What can I say? I'm happy you're here and I'm doubly happy it's because of a subject I've been passionate about for a long time. Passionate in the very interested platonic sense rather than the hot bothersome sweaty sense? Yeah, something like that. The subject of the sexual education of our children...hell, our entire species...is one I find important and putting it into practice only makes us better humans.
A large part of my interest comes from my background and the way I grew up. That's where I want to open this series of posts about talking sex to your kids. The first aspect to performing this Herculean feat is to consider our attitudes towards sex and how we grew up. This is the way I grew up and it will help you understand where I'm coming from.
I think the expression on my kid's face is hilarious.
I was born in Provo, Utah in 1974, fourth child out of five and third girl to parents who married as teenagers before hippies were a thing. Utah county is a place I affectionately term in this blog as, "The Utahiest location in Utah." There is no bigger percentage of devout practicing Mormons as there is where I grew up. My family was not included in that percentage. From time to time we attended the LDS church but the label we wore in the community was "Inactive". As in, my family had issues with the faith and for the most part did not attend services or activities. These days the label I wear when I go back to Utah County to visit is "apostate". As in, I am no longer a practicing Mormon. Both of these labels are loaded with connotative meaning.
Utah Mormon culture is a strange duck. You may have heard the quacking during the 2012 presidential election, what with that Mitt Romney guy, and then before that it's role in California's Proposition 8 outlawing gay marriage. When it comes to sex in Utah culture there are some dos and many don'ts. Do wait to have sex after marriage. Don't have any type of sex before marriage, which includes groping, heavy petting, making out, necking, tongue kissing, dry humping or arousing lusts...lest you be a licked cupcake or a chewed up piece of gum. Sex outside of marriage is a sin next to murder. Do not masturbate. Don't be gay, and only recently it's been decided that if you are born gay, that you should remain celibate for the rest of your life and you can still be a good Mormon. Dress modestly, so that your shoulders, chests, and bottom half to the knees are covered. Confess sins against chastity to your Mormon bishop and if they are serious enough, humbly accept consequences from the church body.
Then the unwritten rules follow that...not official doctrine but some of the social conditions that get passed around like gossip without basis. Don't use tampons as they will compromise your virtue. Don't remove your body hair in extreme ways. Double date as a young adult and don't get yourself into serious relationships until you are an adult. If you are a young man, meet the father on the first date. Being modest is hottest. No oral sex, or anal sex, mutual masturbation or toys even if you are married. If you're washing in the shower, use a washcloth on your genitals instead of your hands.
There are so many more and I could spend hours listing them, but I think you get the idea. When you put an emphasis on the don'ts and add a couple extremes in there, you shouldn't have to spend any time talking about what you need to know when it comes the proper time to do the dos. They'll figure it out as Mother Nature and the Lord intended.
When I was a teenager it was abstinence only sex education by law. Birth control was not discussed. STDs were not discussed. The anatomy and the biology of the opposite sex was not discussed in any depth. There was scant access to hormonal birth control if you needed it as a teen. There was a lot of shame in even asking an adult, a parent or a teacher or a religious mentor, if you were normal. A teacher wasn't even allowed to answer that question.
My parents gave me some sex education, or rather, my mother did. Some, as in the hinting type of talk that still left sex as a mystery, and she was way more forthcoming than the parents of my friends. I had the "Your body and you!" presentation in the fifth grade where the promise of menstruating was exciting and still a mystery. Before then I wasn't even aware I had a vagina. Read me some Judy Blume. There was a presentation on how conception happens in junior high with a split second glossing over of concept that men get erections and have testicles. I felt my first erection at a school dance when I was 14 or so. I made the link to what intercourse meant while reading an article about vulvodynia in my mother's Good Housekeeping.
Yadda yadda, I had premarital sex and conceived my first child at 18 years old with my 23 year old boyfriend who was a virgin when we met. You can read that story HERE. At eighteen I wasn't totally ignorant, and I in no way blame my parents, but I still didn't have access to many resources because of the culture. Teen pregnancy rates were at their highest in 1991/early nineties and have been steadily falling since. My husband, the father of all three of my children, and I have been married 20 years.
It was then, right out of high school and planning a wedding, I had to confront the idea that I should be ashamed.
Well, yeah, I was ashamed. For many reasons. But none of them were because I had sexual feelings or that I had enjoyed sex with a partner I had fallen deeply in love with. Or that I'd had boyfriends before my husband and we tested out what it was to arouse feelings in one another. That was the disconnect. Isn't this normal? Why wasn't this talked about in a real way? Why the light switch approach to sexuality...from it's so bad before marriage and after marriage it's a duty, try to have fun, and let's still not talk about it. Why was it wrong for me to seek out the tools I needed on my own to approach this part of my adulthood?
I've talked to many in my community openly about sex since then. From women who won't go see a gynecologist because someone other than a husband might see their vulva to men who didn't realize their wives don't have prostates. I've talked to husband and wives, supposedly lovers, who don't even talk about sex with one another. The ignorance is astounding. It's willful in this day and age. It's dangerous.
We can point the finger at shame...it's the shame and the stigma that is most dangerous. Did you know that Utah has the highest rate of paid internet porn subscriptions in the country? Did you know that porn and sex addiction recovery is big business in Utah? Did you know that the Salt Lake City area is quickly becoming saturated with plastic surgeons performing breast augmentations? Did you also know that Utah has a high gay teen homelessness and suicide rate? The governor of Utah vetoed an abstinence only sex ed bill last year and a Utah state senator proposed a bill to expand public sexual education for adults because many parents “don’t feel entirely comfortable” talking about sexual topics with their kids and need resources to help them learn how.
I'm not trashing Utah or the LDS church. If you're a practicing Mormon, I'm happy for you. Really, I am, because I think there are many ways to feed the soul. If you're practicing any religion, I'm happy for you. But, what do you suppose that the monster of shame is not at all feeding souls? Not just in Utah, but all over the country. Some of it stemming from religious instruction and some of it not. That despite having access to more creditable resources than ever that learned shame is keeping us from learning how to talk to our kids.
In these coming posts I hope to expound on how I talk to my boys about sex so that they may become honorable men who aren't hindered by shame. It's a wish in my heart for my boys to have healthy, trusting, kind and loving relationships with healthy partners. I would like my sons to be fulfilled and authentic when it comes to love.
You can't do that when you keep your head and your heart under a rock.
So, let's talk about it. It's important.
Part II - talking about sexual imagery.