Sarah R. Callender

Myth

In Body Stuff, General, Parenting on March 22, 2012 at 6:52 am

A Persuasive Essay, in Which Sarah (who is not a sex educator) Explains Why You Might Want To Be Discussing the Birds and the Bees with Your Children

Our family did The Sex Talk when the kiddos hit kindergarten. This was, I admit, mostly to avoid my own embarrassment. I figured if the kids were too young to know they should be mortified by the conversation, I wouldn’t be so mortified.

But our desire to introduce the topic sooner rather than later was also based on two other facts:

First, Sex is confusing.

For this I blame Ancient Greece. Sure, the Greeks may be the co-founders of modern civilization, but one only has to look at birth stories from Greek Mythology to understand why we might be confused about birds and bees today.

Athena, for example, spent most of her gestation and childhood in Zeus’ skull. When Hephaestus, a blacksmith, took a wedge and split open Zeus’ head, out popped a full-grown Athena, all dressed in armor (complete with javelin and flouncy skirt).

Equally interesting and violent, Aphrodite was born from the sea-foam that rose up from her father’s castrated genitals. Oy!

Dionysus was born from Zeus’ thigh. (Which explains why we never hear that Zeus “peed just a little” during post-partum jumping jacks.)

And Helen of Troy was born (hatched, technically) after Zeus turned himself into a swan and impregnated Leda, Helen’s mother.  Why a swan? you may ask. I suppose Zeus might have asked, Why not a swan?

We also need to give our kids the skinny on sex because of the omnipresence of sexual language and imagery. Our kids will be exposed to it even if we’re vigilant and concerned and involved. Even if we monitor screen time. Even if we home-school them. Call me crazy, but I prefer that my kids learn stuff from me rather than from one of those super-classy Go Daddy ads or from the news headlines detailing the sexcapades of elected officials or, worst of all, from some sicko trolling for kids via the internet.

Two books we started reading to the kids (when Buddy hit kindergarten) were Amazing You! And What’s the Big Secret?. I’d recommend both as good jumping off points; the cartoon illustrations are appealing to kids, and the text is honest and direct.

I will say that in What’s the Big Secret, there’s a page on masturbation that (according to the negative Amazon reviews) tends to disturb at least seven parents in the United States. One negative reviewer was also appalled by the use of the words “vulva” and “scrotum” in this particular book. I suppose she was hoping for “hoochie” and “balls”?

God bless America.

I will also say that the first few times, I skipped right over the page that explained what goes where during sex. At least until Buddy realized that unless sperm had wings or ninja powers, the transfer from the guy’s penis all the way over to the woman’s egg seemed unlikely.

Buddy started jabbing the tips of his index fingers together, asking, “But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

So I swallowed, then forced myself to tell him the truth. “The penis just gets really really close to the vagina.” I paused. “Actually, it goes inside the vagina.”

He nodded. “Oh,” he said. “OK.”

“Buddy? Do you want me to keep reading, or does this make you feel a little uncomfortable?”

A very long pause. “It does makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I want you to keep reading.”

Now, three years later, I am extra glad we’ve already broached the topic, as at age nine, Buddy has reached the mortified stage.  A few weeks ago, Sweetie told us (over post-church Sunday dinner) that so-and-so in her class was saying the f-word.

“Oh,” I said. “What’s the f-word?”

“Fuck,” she said, her little voice as clear as a bell.

It hurt my ears a little, but I was also relieved that she seemed to believe this boy had exposed her to the f-word. As opposed to her mother. Who has been known to use it on occasion.

“That’s right,” I said. “That’s the f-word. Do you know what it means?”

Buddy and Sweetie shook their heads.

I glanced at Husbandio who gave me the green light to take this conversation to the finish line. “Well,” I said. “It’s a not very nice way of saying “having sex.”

Well, as soon as that sentence was out of my mouth, Buddy picked up his milk, chugged it, then stood up and hurried his dinner plate to the kitchen counter, his fair skin blushing pink. “May I please be excused?”

Without waiting for us to answer, he hurried away. It seems the topic still makes him feel a little uncomfortable, only now he does NOT want to hear more.

Yet The Talk needs to keep evolving and changing as our kids get older.

Throughout history, if kids got The Talk at all, it was really just a single talk. One terribly embarrassing conversation, after which parents could put away the copy of Where Did I Come From, breathing a sigh of relief that THAT duty could be crossed off the list.

But Seattle-based sex education experts Amy LangJulie Metzger and Jo Langford believe The Talks should keep happening as the kids mature. Even if our kids aren’t asking. In Lang’s article titled, “The Three Biggest Myths Even Smart Moms Believe That Get in the Way of The Sex Talks,” the Number One biggest myth is that parents don’t need to have the conversation if kids aren’t asking about sex.

Our kids may not be asking us about sex, but they are likely talking about it with their peers. And even if they’re not talking about it with their peers, they are still seeing sexual imagery and hearing sexual language.

