Several days ago, my son and I were lying in my bed, each of us enjoying our own books. Out of the blue, he asks me, “How long will it be before I have to start carrying a condom?”
I stare at him, surprised. He’s ten years old. Jesus. “A condom??”
I think for a moment. “Well, whenever you think there is a chance you’re going to have sex, I suppose.”
“Yeah. I don’t want to get someone pregnant when I am a teenager!”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.”
He pauses, thinking. “Not that I’m going to be ready anytime soon.”
I agree, “Yeah, you’re awfully young still.”
He’s still thinking, turning it over in his mind.
Then I offer, “And when you think you’re ready, we’ll show you how to use it.”
His head snaps around, he looks at me, startled, “What??”
“Yeah, on a banana,” I calmly reply.
He starts to crack up, squashing his face in the pillow, no doubt picturing this event. “Seriously, Mom?”
“Yes, seriously. It’s really important that you put it on correctly in order for it to work right.”
He thought for a second and said, “I thought you blow it up like a balloon, then put it on there.”
“Nope,” I tell him, “It’s round and flat, you put it on at the top, then roll it down the sides.”
And that’s the end of that 3-minute conversation. We go on reading our books.
In my opinion, the concept of THE TALK about sex—as if there is only ever one talk—is silly and woefully inadequate. Questions and reflections about sex and relationships should be part of an ongoing conversation that changes and shifts according to the developmental age of the child, and the context, and the questions that demonstrate their readiness.
In my counseling practice, I frequently hear from clients who tell me that their parents never told them anything about sex…except stern, judgmental, confusing statements that are some variation of “Just don’t do it!” And there seems to be a strong, direct correlation: wherever religiosity is highest, whether in homes or in geographical regions (yeah, I’m looking at you, Texas), the information and education about sex is lowest.
Why is this? Sex is a damn important subject. Why wouldn’t parents talk about it? Taboo? Fear? Embarrassment? Guilt? Shame? Sin? Something else? And many of these naive, uninformed adolescents grow up to be adults who have distorted perceptions and ideas about sexuality. Many of them experience problems related to sexuality in their relationships, are uncomfortable with their own sexuality, or experience guilt/shame associated with their sexual thoughts and behaviors.
My son never stops asking questions…about everything. And I mean everything—politics, religion, sex, racism, sexism, relationships, communication, social structures, science, you name it! He is relentlessly curious and outspoken and opinionated. We do the best we can to answer all of his questions, and/or we investigate to find answers together. So, it is not surprising that he also asks questions about sex and relationships.
I’m no parenting guru, and I most certainly make no claims about having it all figured out. I get frustrated, impatient, grumpy, sarcastic, and make mistakes just like I suspect all parents do. But I’m pretty sure I’m right about this one. Talking and educating about sex and relationships seems obviously preferable to NOT talking about it. Answering questions is best practice in almost all things parenting.
When children are allowed and encouraged to ask questions, it builds trust in the parent-child relationship, and paves the way for them becoming lifelong inquisitive learners. Freedom of inquiry encourages curiosity and wonder, develops habits of seeking of knowledge, and a exhibits our commitment to the search for truth and meaning.
My son is ten now, and it won’t be long before he’s contemplating many things about sex, if he isn’t already. We humans are sexual beings, and we all develop at our own rates, in our own time, with our own intensities and desires and drives. This process is innocent and natural…not dirty, shameful, or sinful.
I don’t know when my son will have sex. It will be his decision, because it’s his body. When the time comes, I want him to know how to navigate it. I want him to really REALLY know exactly what consent looks like and sounds like. I want him to know that sex complicates relationships, and that you can be physically ready long before you are emotionally and mentally ready. I want him to realize that sex can be great and also not great.
And HELL YES I want him to know how to put on a condom.
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Be sure to follow Removing the Fig Leaf on Facebook so you won’t miss a post, and if you have something helpful to share from your own experience, please drop the editor a note at GodlessInDixieBlog at gmail and I’ll get back with you soon. —Neil C.