Monday, January 5, 2009

Everything you always wanted to know about wanting to know

When her son and his wife were expecting their first child, my aunt used to like to say "no children, twenty theories; two children, no theories." Marc, you see, had many Ideas about how things were going to be Different with his kids because he and Julie had a Plan.

I have no children, twenty theories, and a blog, which is another way of saying that I'm about ten different kinds of a damn fool. I know this, and knowing it doesn't stop me, which means that this one (me) goes to eleven.

Anyway, Yondalla has a post up about teens and sex that is thought provoking, and being provoked, and seeing as how these thoughts are going to be very important to me in, very hopefully, the near future, I thought I'd talk a little about them here.

I should start, I guess, by explaining my own experiences with learning about It. I knew all about reproduction by the age of 5, thanks to my OB-GYN nurse mother. It always made me giggle - same with seeing people kiss on TV. Very embarrassing stuff, and I remember really wishing that she'd just shut up about it (it really felt sometimes like somebody had taken a completely de-kinkified Dr. Ruth broadcast and played it on an endless loop). We had one sex-ed class in fifth and sixth grade after school and my mother taught the girls' group for that, too. I remember at least one of my classmates approaching me after that class was over, and the awestruck way she told me that I was so lucky to have a mom who is willing to talk about sex. Which I guess just goes to show that there's a flip side to everything.

That was one side of my sex education. The other part happened when I was seventeen years old and was talking to my friend, Liz. It was after our first semester in college, I remember, and she told me that her high school boyfriend had come to visit, and they'd decided that the long-distance thing wasn't going to work out, and that they'd broken up. And then, after they broke up, they'd had sex one more time, for old time's sake.

And I was no end of shocked, I gotta tell you. I mean, pick my jaw up off the floor flabbergasted, and I asked her why? and she looked at me kind of blankly and said "for fun." And those two words blew open a lot of doors and windows for me. I could not remember a time when I didn't know the hows and the whys and the why nots about sex, but it had never occurred to me that it was either permissable or possible to have a good time doing it, or to do it just for the good time. And that was true even when I thought about sex within a relationship; I would have found the idea of married people engaging in gleeful quickies absolutely incomprehensible.

It seems to me that we make a lot of shocked, shocked! noise about how sexified our culture is and how much we should push back when kids are growing up, but we're a little deaf to the background noise that exists that pushes a lot of screwed up notions about sex on to kids. Dennis Prager's marital rape how-to guide is reprehensible, but it's not exactly an outlier. The idea that sex is a subject that can be approached on its own terms - and not as something that is inextricably entertwined with a committed relationship - is still treated as radical, even in the same breath as the pervasiveness of that idea is decried. And that is unfortunate, not only because it seeks to deny us some zesty fun, it also detracts from the value we place on non-sexual relationships (and opens the door to Prager's deplorable "logic") which is another lesson in the whole "flip side of everything" concept.

So here's the twenty-theories and a blog deal: telling kids about how babies are made and how married people have a "special kind of hug" and about how great sex can be when it isn't just sex, but part of a close, committed relationship, is maybe a quarter of a sex education. Telling them about staying safe - and not just about using protection, but also about things like, if you're at a party and you're feeling drunk and you want to go home, scope around for a girl who looks sober and whether you know her or not, ask her to get you home. If she won't do it, look for another sober girl and repeat until you find one who will get you home safe*, are another quarter. Telling them about rape and not-rape is another solid quarter. Telling them that sex is a lot of fun, and reminding yourself that the years between sexual development and about thirty are when people are at their most energetic and most wildly hormonal and most daring and that those don't necessarily add up to bad things (actually, they can add up to a lot of fun) is the last part.

We tend to focus on the idea that minors having sex is bad. I don't think that's necessarily true. I tend to think that sexually mature people having sex is natural, even if the person in question isn't mature in other ways (this is very important to people like my husband, who would be a 40-year old virgin if he had to wait until he's grown up... just kidding, B is only 38.)

So here's where I'd want my kid to be as they approach adulthood, as pertains to sex:
  1. I'd want them to understand that it's something that they should only do when and if they want to do it
  2. I'd want them to understand what herpes is. Graphically.
  3. I'd want them to understand that sex can bring unintended obligation, and that even protected sex does contain a particle of risk of incurring that obligation. This applies to partners who might get emotionally vulnerable as a result as well as to surprise offspring.
  4. I'd want them to understand that sex can be fun and tender and intimate, but it can also be used to hurt and humiliate, and that hurting and humiliating another person is a terrible and awful thing to do for anything less than $500 an hour, adjusted for inflation.
Yondalla has a number of scenarios up, and I'd have to say that the answer doesn't lie in the circumstances, the circumstances are merely learning experiences on the way to living the principles I've outlined here. Scenario 1, with a thirteen year old kid performing oral sex as a party game freaks me out a little, I'll admit. But I have to say, the first thing I'd ask was "so how do you feel about it?" Because there are two possibilities here: we could have a case of not-rape and a kid who needs help to avoid being not-raped again; or, we could have a budding exhibitionist who is eagerly anticipating the next party. The odds lean heavily towards the former here, which sounds to me like the kids need an adult to blame for why they can't go to the cool-but-extremely-scary parties anymore.

Scenario 2 sounds to me either like somebody whose ideas about love=sex are prompting him/her to attempt to substitute the latter for the former, or somebody whose interest in sex far outpaces his/her interest in a relationship, but who is attempting to offer a relationship in exchange for sex. Either way, it's time to work on decoupling.

Scenario 3 sounds pretty healthy and normal to me. Same for scenario 4, although I would be inclined to ask if he and the boyfriend couldn't think of someplace to go where they'd be a lot less at risk of being arrested and/or banned from the gym.

*This is actually one of the most valuable things I learned in college. And for the record, I was the sober one.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks...very interesting.

    I also think of #3 as not at all surprising or deeply concerning.

    #4 was special since I really was driving 65 miles down the freeway. We could have died. Died, I tell you! And there was much conversation about safe places, about the fact that the agency had rules we had agreed to ... sigh.

    Thanks for the post though. Glad to have provoked you.