Sexuality is a funny thing. Sex is a funny thing. We’re sharing the earth with billions of our best friends, so clearly we’re doing something right. Or if not right, we’re certainly doing it at the very least. Because it feels good. Because we as humans are sexual beings. I hosted a speaker for a continuing education course for mental health professionals. The speaker reminded us that our kids are having sex. He threw out all these statistics from surveys of middle school and high school kids. And I have no idea how these kids are getting into college, because they are really busy engaging in sexual activities. My immediate solution for my own kids was to start home schooling them. So at least they won’t be data points having sex.
We need to talk to our kids about sex so that they’re safe and prepared and not shamed or scared. What do we say and when? It seems so scary and confusing–for us as parents to even consider these discussions. So if it incites panic and fear in us, imagine what it does for young kids who are exposed to sexuality and sexual images from birth with advertising, and TV show plots, and dolls with large breasts and short skirts. They know something’s up, but they don’t know quite what that is. Until we tell them.
Or until they hear misinformation from their friends. Your choice. The discussions need to go beyond the plumbing and the procedures and technical terms. It starts with that. But then it must go to talking to both girls and boys about how to say no if they’re uncomfortable or uncertain about something. We need to teach our girls and boys how to advocate for themselves–if premarital sex is an option in your family’s belief system, teach them how to insist on safe sex practices and how to make good sexual choices. What words do you use? If your family does not believe in premarital sex, teach your kids what words to use to insist on that. I personally don’t care what your beliefs on sex are–just teach your kids what words to use. And practice saying them. Out loud.
Teach your children no matter what your beliefs are of when to have sex, that sex is intimate and important, and tell them in what ways. Sex is fun and feels good. Sex carries a lot of responsibility. Sex is a great source of pleasure and babies and itchy, oozing sores and funny noises and reputations and power and connections and intimacy and vulnerability. There are so many gray areas to discuss.
There’s also a lot of gray areas regarding orientation. Back in the day, when we whispered “cancer,” we thought of sexuality in primarily binary terms. Gay or Straight. Then some time probably close to the oil crises and the long gas lines of the ’70s, we recognized Bisexuality. Today, there’s LGBTQA. Let me interpret: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual.
A lot of research has been conducted on sexuality through the years. And it clearly notes that sexuality is a spectrum. Different people fall on different places of this spectrum, and for many people, that place on the spectrum is fluid throughout one’s lifetime. Sound confusing?
Think about how confusing it can be to a hormone-riddled child dealing with societal pressures and peer pressures. So here’s where words matter. If we talk to our kids about how confusing or weird this all is, they’ll grow up learning this is confusing and weird. And they will have difficulty understanding this, understanding other people, understanding themselves. When sex and sexuality are really about intimacy and connections and being vulnerable and sharing oneself. That’s the most important part they need to know.
If we teach them about sex and sexuality and sexual orientation as simply a natural part of life, that it’s not odd or dirty or shameful or aberrant, then they won’t think it’s anything but what it is. And they have a better chance of making good decisions about sex that are healthy for them. We are responsible for setting the tone, setting the baseline, setting the expectations.
So when my children were much younger, I looked into the options for Chinese school on the weekends for them. I discovered the two schools in my area either taught simplified Chinese or traditional Chinese characters. The simplified Chinese uses fewer strokes in each character, and thus is thought to be easier to learn. I chose the traditional, because it is what my parents learned, and what was taught to them. I liked tradition.
My father asked me why I did that. He thought I was making things harder for my kids by teaching them a harder version of the language. No, I said. It’s harder for people who grew up learning simplified Chinese to learn more strokes. But when my kids are learning a new language with no baseline or expectation, it’s hard no matter what. To them, it will be what it will be. Not harder, not easier. It just is. It’s just a new language for them to learn. They don’t know the difference.
So we must use our words and teach our children the new language of navigating a sexual world as sexual beings. They don’t know the difference now. They have only the baseline expectations you provide them. Consider your words carefully. And use them.
And I bet you never considered how learning Chinese was a lot like sex. You’re welcome.