Originally published Wednesday, 10 June 2015.
This post originally appeared on carajoyner.com
(photo: sex education class in 1929)
I was in second grade when a friend first told me about sex. To her surprise, it was a word I had never heard before. She leaned over and with all her 7-years of wisdom, whispered, "Sex is when two people sleep together NAKED." I nodded and received her knowledge. Now I knew. Sex: the act of sleeping side by side, motionless, under the covers, sans clothing. Grownups were weird. For the next four years, this definition was sufficient.
Then came a Wonder Years' episode where Kevin's friends discovered he was a virgin. He was embarrassed. They were shocked. I was confused. Something had to be going on here beyond naked sleeping. Being the audacious child I was, I casually threw it in during my next conversation with the person who knew everything - my mom. She nearly drove off the road. Shortly after, my parents sat me down to talk details. My brave dad, God bless him, had prepared well for this. Notes in hand, he looked across the table and said something about two people becoming one. "I know dad," I said with a presumptuous shrug that only preteens are capable of. He swallowed some water, took a deep breath and said, "No, they become one." It took about 60-seconds of silence for my brain to connect the pieces (sorry). Complete horror settled over me and I begged him to never say another word. Being the good father he was, he did not oblige my request. God bless him.
BJ's parents had this first conversation in the car, because, as he says, "it's hard to jump out when you're going 45mph."
In our pre-child parenting days, we were very brave and very insightful. We'll just be honest with them. That's what you have to do. We've got this. When it's hypothetical, the tough words come easily. When you're sitting on the sofa trying to figure out the ACTUAL words you will use to tell your son that his body is his body and nobody gets to touch it and what he should do if this should ever happen, God forbid...when you're in that place, you realize that you would rather stand naked in public than utter the word "penis" in a conversation with your child.
The thing is, they don't know about this stuff yet! How can we be the ones to teach them? Can't we just pretend it won't be real for them? After all, we all know what happens when kids learn something new. They repeat and repeat and repeat. And just when you think they finally moved on, they repeat again. Following one of those conversations where we promised to be the grownups and say the things we can't believe we have to say, we agreed that BJ would mention this idea of privacy and protection during the next bath time. So what happened after said bath time? Our oldest marched around the house and declared 500 times, "NOBODY is allowed to touch my...(you know)!". Ok, maybe 12 times. But it was still awful every. single. time.
Except it wasn't awful. True, each time he uses the correct words to refer to his own anatomy, I want someone to hand me a glass of wine right there on the spot. And it's just a matter of time before he talks about it in the grocery store (no one has ever accused him of being quiet or reserved). But if someone crossed a line in our absence, I think he would know it was wrong and I hope he would know how to tell us or someone else near him; because giving them the real life words for their body is an important part of preparing and protecting them (READ MORE).
So we will begin to have the sex talks now, starting with anatomy and privacy and protection, one day arriving at the topics that make hiding in the wilderness sound marvelous (not really, but you know, absolutely 100%).
I was seven years old when I learned that sex was a thing. My husband was five when he was first exposed to porn through a magazine found in his neighborhood. We were babies beginning to see glimpses of a world we didn't know existed, and this was BEFORE the Internet.
Today, "American children begin consuming hardcore pornography at an average age of 11," (READ MORE). Mobile porn - mobile, as in found on those devices I hand my kids when I need a few minutes to finish dinner, send an email or you know, go to the bathroom - mobile porn will become a $2.8 billion industry this year. One study found that of "304 scenes analyzed, 88.2% contained physical aggression...48.7% contained verbal aggression." The overwhelming majority of these involved men targeting women. For children, nearly 80% of accidental exposure to porn is happening while they are at home, simply playing online.
This reality isn't ten years away. These aren't conversations we'll start having when they turn 13. The whole damn mess is just around the corner.
I may not like talking to my kids about sex, but it is my job as their mother. The world is waiting to tell them, and it often won't distinguish between sex that is good and sex that is dysfunctional. If they don't know that we, their parents, are ready and willing to have the awkward conversations, they won't tell us. They won't ask. If we are silent, they will hear a message that says these things are off-limits; and conversations about one of God's most intimate designs will be relegated to boys who have no clue what they're actually talking about and an internet full of deception.
In the wake of recent news (READ MORE) , I'm thinking about sex education. I'm thinking about wanting to protect my kids from the horrors of those that abuse. I'm thinking about wanting to prepare my kids for the road ahead - their own physiological changes, the decisions they'll be faced with, and culture's twisted interpretations of something that should be good.
Parents, we can't wait for a gym teacher - with minimal relational capital - to have this conversation. I am SO THANKFUL that there are teachers brave enough to stand in front of a classroom of teenagers and say things that make them cringe and giggle, because you know what? For some of those kids, possibly most of those kids, that teacher is the ONLY ADULT having this conversation in an effort to protect them. I am grateful knowing that someone out there is speaking.
But if we, as parents, wait for that day and believe that sex education is a one time conversation with our middle schoolers which will later be backed up in a fluorescent-lit gym class, we are sabotaging our children. We are the first ones to speak. The world is waiting and it has a lot to say. Let our voices create the foundation of our children's understanding of sex, its purpose, and its dangers when abused.
This isn't a single talk. These are TALKS. This is a relationship of open communication where our kids know we are safe to talk with - that they won't be talked to, but talked with. We won't shut down. We won't hide. We won't shame.
If you asked my parents what they were most proud of in the way they raised my sister and me, they may not consider the ongoing dialogue we had about sex, but they should be proud of it. It was never off the table for discussion. We had questions and they willingly answered them, sharing with us the wisdom of experience and mistakes, ultimately offering a wholeness perspective to sexuality; and at the end of almost every conversation, my mother would say, "Things happen, and if you ever end up in a place you didn't mean to be, just call me. I promise, I won't be mad." What a woman.
A wholeness approach to sex education is about more than facts. It's presents the details in the light of their impact on our whole life. It's a conversation about meaning and purpose, emotional and mental well being, value and worth. A wholeness approach to sex education is honest and compassionate, offering wisdom beyond a list of do's and dont's.
We can't wait for their gym teacher to start talking. We can't hand them off to their youth pastor and hope it will all get covered (that's not their job, by the way). It doesn't end at home, but it has to begin at home. One day they will go to youth leaders or teachers or siblings instead of us and that's a good thing. But we begin the talks now, before the world begins the talks tomorrow.
For today, in this stage of parenting, that mostly means putting on my big girl pants when one of my boys asks, "what's this?!" Ugh. Jesus be near.