I recently read this post on the wonderful Raising My Rainbow blog. In it, “C.J.’s mom” talks about how she assumed her husband would be the one to talk to their boys about sex, until it became clear her gender variant son might be gay. (Let me pause here to say that C.J.’s mom is one of my mommy and blogger heroes, and despite using her post as a jumping off point into the far reaches of my radical brain, I have nothing but utmost respect for her).
I think many of us approach the idea of talking to our kids about sex by following cultural scripts we don’t give much thought to. If we stop and ask ourselves why, however, we may realize these scripts are not at all the best way to raise empowered, feminist children. Why does a same-sex parent give the sex talk? What message does that send? Why a “sex talk” at all? And what should be said in the talk?
I know some of you think you have many years before you answer these questions, but the truth is, we have to start when our children are learning to talk by teaching them the proper names for body parts in a casual, natural non-shaming way. I tell my two year-old daughter during diaper changes “I need to wipe your vulva.” This is the very beginnings of her sex education, and my son’s as well.
So why “sex talks?”
Recently, a group of friends at a dinner party went around a talked about whether we had had a “sex talk.” Turns out not a single person at the table had had one. We were all basically “self-taught.” So the fact that many folks who are parents now are thinking about and planning “sex talks” is admirable and important.
But is the “sex talk” enough?
In my opinion, if I’m planning a “sex talk” with a kid, I’ve already missed an opportunity.
“Sex talks” send the following messages:
-Sex is unusual, different, and distinct from daily interactions and can be neatly separated out from the rest of life and put into a box the size of a conversation.
-Sex elicits awkwardness and anxiety.
-Sex is only talked about with members of the same gender.
-Sex is not something people in couples talk about with their partners present.
The truth is sex is everywhere. It’s everywhere because is saturates our culture and media, but it is also everywhere because it permeates our lives as humans in very natural ways. Everything we do, all our interactions have sensual, erotic, romantic, and kinky elements. The idea that we can take all that is non-platonic and shove it into a neat little monogamous, monosexual compartment isn’t accurate, and I don’t think it’s what we truly want to be teaching our kids.
Once at a sleepover in high school with a bunch of girls, a friend of mine announced that an older girl we all knew had had “oral sex.” I distinctly remember that none of us knew what that was. We knew what blow jobs were, of course. OF COURSE. It seemed most of the girls in our class were giving blow jobs regularly. But I didn’t know a single girl in high school who knew that a girl could receive oral sex (let alone from another girl!). As this girl described what her friend had told her about the “oral sex,” the girls squealed with displeasure at the thought of someone licking their private areas, and were perplexed that this older girl had reported being “eaten out” was “better than sex.”
Turns out being eaten out IS sex! Our daughters need to know that. They need to know that sex is supposed to feel good, and yes, that includes for girls. Sex isn’t something you do to get into the popular group or get a boy’s attention. Sex doesn’t even have to involve natal males. No matter what, sex is always for you!
I relay this story to highlight what we are doing by not arming our daughters with specific, in-depth sexual knowledge. These girls were still having sex. They were having sex in ways that were pleasing to boys. They didn’t even understand that their pleasure was something to consider. They didn’t know they could have had sex with girls instead. They didn’t have any options because they had learned a very limited sexual script.
You can be sure no daughter of mine will be going around giving blow jobs not even knowing cunnilingus exists! Look, we may all hope our daughters aren’t giving blow jobs in high school, but the fact is many of them will. I may not be able to control the what and when of my kids’ sexual encounters, but I can absolutely control what level of knowledge they go into those experiences with. I want my boy and my girl to understand that a sexual encounter should be mutually pleasurable. If they are not comfortable, emotionally or physically, I want them to hear my fucking-annoying voice ringing in their ears, saying, “Does it feel good!?”
On that note, as early as high school, despite my own complete lack of experience, I picked up somewhere that sex wasn’t supposed to hurt. I’m almost sure I picked this up from some feminist reading I had done for fun. This was before high school kids did web searches. I remember arguing with other girls about this. The common wisdom seemed to be the “first time” hurts horribly and the best approach is just “get it over with.”
It’s not enough to tell our kids to wear condoms. We need to describe to them in detail how long it takes for a woman to be lubricated enough for penetration, what types of things are likely to facilitate that, and what kind of lube to use if you need a bit of help. We need to buy our daughters dildos and tell them to practice on themselves so they know what penetration should feel like, whether by a penis, strap-on, etc. If there’s going to be discomfort, they should be in complete control and able to push their limits as they see fit. I still tell adults all the time that sex shouldn’t hurt, ever. (Unless the pain is the point, in a kink/BDSM context). And yes, we need to tell our kids about that too!
In college, I had this reputation for being a kind of amateur sex therapist. It was ironic because I still had essentially no experience whatsoever. But I knew things. In many cases more than people who’d actually had sex! One of my signature interventions was bringing women to downtown Chicago to buy their first dildo or vibrator. I remember this one woman didn’t even know what a dildo was – 21 years old! What? Over my dead body my kids will go off to college not knowing what a dildo is!
I think many folks still believe talking to kids about sex will make them do it. If we don’t talk to our kids about sex, frequently and repeatedly, and in detail, (and this includes parents of all genders with kids of all genders), they are still going to learn about sex. They will learn about it from:
-Very intense, frequent exposure to pornography that bears little resemblance to actual sex.
-Other misinformed or under-informed kids.
-Other kids who have an agenda and are not invested in presenting balanced, egalitarian viewpoints.
-Adults who are not sex-positive and may even be shaming.
-Television, movies, and books, the vast majority of which present a hetero-normative, monogamous, gender-traditional, sex-shameful cultural script, often involving sexy vampire teens biting each other’s necks.
Get in there now! Don’t wait! Talk about sex at the dinner table, in the car, in front of the tv, during homework, on weekends, on weekdays, with relatives, friends, and any other time. If you have a partner, model for your kids talking about sex with a partner by talking to your partner about sex in front of them. Talk about every aspect of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, romance, love, eroticism, sensuality, touch, friendship, emotional intimacy, kink, monogamy, non-monogamy, safe sex, flirting, sexual fluidity and anything and everything else.
A “Sex Talk” takes sex out of life and puts it in some kind of alternate universe where our kids don’t live and we don’t live. Show your kids through example the rich spectrum of sexuality and sensuality present in all aspects of our lives.
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