Think about it: Thanks to technology, an elected politician can take a photo of his penis and email it to a special friend! Or several special friends! And then the whole world is privy to these indiscretions.

It is difficult to avoid coverage of Weiner’s wiener or Limbaugh’s misogynistic idiocy that likens women to porn stars and prostitutes. It’s even more difficult to watch a simple football game on television without seeing sexual imagery.

Go Daddy ads, for example, are trashy and stupid, but man, do my kids’ ears perk up during those 30-second spots. I suppose when you have two hot women painting the body of another hot, faceless woman who just happens to be naked, that grabs a person’s attention.

And what about Victoria’s Secret ads? According to Macmillan’s Online Dictionary, soft porn is described as “films, magazines, photographs, etc. that show sexual images but not sexual acts.” Don’t those angel-filled ads qualify as soft porn? I think so. Perhaps it’s the erotic noises in the background music. Or the way the model is lying across the back of a white horse. Or the way she’s touching her lips with her fingertips. Or maybe it’s just the perfect breasts everywhere. And there’s always lots of wind blowing. Have you noticed? Are we women sexier in a strong wind? Here. This one has the music and the wind and the perfect breasts.

And speaking of perfect breasts, let’s chat for a moment about the difference between pornography of the 1980’s vs. pornography today. Thanks to technology, more breasts can be “perfect,” either by surgery or by airbrushing. Also thanks to technology, porn is available on any computer, AND it’s available in Hi-Def video form. Gone are the days of still-shot photos. Now kids can get their sex education and learn what women really like via porn videos.

The topic of pornography is a larger one for another time, but let’s just consider this: if children are watching porn videos on the internet (and we are naive if we think they aren’t!) they will believe that’s how sex works. No need for relationships, no need for small talk or meaningful conversation or a getting-to-know-you period of courtship. No sir. Give the guy a bit of chicka-baobao background music, and the clothes just fall right off.

That’s a myth that disturbs me a whole lot more than castrated genitals.

I’m certainly no expert, but I’d prefer that Buddy and Sweetie learn from me, not from the internet, not from the mythical worlds of Victoria’s Secret fantasies. Not from kids on the school bus or the playground. Certainly not from Danica Patrick who, in my opinion, really blew her chance at being an excellent role model to girls. But that’s an entirely separate topic.

It’s a myth that educating kids about sexual matters turns them into sex-crazed creatures. It’s a myth that reading the page about masturbation turns kiddos into mega-masturbators. But it’s no myth that too many of us American parents are surprisingly prudish and squeamish when it comes to talking about sex.

Teaching kids about sexual matters (including safety and responsibility) increases the chances that they will turn into responsible, respectful teenagers who grow into responsible, respectful adults.

And it’s a fact that our modern civilization could use a few more of those.

  1. Considering the ads, the hype over millisecond wardrobe malfunctions or middle fingers has seemed laughable to me. Thanks for another insightful post.

    • So true, Jennifer. I even cringe at the cheerleaders. When Buddy was four, Husbandio took him to a Husky basketball game. Buddy’s post-game report? “I yiked the yemonade and the yadies!” Even at age four boys can sport a hot cheerleader.

  2. Love this post. I am taking all of this information and storing it away for my future talks, yikes!

  3. I hate the kids watching the SuperBowl/football in general because of those ads. Every time Viagra/VS/etc comes up they are paying attention whereas they ignore the actual game.

    • Man, I KNOW! I have many happy memories of watching sports with my dad. It’s really appalling how racy the ads are . . . I’m not a prude, but I certainly don’t want my kids to witness big boobed women in tiny clothes being wooed by men in beer ads. Et cetera. :(

  4. I love The What’s the Big Secret? book- we too used it when the kids were younger & it was a great way to opne dialogue. My son bounced into the car one day after the health talks started at school and said- do you know my penis is going to get bigger? That’s so exciting. I said yes, that is very exciting for you & every man :-) But I think having had an ongoing dialogue he’s opne to asking and sharing, much to his older sister’s mortification.

    • Oh, I LOVE this! I can just imagine your daughter’s mortification. How awesome that your son’s school is talking about the real stuff! Thanks for your comment . . . and for reading!

  5. I have been talking to my children about sex, our bodies, and consequences since they were old enough to say the word or even hear it. It’s never been a taboo subject in our home and my kids talk to me when they have questions or strange feelings…as I now have a young teenage son. I wasn’t raised in a house where it was explained, but rather talked about in my presence. I still didn’t understand and there were a lot of questions but no answers. Needless to say I found things out the hard way. Lost my virginity at 13 and got pregnant by 16, because when I tried to discuss my feelings or birth control I was ignored. I’m not totally blaming my parents because I still understood that it was something I probably shouldn’t be doing. However, I don’t want my children in that situation.

    • Oh, Elizabeth. This is such a great comment. Thanks for reading and for sharing. I love that you are being so honest with your kiddos! It’s certainly not the norm. Three cheers for you!

