Sex, You, and Your Kid: How Parents Are Failing

Parents bear so much responsibility for how kids view sex. It’s a shame most of them don’t handle the subject better, and terrible that so little emphasis is placed on sexual education.

Two things caused me to spend years questioning sex and feeling like a whore for engaging in it: the Catholic Church and my mother.

The Catholic Church is a given. I had to laugh when I received an email the other day for a “Sexosopher’s Café” at a local sex shop, where they wanted to do a philosophical discussion of whether “religion is sex-negative.”

Come on, you had to think about that one? Oh, please. What’s the last church you went to that encouraged you to tie your lover up and pleasure them? What’s the last church you visited that said consensual sex could include just about anything under the sun? That’s right, none, ever. Sex, when it comes to religion, is only good when done in certain ways.

Am I stereotyping? Fucking right I am, but rightly so, too.

My Catholic guilt still tugs at my heartstrings now and again, but as long as I live, I will never, ever come to understand how my mother could have fucked sex up for me as much as she did.

I never, ever, ever got the conversation about what sex was from either of my parents. I saw them fucking once, and I still remember the horrified look on my mother’s face – before they realized I was standing in the doorway. Most damaging, though, was something my mother said to me when I was 15 and they had split up.

She commented, quite casually, that the thing she was most grateful for about the separation was how she no longer had to fear my father coming to bed and wanting sex.

My father was heavy then, but he was always a kind and gentle man, so I knew instinctively she didn’t mean in a violent or demanding way. She meant she loathed sex. She told me she’d sleep as close to the edge as possible, so she could more easily dissuade him from making advances. And then she expressed how relieved she was that she could now sleep anyplace she wanted on that bed.

Between her lightly dismissing my question on blowjobs at age 8, her horrified look mid-coitus, and this new complaint about fearing sex, I was quickly developing a perception that sex was something women had to do to satisfy men, and something worth dreading.

I didn’t know sex could be enjoyable. I never learned it was an expression of how much you cared for someone, or a really wild way to spend a night in. I didn’t know it wasn’t (really) painful, and I sure as hell didn’t know I was supposed to love having it.

For me, sex has been a long journey to where I am now, and there’s still road to travel. There are new destinations I’d like to reach, particularly considering my traveling companion of late, and the idea of sex is still something I’m ever curious about.

It’s a far cry from the girl who was terrified to sleep with her boyfriend shortly before she turned 18, who was sure it would hurt like hell, who was adamant she was doing him a favour and it wasn’t something she would be benefiting from.

Today’s kids are in a strange, strange world. They’re bombarded with sexuality from the moment they emerge from the womb. Cartoon characters (Disney in particular) are sexier than they’ve ever been, clothes are more provocative, and MTV borders on porn most days. When they’re not getting hit by sexuality from the world at large, they’re playing on the internet, surfing at random, probably landing on smutty sites like this or worse, (don’t read this, kids), or still worse yet, engaging in cybersex.

Am I a conservative? Not by a long stretch, but I’m sick and tired of seeing kids being raised in a Fuck Me Now world, where sex is the only currency that counts. I think sex is important. Hell, it’s crucial to my quality of life. A day with sex is better than a day without it, and that’s just how I feel. I’ll never be a sex-negative person, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be objective about this oversexed world we’re living in. There’s a fine line, and I think we’ve crossed it of late.

What kills me are the conservatives, the true conservatives. It’s so fucking ironic, their POV. They can’t control the endless stream of sexuality pouring in from media and marketing today, so instead they want to limit sexual education and birth control. Does it make sense? Not in the least. To pretend kids are not surrounded – bombarded – by images of sex and sexuality is akin to confessing a belief in the Easter Bunny. There’s no question that it’s out there, that dirty s-e-x thing, but to ignore it and hope that sticking your head in a hole in the ground will somehow make the world around you more palatable to your moral beliefs is delusional.

(As an example, Kansas has adopted opt-in sexual education. Meaning, if the kid doesn’t show up with a note from the parents that gives permission to teach them about sex, the kid can’t take sex ed. Isn’t it precisely those kids who are most in need of sexual education? Christ. Can someone, anyone, teach these people how to fucking connect the dots?)

How is ignoring the fact that we live in a world that doesn’t respect sex the way it should, doesn’t portray it the way it should, going to help anyone? That’s the perfect reason why kids need to learn more sex-positive education both in the home and at schools, so they can negate this overwhelming pornification of sexuality seen constantly in the media.

