Friday, November 22, 2013

The Correct Time For The Sex Talk

I'm a big fan of comprehensive sex education. I think it's deplorable that so many people are left to fumble in the dark, relying on instinct, cultural osmosis, and at best a smattering of pornography to  inform their decision making process around sex.

I see so much hand wringing about "the right time" to breach the subject. It's become a cultural meme that parents spend their time hoping that they can delay this conversation long enough that their kids will find out the answers on their own rather than face the embarrassment of talking to them about the subject. There is far too much truth in that meme for my taste.

So often, the time people settle on is, essentially, when it finally becomes impossible to put it off any longer. When the physical changes of puberty begin to set it, frightening and confusing the child, only then will the parent manage to overcome their embarrassment in the face of their child's panicked reaction to their own body. Waiting so long to even discuss the physical changes that accompany this stage of growth disgusts me in and of itself. Leaving them to wonder if there is something physically wrong with them when the time comes smacks of neglect.And of course, in the midst of this discussion about what's happening to their own body, that's when so many people think it might be time to talk about sex.

Why do people think the correct time to open a discussion about sex and consent is AFTER the child gets that initial rush of hormones that change sex from a potentially enjoyable activity into a drive and imperative? Because the other option is to tell them about this activity that feels really good, give them all the tools and information about how to stay safe and ensure everyone is enjoying themselves, then recognize that forbidding this activity you've just explained to them will make so little goddamn sense that a five year old will see through it.

The fact is that people have sex earlier in societies where sex education comes earlier. The sex that people have in those societies is safer, and the rates of unplanned pregnancy and STDs is much lower even accounting for this, but horror of horrors, they're having sex younger. The people who can look at this trend and say we shouldn't have this conversation "too early" are saying that they'd rather their children be sick, be parents before they're ready, even end up having nonconsensual sex if only they can keep their kids celibate for a few more years.

My policy, is if a child is old enough to ask the question, they're old enough to hear the truth. The whole truth. Not just this bullshit of explaining as little as you can get away with until they pick up on how uncomfortable you are and give up asking. If your child asks about their origins, the relevant answer to that question involves sex a hell of a lot more than it does microbiology.

You give them the full explanation they're capable of listening to, you ask them questions to make sure they understood you, and you invite them to ask followup questions both immediately and in the near future after they've had a chance to think about what you've said.

And if I can turn people's culturally ingrained hatrid for pedophiles to something that can motivate you to have this conversation, I'll share something of my background. There were gaps in my sex education down to the level of basic external anatomy. Knowing that I would receive no help from those responsible for my education in other matters, I realized the easiest way to get the information I was looking for was during a diaper change. That was the earliest time I can recall associating young children and sex in my mind.