Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Recently I got into a small Facebook spat with some friends of a friend (totally my fault; sometimes I forget that the Internet is the wrong place for reasoned discourse) because I defended the placement of a beginners-guide-to-bondage-and-related-sex-play video on a government-funded, specifically-for-teens sex-ed site. Most of the people in the comment thread were outraged, and I made what I thought at the time was a fairly bland comment about knowledge being power and “if you think teenagers aren’t doing this stuff, you don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager.”
The first person to pounce on me derided my “wild and perverse” sexual proclivities, which made me laugh and laugh. (For the record, although I don’t know why I feel the need to clarify: Not personally interested in bondage, myself.) “Knowledge is power” is an oft-repeated mantra in our home, and I believe it, even (maybe even, especially) when it applies to difficult topics of discussion.
So let’s talk about sex
In fact, if you live in my house? Let’s talk about sex early and often. Let’s discuss the mechanics, use proper anatomical terms, look stuff up together when warranted, and above all, let’s just be honest about it (in an age-appropriate way, of course). My children were 6 and 8 the first time we had a fairly hardcore discussion about sexual intercourse, and the only fib I allowed myself in that conversation was to say that sex was for married people, and even then I felt conflicted about adding that, but did so because my daughter was clearly unnerved and I felt like creating more distance between her and the knowledge I’d just shared was appropriate at the time. That was merely a starting point, and of course over the years the information has been augmented and adjusted as appropriate. Although such discussions are never easy, if I’m being honest I have to admit that I found those early, purely-theoretical ones easier than the ones we have now, because now the kids are teenagers and I can’t kid myself anymore that it’s all just theory (or that if it’s theory today, it’s not likely to be practice in the near future).
But knowledge is power. And the bottom line is that I want my children to be safe, first and foremost, both on physical and emotional levels. Also I don’t want them to grow into adulthood viewing intimacy as something weird or shameful. Like it or not, I have to try to conduct myself in a way that helps guide them towards maturity without damaging them or our relationship. So how do we balance that? We keep talking, and we acknowledge the weirdnesses when they happen, and I try to follow some basic commandments.
The Parental Commandments
- Thou shall listen more than talk.
- Thou shall not discuss your own personal sex life with your children. Ever. (Seriously.)
- Thou shall, however, discuss your own personal past on a very high level—if asked—to demonstrate both good and bad decisions from your life (e.g., “We were together a very long time and really cared for each other,” or “He had a girlfriend and I went out with him anyway because I was young and stupid.”)
- Thou shall give straightforward answers whenever possible, and seek out supplemental information when needed.
- Thou shall impart your own moral position clearly but without judgment (e.g., if your family believes premarital sex is wrong, then of course you want to communicate that, but not in a way that would make a kid feel like they are evil or ruined if they don’t ultimately share your values).
- Thou shall discuss everything the child wishes to know, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and it is okay to say “I don’t know a lot about this” or “I feel a little weird.” This makes you human, which most teenagers will appreciate.
- Thou shall acknowledge often that the parent does not get to make choices for the child in this realm. I like to say, “It’s not up to me, these are choices you have to make for yourself, and I am just trying to make sure you are informed enough to make good ones.”
- No matter what your personal feelings about it, thou shall make peace with the fact that nearly every human on the planet ends up having sex, and most teenagers are going to begin exploring themselves and others on some level, and this is normal and natural and the very best thing parents can do is keep communication going during this time.
- Thou shall make it clear that if a need arises, you will be available to assist, and will do your best to reserve judgment. (If you have moral reservations about, say, purchasing the morning-after pill or a birth control prescription, then you need to be clear about your limits, but I would also encourage you to think long and hard about what is truly the most prudent choice if your child needs you in a difficult situation. Think about it now, before anything happens… and then pray nothing ever happens.)
The Teenager Commandments
- Thou shall be informed by a reputable source (hint: not Urban Dictionary).
- Thou shall remember that the Internet is forever, world without end, never take naked pictures of yourself as a minor (or hopefully ever), amen.
- Thou shall respect thyself and understand that choices about your body belong to you alone.
- Thou shall know that no one—this bears repeating: no one—has the right to do anything to your body without your enthusiastic consent.
- Thou shall remember that people who are drunk or otherwise chemically altered are incapable of consent.
- Thou shall acknowledge that if it’s “too embarrassing” to discuss with a partner, probably you are not ready to be doing whatever it is with that partner.
- Thou shall plan for health and safety well in advance of any situation where this becomes a factor. Plainly stated: If you haven’t planned for prevention of STDs and pregnancy, you are not ready for sex. Period.
- Thou shall remember that sex comes in many forms, and sharing genitalia in any way is sex. No kind of sex is “wrong,” but don’t kid yourself that if it’s not penis-in-vagina it doesn’t count as sex both physically and emotionally. It does.
- Thou shall remember that there are good reasons why sex and other forms of intimacy are considered private. Please keep it private. That means no gossiping (about your own or others’), and no engaging in private behaviors in public places.
- Thou shall try to remember that hormones can be wonderful things, and intimacy is also a wonderful thing, but our brains are not terribly reliable when we’re turned on, and you have your whole life to figure this stuff out. Don’t be in a hurry. You can always do more, but you can’t go back in time and do less if you regret it later.
- Thou shall remember that everyone has regrets. Try to make the best decisions possible, but if/when you make a bad one, that’s okay. You’re human. Learn from it and move on.
- Thou shall remember that we parents love you no matter what.
Please understand that I don’t find this stuff easy, by any means, but I think it’s important enough to push through my own discomfort (and my kids’). I’ll let you know in about a decade whether or not it worked, I guess.