Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kids and sex

Michelline sent me this article, which is a pretty standard article about explaining puberty to kids. There was one paragraph, though, which stuck out to me –

When a man and a woman love each other and decide that they want to have a child, they will do something called “sexual intercourse” or “having sex.” This is when the man lies very close to the woman and puts his erect penis inside her vagina. It feels good for both the man and woman. They will also hug and kiss and cuddle. This is a very special way of expressing how much they love each other.

I have two problems with this. First, it’s not true. Studies (not to mention common knowledge) show that the number one reason people have sex, particularly young people, is that they are physically attracted to a person. Sex isn’t something people just decide to do when they love each other deeply and want to perpetuate the species. Telling kids, even 8 and 9 years olds differently doesn’t do them any favors.

People would probably say that even if that’s not the way sex usually happens, that’s the way it should happen, so that’s what they want to tell their kids. Which leads to my second objection – there’s nothing inherently moral in saving sex for marriage or inherently immoral in sex without love. Thanks to our Puritan forefathers, our culture’s ideas about sex are seriously fucked up.

Sex, and sexual attraction are a fact of life starting with pre-teens and ending with death. Kids should be taught about the risks and pitfalls, but also be encouraged to embrace their sexuality when the time is right, and the right time is different for every person. As parents, the best we can hope for is that we’ve raised kids who are emotionally healthy enough to make the best decisions they can, and that they feel comfortable, not afraid, of coming to us for support. Yes, the risk of pregnancy and STD’s are real. But we can’t shield our kids from every danger as they grow up. Driving is dangerous too. Some of our kids are going to die because we let them drive. But we don’t expect them to wait until they’re 25.

I’m not suggesting that you sit your 8 year olds down and give them the ins-and-outs of college hookups. But there’s no need to plant this unrealistic version of human sexuality in their heads at such an important time of life. We’ve got enough of these horribly misguided abstinence programs out there to deal with, leaving guilty, ashamed kids in their wakes. What I expect, especially from medical and psychological professionals, is age-appropriate discussions of the dangers and the benefits of sexuality, without the harmful puritanical baggage.

On balance sex is not only a biological imperative, it’s a great thing, one of the joys of being alive. We should raise healthy kids who grow into emotionally healthy adults and are happy and sexually fulfilled, not ashamed and uptight.

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19 comments:

Toast said...

(knock knock knock)

"Did somebody order a pizza?"

(Sorry, couldn't resist)

Interesting post. Let me ask you this: What would you tell an 8 or 9 year old about sex, other than the standard "make a baby" angle? I mean, you tell an 8 year old "Well, we do it because it's fun and it feels good", aren't you practically begging them to start experimenting?

Chris Howard said...

Good question. Ultimately it depends on the kid in question, but fortunately, it's not a abstract question in my case. My daughters are 8 and almost 12, so we've talked about sex.

First, I don't object to telling the 8 or 9 yr old that sex makes a baby, what I object to is couching it in the "when a man loves a woman" speech. With kids that young, at least in my experience, you don't need to go into the reasons why people have sex. They think the whole thing is so gross they don't want to hear much more about it. If they push it, there's nothing wrong with saying that that's a talk you'll have when they're a little older.

aren't you practically begging them to start experimenting?

Kids are going to experiment no matter what you tell them. I was playing doctor with girls when I was pre-pubescent. It's a normal thing (Some of use even discovered the joys of self-love at a more tender age than others, ahem :) ). I'd much rather that my daughter recognizes her desires as normal and healthy, and feels like she can talk to us or her grandparents than feeling ashamed and being uninformed. I think it's a huge misconception that kids are more or less likely to experiment depending on what adults tell them. The timing may change, but the outcomes will be far better if they've had an open, honest communication, rather than religious fairy tales.

Ok, I must be dense tonight, but I don't get the pizza comment?

michelline said...

I don't get the pizza comment either. Maybe it's a Yankee thing... :)

Anyway, I agree with Chris on how important it is to teach our children the truth about sex. They will figure out on their own that it feels good (or at least I hope they do), but I want them to feel good about it mentally as well. I know way too many people down here in the Buckle of the Bible belt who have what I'll call "Serial" weddings just so they don't feel guilty about having sex outside of the sacred institution of marriage. After all, if you want to have sex with someone, you MUST love that person, so you must want to marry him/her, right?
Growing up ignorant of the joys of sex won't stop teenagers from experimentation. It's just likely to keep them from talking about it to the very people they are supposedly able to trust, their parents. My own mother was pregnant with me at 14. She gave birth to me at 15. She came from a good Catholic family who didn't talk about that stuff. When she did get pregnant, her dad kicked her out of the house. Maybe if she had the foreknowledge, she could have handled her burgeoning sexuality better and not had to drop of out school at 15. We've always been up front with our children about how small the age difference is between Nana and
Mommy. They are growing up knowing some of the dangers of sex in a way they can process and handle it.

Toast said...

Ok, I must be dense tonight, but I don't get the pizza comment?

It's a porn movie cliché.

I know way too many people down here in the Buckle of the Bible belt who have what I'll call "Serial" weddings just so they don't feel guilty about having sex outside of the sacred institution of marriage.

