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An essay by Richard King


Title:     When?
Author: Richard King [More Titles by King]

One of the greatest--perhaps _the_ greatest--problems which parents have to face is--when to tell their children the truth about sexual life; how to tell it; how little to tell--how much. And most parents, alas! are content to drift--to trust to luck! They themselves have got through fairly well; the probabilities are, then, that their children will get through fairly well too. So they, metaphorically speaking, fold their hands and listen, and, when any part of the truth breaks through the reticence of intimate conversation, they shake their heads solemnly, strive to look shocked--and often are; or else they make a joke of it--believing that their children regard the question in the same reasonable light as they do themselves. But ignorance is never reasonable, and half ignorance is even more excited. There is a "mystery" somewhere, and ignorant youth is hot after its solution. And the "mystery" is solved for them in a dozen ways--all more or less dirty and untrue. Better far be too frank, so long as your frankness isn't the frankness of coarse levity, than not to be frank enough. The reticence of parents towards their children in this matter has turned many a young life of brilliant promise into a life-long hell. We don't _see_ this hell for the most part, and, because we don't see it, we fondly believe that it does not exist--or, if it does exist, that it exists so rarely as scarcely to demand more than a passing condemnation and a sigh. We hear a great deal about the Hidden Plague. We hear of the 80,000 cases of syphilis which are registered every year in the United Kingdom. But we don't know any individual sufferer--or we _think_ we don't; and so, although we take the figure as an acknowledged fact, we nevertheless don't realise it--and in any case, it isn't a nice subject of debate, and, should the word be even mentioned in the presence of our dear, dear children, we would ask the speaker to leave the house immediately and never again return! I, too, was one of these poor fools--although I have no children to suffer from my foolishness. I knew it was a fact, but like others I didn't realise that fact--like we didn't realise the horror and filth and tragedy of war, we who never were "out there"; we who never "went over the top." But lately I have had to visit a friend in one of the largest lock hospitals in London. And one day I was obliged to walk through the waiting-room where the men are forced to sit until they are summoned to see the doctor. And truly I was appalled! There were _hundreds of them_ of all ages--from 16 to 60. They were not the serious cases, of course, and we should pass them in the street without realising that they were any but physically sound men, often of a very splendid type. But each one represented a blighted life--a future robbed of splendid promise, a present of misery and unhappiness stalking through the world like shame beneath a happy mask. I tell you, it brought the truth home to me in a way mere figures and statistics could never do. As I said before, I was appalled: I was also very angry. For I knew that ignorance was at the bottom of many of these sad tragedies--the criminal reticence of the people _who know_, too mock-modest to discuss openly a fact of life which, beyond all other facts of life, should be spoken of bluntly, honestly, therefore decently and cleanly.

[The end]
Richard King's essay: When?