I’m not saying I want to do away with any images of sexuality, I’m just saying I sure as shit wish there were more sex-positive images, because there aren’t many.

I’m tired of knowing that I’m not the only person who never actually learned about sex from my parents. Sex isn’t biology, people. It’s passion, it’s emotion, it’s mind games, it’s exploration, it’s creativity, it’s dangerous, it’s satiating, it’s intense, it’s anything you want it to be. But it ain’t biology, and it ain’t all reproduction, and kids need to learn about what it is, and what it isn’t. They need frank, honest discussion, or else we’re going to continue having young adults who need to get past wrong perceptions of what sex is.

Considering all the head games and mind-fucks that come with courtship and relationships, dealing with mixed-up, backwards perceptions on what sex is, is probably the last thing any of us needs to waste headspace on. In the face of AIDS and other STDs, ignorance is a pretty horrifying prospect, but one that’s rampant as I type.

By teaching kids the realities of what sex includes – from the wet spot to day-after pains and aches to STDs and emotions – a little of the allure might be swept away, but so too will the unrealistic expectations and the fear, and maybe even the blasé attitudes most kids today have about getting shagged.

Here’s a very, very simple consideration for parents to take under advisory: Imagine your kid has come to you and asked you about sex and all the things that happen during it. Imagine your discomfort. Imagine the awkwardness of trying to explain it. Imagine the weirdness of divulging to your offspring about how you essentially created them. Imagine sweating under the pressure you would feel to do a good job. Imagine you cut it short and explain instead just the biology of what happens, and not how to be a good lover, or the emotions that come with, or the potential fall-out after the fact.

And now imagine your kid going out into the world with barely even an understanding of the biology, let alone the rest of the sexual happenings. Imagine them going into a sexual experience clueless about what should go down. Imagine the panic and worry they’ll feel afterwards when they wonder unnecessarily if one of them has gotten pregnant, and how pregnancy really works. Imagine they can’t figure out what way a condom goes on or how careful they need to be when pulling it out. Imagine the guilt and shame they’ll feel for doing what we all inevitably experience at some point in our lives. Imagine the self-loathing they’ll feel when they suspect they’re a bad lover. Imagine the awkardness of trying to fumble towards ecstasy without your help.

And now own your failures as a parent. So, I say this to every parent out there: Get the fuck over yourselves, and do your jobs. This is too important to continue letting kids learn by bump in the night, and the price paid for it is far too high.

You can’t explain it? Then buy a good book that explains about sex and give it to the kid. Better yet, pick up a pack of condoms and some lube and grab the book, and give them to your kid, and then tell them you hope they’ll be mature and responsible enough to wait for someone special when it comes to sex, because if they sleep with the wrong person the first time, they’re probably going to always wish they’d decided differently.

You may not appreciate the idea of your kid fucking in the back seat of a Ford, but the reality is, it’s gonna happen, whether you’re on page or not. You’ve done so much for your kid over the years; is it really worth abandoning them on the issue of sex so you can save yourself a panic attack?

Think about it.

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8 Comments

  1. "L'état, c’est moi."
    Posted May 17, 2006 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    You’d love the doula my wife and I had when we were waiting for our kid — her kids were 10, 8, and 5, and her dinner table conversations would include gems like:

    8yo: Mom, what’s sex?
    5yo: That’s when the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina.
    10yo: No, that’s just intercourse.
    Doula: And you’re too young to understand about sex at the moment.

    And that’s probably the crux of the “problem” of talking to kids about sex.

    The mechanics of intercourse are easy. It’s just anatomy and a little biology.

    Sex though… well. That’s different. Now we enter the zone where time and logic don’t apply. The astonishing peer pressure. The carbonating hormones overriding the rational judgement one might normally exercise. The Bambi staggering out of the woods saying “I won’t do that for a buck again…” morning after. The astonishing highs, the depressing lows. The good, the bad, the indifferent, the times you should have just stayed home and ordered a pizza, alone, instead.

    As a parent, I’m well aware of my responsibility to engage my kid about sex and birth control and good judgement; but all I can do is arm them with good information and good tools and keep my fingers crossed.

    Of course, that’s any parent can do.

  2. Katie
    Posted May 17, 2006 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s a problem too if the kids won’t listen. My mom (in my opinion) has tackled the issue the best way imaginable with me, and told me the down and dirty, what to expect… etcetera. But my younger sister (not that young, I’m twenty, she’s eighteen, with a very serious boyfriend) won’t listen. She plugs up her ears when the subject is brought forth and yells about how “grossed out” she is.