  6. Sarah,

    I’m in love. And I’m not ashamed to yell it to the world! YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL… TO ME… CAN’T YOU SEEE… EE…EE…EEEE! Really.

    My mother spoke openly with my brother and me, about OUR bodies and OUR feelings long before it became “an issue”. We also read “Where Did I Come From”. Loved those drawings… especially where they explain the orgasm. I totally get it now. *g*

    By the time the discussion of age appropriate, responsible sex came about, we accepted it (despite those normal feelings of embarrassment and weirdness that most of us experience) as normal parent/kid talk.

    My husband, youngest of eight (six boys, two girls) NEVER so much as caught wind of two words strung together about HIS body, a girl’s body, or how babies are made between the two, until AFTER he met me…. 17 and 18, respectively, btw. Well, he knew by then where babies come from, but he certainly didn’t learn it at home. I would have thought all of those older brothers would have talked. Apparently not in that house.

    Note: It was I, in our Human Sexuality class (dual Psych/Bio credit) in college that informed HIM that… actually, he *was* circumcised. I swallowed the giggle that tried to escape.

    He’s come a lonnnggg way with our teenagers! I insisted on it.

    Boy (18)… Girl(16)… Boy(13). We’ve had our fair share of The Birds and The Bees and The boyfriends and The girlfriends and Life Goals and Responsibility and Love… and How everything changes when you take your eyes off the ball. Literally. *g*

    As it turns out, my husband was really good at telling the boys what’s what. He covered all the bases, plus the respect factor where girls are concerned, such as opening doors and keeping in mind that, “No” ALWAYS MEANS “No”.

    And though, I gave our boys the choice, “me or dad” for The Talk (they both chose dad… go figure) when they got their first girlfriend they were alerted to the fact that SEX, from here out, is open for discussion.

    My girl, well, she takes after her mother. No subject is too taboo. Thank you God.

    I’ve found this discussion is SO much easier if you just fake it! *BIG OL’ GRIN*

    The more at ease (I) was, and am talking about these things, the more at ease they are. They make a bit of a fuss, “Really, Mom? Again?”, but they learned this simple fact quite early…

    “This discussion can take 10 minutes or a solid 30. It’s up to you. Listen closely. Absorb. Engage. Win-Win.”

  7. Well, this is a great post. I was just talking with another friend about when to have that talk. I’ve certainly been a little more open to discuss some bodily issues more than I remember hearing when I was growing up. Still, this post was quite helpful, giving me lots of great stuff to think about and two great books to read. Thanks.

  8. Okay…so what I was going to say is that I love Julie Metzger! Lindsay and I went to Puberty-Apalooza last year when it came to Bainbridge and it was over-the-moon fantastic. She was so funny, so warm, so reassuring that we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And even though my kiddo drew basketball doodles all over the margins of her paperwork, I know she was listening and we’ve had numerous great discussions since then.

    As part of Julie’s work through Seattle Children’s Hospital, she publishes a great bibliography on the birds and the bees and puberty in general and I ordered a whole bunch of books from that list. A surprisingly excellent source of literature on these subjects is actually from the American Girl Library. They publish The Care and Keeping of You, and all the Smart Girls guides (like the smart girl’s guide to boys, the smart girl’s guide to middle school, the smart girl’s guide to puberty etc.). They are great. I am noticing how dog eared our copies are!

    And I appreciate this pondering: as a parent, should you be proactive or reactive in discussing sex? When is too early? How to walk the delicate line when one older child asks a very legitimate question in front of a younger child? (I have three daughters.) It’s so tricky and I am trying to figure out my answers. I remember one of my proudest moments of parenting that happened last year during a spontaneous Q & A about sex. I could tell that my answer didn’t resonate credibly with Lindsay because she cocked her head at me and said, “really Mom, are you sure about that one?” So I told her that before she was born, I had actually been a volunteer sex educator with Planned Parenthood and had led classes all over Seattle and Mercer Island. She broke out into a smile and said, “gosh Mom, just when I think you couldn’t get any cooler and you go and tell me that”! Wow!!! THAT will never happen again! :)

    Great stuff Sarah! As always!

    Jeannie

  9. Thank you, Sarah!! I live in Germany, where discussing these issues is not necessarily the taboo minefield it’s become in the United States (and what a surprise, the streets aren’t teeming with sex-crazed maniacs either). Your extremely funny and very wise essay offers a reminder that honesty really does work. I’ll keep this in mind– right now my 2.5-year-old and baby probably wouldn’t have much to say.

    I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award. Details here: http://bit.ly/HzFmvt

    • Love this, Sarah! Thanks so much. And I love your point that when other countries present this topic in a more open way, it does NOT lead to crazy-high numbers of teen pregnancies. Quite the opposite in fact. Sigh. Maybe some day we’ll figure that out. :)

  10. [...] Sarah Callendar – Her debut novel is with her publisher now, but her witty and wise blog always gives me something to ponder. [...]

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