Tuesday, June 3, 2014


There's us: just two shy people who have sex and talk to our kids about it.
After having read this wonderful piece about talking to children about sex, I want to weigh in from my own perspective.

Our family is actually very much like the family of the author of that article: I'm shy but very open and comfortable with my family, willing to explain to the children anything (and often much more than) they ask about, and my husband is very shy, only answering as much as he feels is necessary. Both of us think it's vital not only that our children understand their bodies and the culture we live in, but also that the lines of communication remain open.

Our children are unschooled. There is NO sex-ed curriculum headed their way. If they can't talk to us, the places to get their questions answered are few, and quite frankly the number of questions that come up outside of the schoolyard is pretty small, too. But it isn't because we're unschooling that it matters so much that we are our kids' first line of information; not even because we want to be in control of what they hear, when. It's because they came from us, and they need to know that not only did they come from a joyful experience, but that we want them to have those joyful experiences, too -- that sex is good and they are good, and we not only trust them to make the decisions their bodies need, but that we'll be here for them when they make mistakes.

Do you remember wondering if your parents would get that nasty joke about the guy in the shower "parking his Limousine in the lady's garage"? I do. I worried endlessly that my parents would hear it, realize that I had heard it too, and be angry with me. My parents were very open, but I understood from my friends, anyway, that sex, drugs, dirty jokes, etc. are never something one brings up with parents. There was a common understanding (or so it seemed to me) that talking to parents about these things would bring trouble. Grounding. Not-being-allowed-to-go-to-the-party. Etcetera. Talking to parents would mean losing everything.

When I finally kissed somebody, I was terrified my parents would find out. In that weird teenage time of trying on sex before you actually have any idea what that pleasure is you're looking for, my first boyfriend gave me a hickey and I lied about it to my parents. I told my Mum our horse had accidentally whacked my neck with her head. Seriously. I said this. And my Mum pretended to believe me. I could see the pain and the pretending on her face; I could see her shrinking away from me into a kind of silence of sadness and I was more ashamed of the lie than of the hickey. It was the last time I lied.

I grew up feeling that sex was bad. It wasn't my parents' fault. They tried to explain to me even the things I didn't ask them about. Condoms were "a kind of little cap that men can put on their penises to catch the sperm when they make love". To this day I retain the image of a little knit cap on a penis, and a vague concern that it might fall off and get lost in the vagina. I never told my Mum about this concern, because I was too ashamed.

Shame is a nasty thing. Shame leads us to hiding, addiction, and fear. Shame leads us to hate ourselves and our bodies and the very act of love and pleasure that created us. That just sucks. It just sucks the big one, as we used to say in elementary school despite having no idea what it meant. My mother told me that fuck is a bad word because it imparts violence onto sex, which should always be loving. But she couldn't overpower what I learned from the schoolyard: Sex is embarrassing. Sex is shameful. Sex is bad. It's awesome to be bad. The worse, the better! That's why being naughty is something to aspire to in romance. Nobody ever aspired to be kind. Gentle. Those words are not ever on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

Age 10. My friend and I lay in bed discussing our dream careers as prostitutes. How much would you charge? Oh I'd charge at least a hundred for actual sex and just fifty for a blow job. Grin. I remember a slightly nauseous feeling, but my shame kept be from ever talking to my parents about this, and despite being a hairy feminist since my teens, there remains deep inside me a buried vestige of the wannabe hooker.

I told my kids this story. They looked pale. But they survived. I also told my kids the stories of their conceptions, some of the feelings I've had about sex, and also the lengths that their father and I go to to ensure that the other is happy during sex. We let them see our gentle caresses and kissing and the way we check in with the other's feelings, so that they can emulate something loving and compassionate when they choose to.

I want to be a trusted parent. And I want my children to feel safe, both in their relationship with me as well as in the righteousness of their own bodies. Sex, drugs, even mistakes -- these aren't anything to hide. These are beautiful opportunities for growth and evolution.


  1. I just read your post - funnily, I had just been thinking about the same things. I always want to be completely open with my kids and not pass on any of this shame business, but then when they actually ask about anything (which hasn't happened a lot yet) every bone in my body wants to say, 'Go ask your dad." I suppose I'll get better with practice:-)


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