OK. Makes sense in that cultural context. Things are a bit different here in the decadent liberal enclaves of Blue America, at least in my experience. Maybe some people worry about the immorality of sex outside of wedlock, but I haven't met any of them.

Chris Howard said...

Maybe some people worry about the immorality of sex outside of wedlock, but I haven't met any of them.

Sure, but you're certainly aware of what I would call the prevailing notion that sex and love must go together. And the abstinence pledges, and those creepy Daddy/duaghter chastity balls. Unfortunately I think that kind of thining is prevalent in the South and the "Heartland". Not to mention the MSM.

See, you must have watched more porn than we have ;)

Mrs. Furious said...

Interesting post. I've been trying to get a few moments so I could respond. I do agree with Toast that in my experience, even middle school health class, sex and marriage haven't been strongly equated. It is facinating how different things are down there. My parents were young hippies though and I grew up exposed to more sexuality than most. I was never given a sex talk by either parents but I certainly knew what it was... got to watch a lot of inappropriate TV at my dad's house;) My parents were 19 when they got married... divorced by 26... and my older brother also married at 19 and had his first child 5 months later. He too has since divorced. With those stellar examples I took care not to get pregnant that is for sure ;)
But here are my feelings and how I approach all things with my kids and in my office (when I had a real job... clinical social worker) I am honest almost to a fault. In my experience not only will kids find out the truth eventually and if you weren't honest you just lost all credibility in their book!... but in the meantime before they *figure* it all out the *truths* they deduce or their friends tell them can be worse than the actual truth... setting them up to make really bad sexual decisions. I would never link marriage to sex... nor that sex is just heterosexual. But I do agree with Chris in that being honest doesn't mean you have to tell a 5 year old everything... just what you do say needs to be straightforward, accurate, and truthful... you can always add on when they are ready... but it is nearly impossible to remain a believable source if you need to backtrack first.

Chris Howard said...

but it is nearly impossible to remain a believable source if you need to backtrack first.

Completely unrelated to the post, but this comment made me think of it. We're running into this backtracking thing with Libby (the 8-year old) a little bit because of Santa Claus. We've always been big on Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy etc,,, But now if we tell Libby that magic isn't real, she says what about Santa Claus? I'm about ready for her to figure out the truth, but it's also hard not to hold onto with the youngest child. Once she doesn't believe anymore, we'll have entered a new phase of Christmas with our family.

Chris Howard said...

Mrs F and Toast - I hear that your personal experiences with sex ed were different than what I'm describing, but don't you find that the prevailinig culture equates sex and marriage, or at the very least sex and commitment? I'm talking about the news, tv shows, even experts when they get national exposure. Maybe I'm reading more into it because of the influences where we live, but it seems like there's a subtext whenever "authorities" discuss sex and teens especially.

maurinsky said...

I grew up in a very Catholic family, there was no discussion about sex or anything related to sex from my parents. My aunt Maureen sent me a book about how babies are made when my mother was expecting my younger sister, but that was about it.

Our sex education at school was really focused on how our bodies would change, and how our feelings about the opposite gender would change. We also got the mechanicals of how babies are made, but it was totally devoid of the emotional aspect of sex.

With Sio, I told her I didn't expect her to wait until she's married to have sex. But we talked about the possible negative consequences of sexual activity, and how you have to be prepared for them and ways to prevent them.

I also talked about drinking/drugs and sex, and how it's important to choose when and with whom you want to have sex, and not let drugs or alcohol put you in a position where you reduce your ability to make good judgements about those issues. But also that she didn't have to feel guilty or regretful if she chose to have sex just because she wanted to, not because she was in love.

She's 18 now, so it's out of our hands, but I feel like I armed her as best I could, with the knowledge to make good choices.

Toast said...

We've always been big on Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy etc,,, But now if we tell Libby that magic isn't real, she says what about Santa Claus?

Can I ask a really impertinent question? Are you raising her religious?

Toast said...

don't you find that the prevailinig culture equates sex and marriage, or at the very least sex and commitment?

Hmmmm. Sex and marriage? No. Never, really, in my experience. Sex and commitment? That's a more difficult question. I'm not sure "commitment" is the right word, but I was taught to believe -- and I guess I still do believe -- that sex is a non-trivial activity.

I'll give you an interesting case in point: I watch House, and for years I've had a ginormous crush on Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison). Well, this last season, she hooked up with Dr. Chase, and after several liaisons, she made it clear that she -- interesting contra-stereotypical casting -- only wanted to be "fuck buddies". This ruined the character for me. I immediately thought less of her. Now, the sex roles thing is a big question. Would I have felt the same about a male character? Maybe. Probably, I'd say. I... Well, I can't say I "don't approve" of casual, recreational sex in the absence of caring, because I "approve" of pretty much anything two consenting adults wish to do. But I am put off by it. The concept feels wrong to me, at a very deep level.

michelline said...

Can I ask a really impertinent question? Are you raising her religious?
It's not impertinent at all. We don't generally discuss it as we do live in the Buckle of the Baptist Bible Belt, but we are atheists. As a Liberal, Atheist, Left-handed Redhead, I'm definitely an anomaly around here.

