Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The "talk"

I was the kid who told other kids about sex on the playground. Except my information was factual. Of course, they'd still exclaim, "No way!"

There is enough of a gap between my younger sister and me that I was curious about babies and how one ended up in my mom's tummy. And my parents had made the considered decision to answer our questions about sex truthfully and with the correct terminology. Not that I remember the exact discussion 30+ years later, but I'm pretty sure it ran along the lines of, "When a man and a woman love each other... penis... vagina... sperm... egg."* I'm pretty sure there was a library book with illustrations too.

I was a little squicked out when I thought about the mechanics, but the biology intrigued me. As a result, I would occasionally ask my mother further questions. I remember finding out about birth control for the first time, probably around age 6, because I asked my mother why it was that families seemed to have so many kids "way back when" but most families when I was growing up had between one and three kids.

These discussions decreased in frequency as time went on, however. I could sense that my mother was a bit uncomfortable with my questions. And then we had sex education in grade school, and I think my parents were fine with leaving it at that unless I sought them out.

The piece that was missing for me in all of these sex talks was the emotional piece. Or rather, an honest consideration of the emotions involved. The common implication, both from my parents and from the school presentations, was that they wanted me to have the information, particularly if I also accepted the information that I was not ready to have sex and would not be until I was of a marriageable age. To bolster this stance, most of the information was very clinical and the primary focus was on all the bad things that could happen if I had sex before said age.

One of the big problems with such an approach is that it ignores the fact that sex is a biological drive, that the hormones which kick in at puberty are incredibly strong, that--let's face it--even the promise of sex can feel pretty good. This approach presents the decision as entirely a matter of logic; I think it can leave the impression that if you give in, you're either weak or bad.

The first person to address the emotional piece with me was my high school boyfriend's mother's partner (follow that?). After they discovered that my boyfriend and I had been having sex (ah, the irony of responsible teen sex; there's more evidence to be found), she sat us down to talk. "Obviously you know the mechanics" (witness the fact we admitted that we'd been intimate); "obviously you know about birth control" (witness the condom wrapper). "And I know it's useless to tell teenagers to just not do it. So let's talk about the emotional side." I don't remember everything we talked about, as I was just relieved we were not being yelled at, but I do know there was stuff about respect and the dynamics of the relationship. It was not a particularly comfortable conversation--what teenager do you know of who would enter this conversation eagerly? Nonetheless, I appreciated that this discussion was not about moral judgments or scare tactics; instead, she recognized and honored our decision and proceeded from there.

This is something I want to make sure my son gets from me. And from the start. Obviously I won't start with the same sort of discussion that I had at age 17, but I will address whatever emotional part seems appropriate for the discussion at hand and won't pretend like one pronouncement is right for everyone on every occasion.

* I don't remember them ever telling me that I had to wait until I was married to have sex, but if it wasn't explicitly stated, it was subtly there. The initial sex talk may have been, "When a man and a woman love each other, they get married and...."

1 comment:

Aliki2006 said...

I like this idea of addressing the emotional side, rather than being stuck on the stilted notion of waiting for marriage (as if marriage somehow obliterates the need to be emotionally safe and at peace). I hope I can convey this to my kids as well.