking with Hamish, his young cousin (age 10 to 12ish, I think), about what happens when you get married.
“The stable-lad.” Hamish waved a hand, pushing away the distraction. “He said, er, about getting married…”
“Mmm?” Jamie made an encouraging noise, keeping his face tactfully turned away. Rolling his eyes upward, his glance met mine, as I peered over the edge. I grinned down at him, causing him to bite his lip to keep from grinning back.
Hamish drew a deep breath, and let it out in a rush, propelling his words like a burst of birdshot. “He-said-ye-must-serve-a-lass-like-a-stallion-does-a-mare-and-I-didna-believe-him-but-is-it-true?”
I bit my fingers hard to keep from laughing out loud. Not so fortunately placed, Jamie dug his fingers into the fleshy part of his leg, turning as red in the face as Hamish. They looked like two tomatoes, set side by side on a hay bale for judging at a county vegetable show.
“Er, aye… weel, in a way…” he [Jamie] said, sounding strangled. Then he got a grip on himself.
“Yes,” he said firmly, “yes, ye do.”
Hamish cast a half-horrified glance into the nearby stall, where the bay gelding was relaxing, a foot or so of reproductive equipment protruding from its sheath. He glanced down doubtfully at his own lap then, and I stuffed a handful of fabric into my mouth as far as it would go.
“There’s some difference, ye ken,” Jamie went on. The rich color was begining to fade from his face, though there was still an ominous quiver around his mouth. “For one thing, it’s… more gentle.”
“Ye dinna bite them on the neck,then?” Hamish had the serious intent expression of one taking careful notes. “To make them keep still?”
“Er… no. Not customarily, anyway.” Exercising his not inconsiderable willpower, Jamie faced up manfully to responsibilities of enlightenment.
“There’s another difference, as well,” he said, carefully not looking upward. “Ye may do it face to face, instead of from the back. As the lady prefers.”
“The lady?” Hamish seemed dubious about this. “I think I’d rather do it from the back. I dinna think I’d like to have anyone lookin’ at me while I did something like that. Is it hard,” he inquired,” is it hard to keep from laughing?”
So many Outlander sex education lessons in this scene:
In this scene, Jamie is teaching his young nephew (2-3 years old, I think) how to urinate (pee) whilst standing.
“Dinna worrit yourself, man,” said Jamie’s vocie. “You’ll learn. It’s a bit difficult, isn’t it, when your cock doesna stick out any further than your belly button.”
I [Claire] stuck my head around the corner, to find him seated on a chopping block, engaged in converse with his namesake, who was struggling manfully with the folds of his smock.
“What are you doing with the child?” I inquired cautiously.
“I’m teachin’ young James here the fine art of not pissing on his feet,” he explained. “Seems the least his uncle could do for him.”
I raised one eyebrow. “Talk is cheap. Seems the least his uncle could do is show him.”
He grinned. “Well, we’ve had a few practical demonstrations. Had a wee accident last time, though.” He exchanged accusatory looks with his nephew.
So what is the Outlander sex education lesson from this scene? It is the natural way that Jamie is talking about the private body parts (or genitals) and the fact that teaching young James to not urinate on his feet is just another everyday conversation (without any shame).
In this scene, Claire and Jamie are talking about masturbation and the responsibility of sexual intercourse.
“I [Claire] always wondered how it was you stayed a virgin so long. Are the girls in Lallybroch all plain, then?”
‘No,” he said, squinting up into the morning sun. “It was mostly my father was responsible for that. We’d stroll over the fields in the evenings, sometimes, he and I, and talk about things. And once I got old enough for such a thing to be a possibility, he told me that a man must be responsible for any seed he sows, for it’s his duty to take care of a woman and protect here. And if I wasna prepared to to that, then I’d no right to burden a woman with the consequences of my own actions.”
“Rather hard on you, though, if he expected you to wait so long to marry,” I said.
Jamie grinned, kilt flapping round his knees in the brisk autumn breeze.
“Well, the Church does teach that self-abuse is a sin, but my father said he thought that if it came to a choice between abusin’ yourself or some poor woman, a decent man might choose to make the sacrifice.”
So what is the Outlander sex education lesson from this scene? It is the sharing of values and beliefs that is important here. Jamie’s father shared his personal values and beliefs about sex with his son. But he didn’t just tell him what to do. He shared his values with his son, they discussed it and shared the ‘why’ behind it. Values are very personal and something that we decide for ourselves. But the values we choose are heavily influenced by the environment we live in and the messages we receive from society (tv, music, peers, internet, church, teachers, etc). So sharing your values and beliefs about what sexual attitudes and behaviours are okay (and not okay) with your kids means that you are providing them with a moral compass. So if you don’t share your values with your kids, you really can’t expect their values to be similar to yours.
Now, before I forget, let me know if you have found any novels that provide great examples of positive sex education! As I am now on the lookout but i don’t actually find much time to read novels. I tend to use my spare time to work my way through the sex ed books that i have bought and haven’t yet read.
As parents, we often see sex education as a talk that happens when kids reach puberty. But it isn’t that at all. Sex education is about having the sort of relationship with your child where they feel comfortable talking to you about anything, like sex, bullying, drugs, porn…
This happens when you talk about tough topics (like sex) in an everyday way and when you give them permission to ask you questions about anything.
This approach makes sex education a whole lot easier, as you can then focus on having an open and honest relationship with your child, rather than worrying about what you have (and haven’t) yet talked about. Because you know that if it is relevant to your child, that the opportunity to talk will arise, as your child will come to you with their questions, instead of turning to the internet and their friends.
And Diana Gabaldon, provides us with some wonderful Outlander sex education moment that provide a wonderful example of an everyday approach to sex education.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.