Monday, February 2, 2009

Talking to kids about Sex

Well it's time for a down and dirty blog post. Those who know me well, know that I talk about sex alot. I can be funny about it, serious about it, absurd about it, and totally and irreverently bold about it. I am always truthful, always candid, and if you take a straw poll, I am generally saying what everyone else is thinking, but aren't saying. Leave it to me to state the obvious. So here I go. Caution, this is not about my sexual relationship with my husband. I have developed a filter at this late date and I do know that would be entirely inappropriate to post in the blog-o-sphere, so if you're hoping for some gut spilling, you're going to have to go elsewhere....

My husband has become increasingly uncomfortable with my being naked around my older son (he's 4 1/2). Now, please note, I do not parade around the house naked or in my underwear. I don't even wear bikinis anymore and you will rarely find me without a cover-up at the beach or pool unless I'm in my mommy suit. However, my husband is worried that we're sending the wrong signal to my son when he sees me naked. I just laugh gently at him. "What signal?" I asked. "He doesn't even know I don't have any clothes on. Trust me, we'll know when the time comes." And I'm not about to let my child go off to the bathroom alone in a public place. And if I have to pee, the boys come with me. What else am I to do?

Let's also not forget that on weekday mornings, the love of my life trots off to work and leaves me alone with two children to sometimes bathe, always dress, feed, pack lunches for, get coats on, get diaper bags and back packs and show and tell and lunch bags, coats, mittens, hats, toys for the car, keys, cell phone, and three bodies out the door on our way to school and work. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I'm supposed to shower, fix my hair, find clothes that match and aren't stained, and make sure I have on clean underwear and shoes. Granted I could get up before everyone else and do all that, but who the hell thinks that is fair? I don't. So, I have to lock the kids in the bathroom with me so I can get ready. If I didn't do that, I would get out of the shower to find my toddler stuck inside the chimney and my 4 1/2 year old dialing 911 to see if the police show up. I'd be standing there dripping wet in a towel with the local cops knocking on my door. Can we say arrested for child endangerment and indecent exposure?

Anyway, our short discussion about my sons possibly seeing mommy naked and being somehow scarred for life got me thinking about sex and my children and how to talk about sex when the time comes. Sure, pretty soon, I'm going to have to suck it up and get ready before the boys get up. But by then, they can watch cartoons (and get all those sexual innuendos running through their spongy little brains) while I get ready. And yes, I have a while before the birds and bees talk, maybe not as long as we did a generation ago, but a while. Plus I have two boys so luckily my talk might be a little shorter and a little easier, but I don't know. Being a woman, I think often times we sell our men short by letting them off with a shorter less meaningful conversation about sex.

As I was thinking about this topic, I realized that teaching your children about sex encompasses so much more than just the birds and the bees talk. Sex has several definitions: first, it means male or female--as in what sex is your baby? Second, it means the actual act of intercourse. Third, it means anything from applying gender labels to advertising body lotion. There is sex in music, movies, books, billboards, tv shows, advertisements. Sex is everywhere. So how do you talk to your child about sex?

Think about sex in broader terms. What do you want your children to know about the way men and women relate to each other in general? What do you want your children to know about intimacy? Intimacy is critical, because often people confuse intimacy with sex. What do you want your children to know about how they should be treated by a man or woman they care about? What do you want your children to know about gender? Is it an important distinction? Why? What do you want them to know about sex that will later translate into how they think men and women should be treated at church, in the workplace, in social situations? What do they think about rape? About child molestation? About pornography? About sexual slavery? These are all weighty and important topics.

First, I think you wait as long as you can to talk about sex at all. There is no need to bring up a topic that your child will neither understand or appreciate. My 4 1/2 year old knows that there are boys and girls in his class, but only recently has he begun saying "I don't want to play with girls" or "I don't want to invite any girls over here to play." And I honestly think he's just repeating somebody else. He certainly plays his heart out with any little girls he is around at church or on the playground or who come visit us with their parents. Obviously we aren't going to have a discussion about child pornography and the child-slave trade when my sons are 7 and 10. But you bet your boots we're going to talk about Stranger Danger and good/bad touching and public safety.

Secondly, I think the way you talk about sex is how you act about sex. Do you let your kids see you kissing your spouse? (I don't mean a major mack session, I just mean a hello/goodbye smooch or something else equally benign.) Is that okay with you? For some it is and some it isn't. How do you and your spouse treat each other or tease each other? Are there "daddy jobs" and "mommy jobs" at your house? Why are those routines labeled as such? Is it personal preference? Is it a joke? We're equal opportunity diaper changers and garbage taker outers and kitchen cleaner uppers and bathtime givers around here, for example. When your children slay you with the, "oh but I'm a boy and only boys are allowed to play with this toy/in this room" do you let it go? Do you laugh and go in anyway? Do you say okay, but talk about it later? I do work, but I don't pay our bills. I often find myself excusing my husband's absence to my kids by saying, "Daddy is working to make money so you and I can go do x and y today." Now all by itself that's an innocuous statement. But it would be an easy extrapolation for my child to think only daddies make money to pay bills. Not true. So where do we go from here? I am not passing judgment on any of these moments. Lord knows I fall short all the time. But I am pointing out how easy judgments about sex creep up and bite you on the ass in every day life at home.

Finally, and this is the fun part, what am I going to say about sex to my boys? Heaven help me I don't know. Yes, I Marla, am speechless. I just don't know how much is too much and how much is too little. I know I'm going to have to undo a lot of false information for my boys that the world will put out there for them. That alone would keep me going for hours. I also know it's going to be up to me as the mother to allow their father to guide them through the delicate process of manhood. I also know that how I allow myself to be treated by their father, by their grandfathers, by their friends and other men I know socially or men I see on the street sets precedent and examples for what they will expect other women to act like. Boy won't they be surprised? I also know that what I say about other women will not fall on deaf ears. We women are harder on ourselves than other men. We cannot allow our propensity for judgment color what our children think of other mommies, other girls, other women they know and meet.

Oh I wish this parenting thing was easier. Why do people who know these things already never tell you how hard it is going to be? I guess that's why I've always been so loud about sex in general. Why would you act like you don't know anything about sex, or that it shouldn't be talked about, when everyone is doing it and we all have the same issues? I don't know why we let issues bully us around. But we do. So there you have it. There's my take on sex and children. I'm sure as my boys get older, much to their chagrin, I will have lots more to say about it. Meanwhile, I'll just keep saying colorful things that add a little more spice to the afternoon barbeque.

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