The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story a few weeks ago called Teaching Good Sex, about how a private school in suburban Philadelphia is teaching kids not just about sex, but about, well, good sex.
I’d never really thought about this before, but the article made some great points; mainly, that in the current sex ed curriculum as it exists at most schools, what teenagers are being taught about sex is that a) you should wait until you’re married, and b) that if you choose to have sex before you’re married, you could end up with a slew of diseases, including some that might kill you.
The message, if I really need to spell it out for you, is that sex is bad, and dangerous, and scary and shameful, and also something to be prepared for as if you’re going into battle with the enemy.
Now, as adults, we all know that sex doesn’t have to be any of these things. With the right partner, sex can be fun and pleasurable and even beautiful. But how do you get to that positive point B when you’re starting out at such a negative point A? At what point do you learn that sex can be a good thing?
According to the article, lots of teenaged boys are apparently learning it from watching porn. But that’s not necessarily the right message, either. I mean, if you’ve ever watched porn, you know that it’s not exactly a showcase for how sex should be in a loving, mature relationship. But if nobody else is talking to them about sex – real sex – then that’s the only model that’s out there for these kids. When you hear about how so many middle school girls are giving oral sex to boys, is it really any wonder that this is happening? If boys are learning about sex from porn, then is it so shocking that that’s what they expect?
Anyway, it got me thinking, of course, about my own kids, and how I want to talk to them about sex. My daughter and I already had the “how babies are made talk” a few years ago. Aside from almost causing an accident when, on the way to school the next day, she told my husband that if he wants to have another baby, all he has to do is put his penis inside my vagina, it went pretty well. I stuck to the basics, I kept it matter-of-fact, I didn’t editorialize in any way. It was a discussion that had to do purely with procreation, and there was no mention of recreation.
As far as my daughter was concerned, my husband and I had done it exactly twice; once to create her, and once to create my son. I, too, can vividly remember thinking the same thing about my parents. In fact, when I was ten or eleven, a friend and I got into an argument about it, with me insisting that my parents had only had sex twice, and her insisting that parents had sex all the time, which she knew because she’d walked in on hers more than once. I also remember being rocked to my core by this information. What did it all mean? Why would they have sex if not to make more babies? Thank God for Judy Blume, because a few years later, Forever explained it all and then some.
But back to my own kids. It used to be that you let the health teacher at school teach your kids about sex, and the parents stayed out of it. But that model, like so many others from our generation, seems to be more worn out more than ever. After reading that article, after reading about how confused and, frankly, oblivious so many teens are about what’s normal and what’s healthy and what’s okay to feel, I think that talking to my children about sex – not just how it works clinically, but about how it works socially – is a responsibility I can’t ignore.
I’m trying to groom my kids to become healthy, mature, responsible adults, and to pretend that sex isn’t a part of that equation doesn’t make any sense. So I’m going to talk to my daughter about it (and my son, eventually). It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow, but conversations needs to happen. I just hope that afterwards, she doesn’t repeat them to my husband while he’s driving.