Imagine you’re in fifth grade, and your best friend is having a birthday slumber party. You can barely contain your anticipation in the hours and minutes leading up to the big event. When it finally arrives, it’s as magical as you had hoped for and more. For the first few hours. Until your friend’s older brother sneaks into the den where you and your friends are sleeping, and shows a video on his iPad that is so graphic and confusing, that now all you want is to go home. Some of the other girls giggle, some become silent. Your friend kicks her brother out, but the damage has been done.
The next day on the way home, your dad asks you about the party. You mumble a few incoherent sentences. Dad chocks it up to you being tired, and the fact that you sleep the rest of the day validates his assumption. But you don’t sleep. You just lie there in the dark, staring at the ceiling.
Sounds awful, no? Well, this scenario is not uncommon today. Given the pervasiveness of technology, there is little we can do to stop it. There is, however, a way to at least prepare our children to handle the situation WHEN it happens. It’s called at home sex ed, and it needs to start early.
FROM WHENCE WE CAME
If asked to grade my parents on the job they did raising me, I’d give them an “A”. That’s not a narcissistic claim as to how well I turned out, it’s an honest evaluation of how much they dedicated, loved and sacrificed so that I could have an idyllic childhood. If I were to grade them on how they prepared me in regards to the birds and the bees, however, I’d give them either an “NA” or an “F” (more on that later). All of my education came through hearsay and ultimately school health educators.
None of what I learned came from friends who said “My parents told me that…” In other words, most of our parents got “NA’s” or “F’s”. How ironic that the generation that brought the world free love seemed to get tongue tied on the matter with their children. Maybe they were ashamed about their behavior? Perhaps that shame came from their own parents medieval treatment of the subject?
How did a lack of understanding about sex, and consequently the opposite sex, manifest in my own life? Let’s look at a few examples, some of which I have never shared even with my closest friends…
- Can’t tell you exactly when it was debunked (late grade school ish), but I believed into far too advanced an age that men could get pregnant. Perhaps that was reinforced by a National Enquirer headline or two at the grocery checkout.
- The term “oral sex” really confused me. I was sure it involved shouting at someone. On that topic, I probably wouldn’t have worn those “69” jams had someone tipped me off.
- I believed that if I dated someone, there was a high likelihood they would end up pregnant. This is not a statement about my Tour de France-like testosterone count. It’s a statement about where I thought all relationships had to progress, combined with limited understanding of birth control.
So where I would give my parents an “NA” in that they didn’t explain sex to us, I’d give them an “F” in the fact that they relentlessly teased us about any relationship with the opposite sex. Rather than face down the teasing, I simply opted to not date until college (which made me even more awkward). Had they had the sex talk with me at an early age, explained what is normal and healthy, then encouraged me instead of teasing? I probably wouldn’t have done cringe-worthy stuff like grabbing a girl’s hand, at age twenty, because I was so inexperienced I thought hand holding should happen on a second date. There wasn’t a third date.
Luckily through my own trial and repeated error, I figured it out by the time I hit thirty. My now wife was kind enough look past oddities during our early years of dating, of that I’m certain. My ego appreciates her silence on the matter at this point.
TODAY IS A DIFFERENT BALL GAME
Imagine if I had been exposed to the porn that kids can access today? Did I see the occasional nudie mag? Yes, but it could hardly be described as graphic. I can’t imagine what I would have thought was normal, and how intimidating that would have been for me, if I found myself in the aforementioned slumber party scenario.
Should we be surprised at the increased incidence, not to mention the violent nature, of sexual assault being reported on college campuses today? If our young people are not armed with proper sex ed and the reinforcement from their parents about what is healthy, their normal could be based on something they have seen online. And it’s probably disgusting. In my case, I wasn’t exposed to violent imagery. I was more like Andy in the 40 Year Old Virgin, respecting women so much that I left them completely alone. Also not healthy.
NOW IT’S MY TURN
So I’ve talked a big game about where my parents fell short. Now I’m a parent, when am I going to have the sex talk with my three children (8,7 and 4), and how am I going to do it?
Amy Lang, who joined us for The Sex Talk podcast episode, provided a simple framework. I like frameworks for everything in life. Simple is almost always better, and frameworks take me a long way towards simple.
Amy’s framework for the sex talk? FACTS + VALUES. Think about it, simple and brilliant. Ask yourself, “What is it, and what do I believe about it?“
- FACTS – Men have a penis, women have a vagina. Sex is when men and women make babies together with those parts.
- VALUES – Sex is normal and natural and a show of love. Don’t have sex with just anybody, I believe you should love them and be in a relationship with them before you have sex.
The above are examples. The FACTS can be adjusted depending on the age of the child, and the VALUES can be adjusted depending on your family’s value system.
When should you do it? Anytime! It doesn’t have to be a production. Don’t even think of it as sex ed. Have a conversation with your child. It’s as awkward as you choose to make it.
A BETTER WAY FORWARD
Now imagine the child at the slumber party, armed with FACTS + VALUES. Upon seeing the video they would know it was not normal, and would likely tell their friends as much. While not their responsibility, they are doing a service to their friends, providing informed guidance. When dad picked them up, they would be more likely to have a discussion about what they saw, at which point dad could clarify and educate. Instead of spiraling into confused depression, this wonderful little girl actually solidifies her understanding of sex and what it should be.
This much improved ending wouldn’t have happened without at home sex ed. Do it today, pun intended. The healthy development of your child depends on it.