    And how is a parent supposed to tackle that? I think the kids have to also want to be ready to learn about it. I am of the opinion (and maybe I’m a tightwad, I can really accept that) that a lot of kids start having sex at an age far too young. Where they think that their parents won’t want to talk about it, and where they, most likely, don’t want to hear about their parents talking about their sex life. And then, on top of the shyness is the ignorance of the body and the mind, emotions… etcetera.

    In a lot of cases, I agree with you. The parents have to be willing to do more. But it’s not all their doing.

  3. swamps
    Posted May 17, 2006 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    katie, that was the point i was going to bring up, too. my parents were pretty good at describing what it was. but when my father would go into any actual detail of his experiences with my mother, i was instantly grossed out. i’m not sure where that came from as my parents have always approached sex very straightforwardly — perhaps school. school is a very powerful influence on them youngens…

    it will be very interesting when my little boy comes of age… that’s for sure!!!

    i like the idea of at least giving a book to someone. when i was young, i’m sure i would have devoured it. are there any good book ideas? i remember checking out my parents’ “Joy of Sex”.

  4. Shakes
    Posted May 17, 2006 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    I really think that parents and children need to be more open about sex. In fact, I think parental sex should be a family value. So many people shudder to think that their parents have sex. Freudian thought makes it so taboo for people of two generations to have a discussion about sexuality, which only prepetuates the notion that it’s inappropriate.

  5. Adam
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Hi swamps,

    When I was young, my parents gave me a book called The Facts of Love, written by the same people as Joy of Sex, I think, but targeted to kids. It’s very matter-of-fact and level-headed about the matter, and gives good advice. If I remember, there are no pictures, but there are lots of very realistic drawings. I’d recommend it. It’s out of print now, I think, but you should be able to find a copy on Amazon or elsewhere.

  6. Romantic Perv
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    As the father of two teen daughters (wow just saying that makes me feel old LOL), we have always tried to be open with our girls from an early age. “If they are old enough to ask the question then they are old enough to hear the answer” was our motto. Now they have no issues talking about sex with their mother (i think they are a little uneasy with dad unless they want to try and embarass me).

    Additionally i think a key component is demonstrating a healthy love life. No I dont mean getting down and dirty, I mean dont be afraid to kiss your significant other just because the “kids might see.” A playful slap on the back side, some knowing looks…let the little ones see a loving relationship first hand and things will be easier down the line.

    Both of my girls have said that they want to wait till the are married to have sex. Frankly I doubt they will last that long, but i think that they will wait for the right moment for them, because they know what a healthy, loving relationship looks like.

    Oh and toss in a few comments on masturbation too. How is it that a task that 99% + do still causes guilty feelings for so many?? It was taught to us in our early days, and is still considered taboo.

    Sorry for taking over the comments here Steff, I will climb down from my soap box now.

  7. Mad Maggot
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I simply couldn’t agree with you more.

    I’ve never heard a word about sex from my parents, particularly from my mother. Logically, that would lead me to thinking that sex is wrong since nobody talks about it, but having been immune to my parent’s views on the world and the things in it, I never actually did think that. But I personally know quite a few people who feel intimidated at the thought (or better yet, sound) of sex.

    My sister’s son is about to turn nine and not far ago he came back from school and asked her some sex-related question. Apparently, she said it’s too early for him to know things like that and he answered that some girl in his class had already enlightened him on the subject. I believe she didn’t enlighten him completely, so he’ll still be having that kind of questions in the nearest future. I heard my mother and sister discussing that and my mother was wildly protesting against telling him what sex was all about. She said something about it being amoral of parents to discuss “it” with their kids and it’s better if they find out about it from their friends. Gasp. Yeah, apparently, it’s better if your child gets some sort of addled information than hears a solid explanation from somebody who (supposedly) cares about him.

    At the same time, it’s all about sex on TV, in Hollywood, and just everywhere, like you pointed out, so nobody should be surprised why the new generation is so confused, wild, and contradictory. On the one hand, their parents are silent about sex and on the other hand, they’re surrounded by sex everywhere and I would imagine it has its toll on what kids/teenagers/young adults might be thinking about this whole thing.

  8. AlwaysArousedGirl
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I wrote today about an ongoing sex-ed conversation I’m having with my daughter. :D

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