Mrs. Furious said...

But now if we tell Libby that magic isn't real, she says what about Santa Claus?

This is the one time when I am okay with a little truthiness.

When our neighbor's dog died a few months ago I told Ruby he was very sick (true) and was going to die that night. She asked what happens when he dies and I told her that they were going to bury his body in the backyard. I told her people believe different things, some people believe his thoughts go up into the sky to live with God in Heaven, some people think his thoughts can be born into something new like a new puppy or a tree and some people think his body will just turn to dirt and then that will help new things grow in our neighbor's back yard. I asked her what she thought the dog would want to have happen and she of course said to be born into a new puppy. So I didn't lie and I didn't tell her what I think I gave her choices and let her own her own decision. You can do the same thing with Santa and the Tooth Fairy (we actually also have a toy fairy and a house fairy who give generous rewards when needed). When push comes to shove you could go the whole Santa is the spirit of Christmas route and say that you do believe in being generous and reminding people that you love them and think of them at Christmas time and that one way people do that is to play the role of Santa. I think that works... I mean in reality that is true. I don't know many kids who really make to big a stink out of this. Most kids seem to get something out of being "in the know" when it comes to the Santa issue. At 8 she is coming out of the magical thinking so I expect she'll figure it out on her own soon enough.

Chris Howard said...

Can I ask a really impertinent question? Are you raising her religious?

Michelline answered, but I think you already knew we were atheists. I don't see how that would preclude Santa though.

Well, I can't say I "don't approve" of casual, recreational sex in the absence of caring, because I "approve" of pretty much anything two consenting adults wish to do. But I am put off by it. The concept feels wrong to me, at a very deep level.

Sure, and that works for you. But you don't then try to expand your view to include everyone. You may not respect someone, but you won't say that he or she is immoral and wrong.

It'll come as no surprise to hear that we have no problem with casual sex. I don't think casual equals trivial necessarily either. But I think we're basically in agreement that consenting adults can do what they like.

Chris Howard said...

With Sio, I told her I didn't expect her to wait until she's married to have sex. But we talked about the possible negative consequences of sexual activity, and how you have to be prepared for them and ways to prevent them.

I also talked about drinking/drugs and sex, and how it's important to choose when and with whom you want to have sex, and not let drugs or alcohol put you in a position where you reduce your ability to make good judgments about those issues. But also that she didn't have to feel guilty or regretful if she chose to have sex just because she wanted to, not because she was in love.


Can I just copy this down for future use :). It sounds like we have very similar thoughts on this issue. Maybe we should move to the Northeast, our views certainly seem to fit in better up there.

Chris Howard said...

I don't know many kids who really make to big a stink out of this. Most kids seem to get something out of being "in the know" when it comes to the Santa issue. At 8 she is coming out of the magical thinking so I expect she'll figure it out on her own soon enough.

Yeah, she's going to figure it out soon. I think she's holding on for dear life. But I don't think I'll need to do any sugar-coating with her once she does get it. She's pretty practical.

On religion, We haven't been neutral with them. I've told them what I think and why. Of course, they give more weight to our opinions, I know that, but it won't last forever. Still, I want to raise them to value rationality and critical thinking.

Mrs. Furious said...

On religion, We haven't been neutral with them

Religion has been touchier than I expected it to be. We aren't religious but Ruby is obsessed with Jesus. It is so weird it has made me really wonder if reincarnation really does happen... I mean into Jesus and the stories of his life not just in the cradle but hiding from Herod type stuff. She's also really into Greek Mythology so who knows maybe she is just a sucker for the intensity?
Religion is also tricky since Mr F's parents are actual practicing Catholics so they reference God around her. I've decided to be neutral as a way to help explain their beliefs versus what she sees and hears around here.

michelline said...

Religion has been touchier than I expected it to be. We aren't religious but Ruby is obsessed with Jesus. I think this is more a kid thing than anything else. A child is pretty helpless and Jesus (as portrayed to children) loves all children and seeks to protect them. I would think that's what Mr F's parents are telling her?
Anyway, my family certainly isn't neutral on the religious front. My grandparents, step-mother, and sister are all what I'll call UBER Religious. One time a 6 year old Tori spent the night with Granny (my grandmother)and evidently Granny spent the entire time telling Tori that her parents were going to hell because we didn't believe in Jesus. The poor child was in tears because she was worried about us. There is very little neutrality in the Deep South.

maurinsky said...

Mr. Furious - Maeve decided she was Christian when she was maybe 4 or 5. She had been to church with me (I sing at a church although I am not a believer - I do it for the scratch) and she went to Sunday School there, so Jesus definitely had positive associations for her. This was before the current right-wing asshole took over the pulpit.

Anyway, now she's 10 and she no longer identifies as Christian. She wouldn't go to church with me if I wanted her to, which I don't.

I grew up in a devoutly Catholic family. I don't know if other people have legitimately religious experiences, but I never felt that anyone was watching over me or listening to my prayers, even when I was fervently wishing for it. So that's how I see belief in God - as fervent wishing.