November 13, 2011
A Guest Post by JON PRESSICK
When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em. – Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
The subject of people’s sexual and relationship knowledge, based on their upbringing is near and dear to my heart. As someone who spends much time immersed in sexual research and culture, I have many beliefs and ideas that I think would help people as they mature into adults. At the time I was asked to write this column, it just so happened that I had recently reread a piece I wrote on discussing my bisexuality with my kids—in 2005. It was quite interesting to look back and see how I chose to engage them in discussions about sex so long ago.
I’m glad I was doing that back then because, frankly, in my experience most people do not possess the complex set of skills it takes to make a romantic or sexual relationship prosper. Additionally, I don’t want my children to grow up and experience the same sex and relationship pitfalls so many of us do. Most of us don’t know how to handle and negotiate one night stands. We don’t know how to deal with another’s feelings in intimate relationships. We don’t know how to distinguish sex from love and vice versa.
And while all of this is keeping Hollywood in the green with plenty of rom-com films and television shows, we continue to allow our kids to come of age without these skills. Why do we continue to believe that people are going to learn all of this on their own? Why do we delude ourselves by thinking that denying children access to proper sexual and social education will somehow miraculously make them strong, well-adjusted and compassionate members of our society?
We assume that because most of us have been raised with shame-based notions of sex, it is somehow a big deal to have the birds and bees talk with kids. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had my two daughters at a zoo and heard parents describing animals fucking as a game? Or just shooing their kids away? No, those giant tortoises are actually having sex. Those tigers are mating. Yes, that horse does have a long penis. These are just a sampling of the answers I have given in response to the many questions my kids have asked me. I choose to answer all their questions honestly, because I do not want them growing up fearing sex.
Some would argue that it’s different when it comes to human sex, but it shouldn’t be. It may be harder, it may require more delicacy, but it isn’t any different. Kids need to know the fundamental, mechanical basics of sex first, and then they need to be taught the emotional aspect. In recent times, there are definitely have more kids who are able to give the biological reason for what those randy birds and bees are doing, and this is a great first step. However, these same kids also need to understand why sex and relationships—for better or worse —happen.
That is the crux of our collective social failing. My generation—and at least a few generations before me—are completely unable to address the many aspects of sex and relationships because we just don’t know how.
Who among us can easily say why someone cheats on a partner?
Who can explain why someone would pass on a sexually transmitted infection?
Who can put in plain words why we want to get naked with a person we feel a connection with?
Who can define love?
Obviously none of us can give a clear explanation of these things with one textbook or discussion. But we all can engage in an ongoing dialogue that can offer glimmers of light to those affected.
My work presents an odd conundrum for my kids. My daughters are fully aware that I am involved in projects involving sex and sexuality. They are now 12 and 9 and we have great relationships. They are both at the age of “ew” and “gross” when topics of sex come up. I think this is natural because they are beginning to confront their own growing attraction to people around them. So, for every time they make a face about a sexual topic, I give them an “it’s just natural,” or some such comment.
In the past, I’ve been much more detailed and we’ve had more lengthy chats; which I know they remember, because they can recall all the facts and ideas I shared then. But for now, I am respecting their growth and transitional period. I don’t push, but I also don’t run and hide from conversations about sex with them. Instead I engage them in such discussions when they indicate that they are comfortable. My hope is that this will lead to both of them being secure enough to chat with me openly as they move into their teens.
Is that going to happen? I really don’t know. We are talking about two individuals who have their own unique personalities. Still, I do hope that laying this foundation of open and honest dialogue will pay off. I hope my girls remain confident and continually seek out any knowledge that will keep them well informed. I hope they will always remember that, when necessary, I have two shoulders available for them to cry on. But most of all, I hope they both find happiness.