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lovenooseERIN, 11: “Hey guess what we were learning about in Health today.”

(Erin loves Health. She is fascinated by the human body. She wants to be a doctor.)

MOM: What?

ERIN, smiling: S-E-X.

MOM: Oh yeah? And what were you learning about it?

ERIN: We learned that when you have sex you can get horrible diseases like AIDS and die.

[Dad buries face in hands, quietly weeps for the species.]

ERIN: What, Daddy?

DAD: The first thing they taught you about sex is that it can kill you? Holy shit.

ERIN: Oooooo, the S-word! Well it’s true, isn’t it?

DAD: (*Sigh*) Yes, it’s true. If you are careless, you can get a horrible disease and die. Did you know you can also die if you eat carelessly?

ERIN: Yeah.

DAD: And if you drive carelessly?

(Erin wants to drive more than anything in the universe. I often let her reach over from the front passenger seat and control the wheel in empty parking lots and in our subdivision. The high points of her current life.)

ERIN: Well yeah, if you’re careless and don’t use your brain.

DAD: But what if the first time you heard about eating, we just said, “Oh, eating? That could kill you.”

ERIN: Dad. When I started eating, I was like an hour old, and it was just booby milk. (Giggle.)

DAD: Fine, driving then. What if the first time we talked about driving, we just said, “Oh, driving? You can die doing that.”

ERIN: That would be annoying.

So we talked about sex. It was not the first time, but the first since it became associated with the Grim Reaper. We talked about the fact that it is a good thing — the most important part of being a living thing, in a way, because without it we wouldn’t exist.

We talked about the fact that sex is something our bodies enjoy, and that evolution made sure of that, and why. And yes, that it’s something for later, and that there can be serious consequences if you let your body shut your brain off.

Mostly I was just sad. Not for my kids, since it wasn’t the first time they’d heard about sex, but for the millions of others who have to wade through fearful bullshit about shame and sin and death before they discover that sex, like a dozen other human joys, is a wonderful, natural, and good part of being fully human — one to be handled with care, to be sure, but first and foremost good.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.