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 Lang, Julie 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.