Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sex Post

Quin finished his Health & Human Sexuality cycle in school last Friday, and may I state for the record that I'm Shrek-green with envy? I wish I had had such a thorough education in human sexuality at his age (11-and-a-half). Over the course of the six-week cycle, his homework has included such tasks as seeking out a definition for premenstrual syndrome, correctly identifying the function of the vas deferens, and locating the clitoris on an anatomically-very-correct line drawing. His Health & Human Sexuality teacher is a goddess, and I want to take her home with me, wrap her up in a cozy cashmere pashmina and feed her bonbons.

(Imagine the bother and anguish we all could have avoided if the men of our generation had known about PMS and where to locate the clitoris so early in the game....)

Quin tends to be a bit hesitant about sharing his inner thoughts and questions with us parental types, so it wasn't entirely clear to me just HOW far this education had gone until we spent some time together a few weeks ago prepping for a quiz. The review sheet was a round-up of his-and-hers sexual glands, organs, and cells, and we were doing speed review. Male sex cell -- sperm, check. Female sex cell -- egg, check. Then I asked him if he knew what happened when the sperm and egg get together.

"Fertilization." And then? "A baby." Paaaaause. "And, I know stuff I wish I didn't know." Such as? "I know how the sperm and the egg get together."

All righty then.

I blathered something about how while it may seem icky and unnecessary to know this stuff now, it's really important to learn it before puberty dials all the way up to eleven, because that's when common sense can take a leave of absence (not enough blood reaching the brain, dontcha know). That he can put this knowledge in his back pocket for when he needs it, waaaaaay down the road. Blah blah blah blithering mom-cakes. Then I ruffled his head, proclaimed him well-prepared for his quiz, and sent him off to build Bionciles (which, last I checked, you can't catch an STD from).

But the discussion, and the topic, have nagged at me for weeks now. We parents who are lucky not to live in abstinence-curriculum-only school districts (grrr) are incredibly fortunate -- we will have kids who are knowledgeable about the biology, who know what to expect from their developing bodies, and who will know how to stay safe (and hopefully exercise that knowledge when appropriate). But as thorough as that is, for me it's only part of the picture.

How do we teach our kids to enjoy and embrace their sexuality? To not be ashamed or afraid of it, but still behave in appropriate ways? How do we impart a sex-positive message without compromising safety? This question is haunting me these days.

I remember very little about the school-based sex ed I received -- I remember my 6th grade class being separated by gender and learning about menstruation with the girls, but not much else. The parental messages I received where entirely cautionary in nature -- don't do that, watch out because he might want to do this or the other thing, whatever you do, don't have sex, ohmigod you had sex, I thought you were smarter than that (nevermind that I was smart enough to use birth control, which is how they found out in the first damn place!).

Now, I'm not saying that I was scarred for life by all the cautionary messages I received, but they left me nothing to fall back on when I was trying to make peace with my body as a young adult. After a period of extreme acting-out, I had no road map to a healthy sexuality for myself, and boy, what I wouldn't give to be able to wind the clock back on that one. The therapy bills alone, when adjusted for inflation, would've paid for a decent used sportscar.

And I'm far from alone in this. The number of my friends, both real and virtual, who have scarred sexual psyches is really astonishing. Some victims of direct (or emotional) abuse, some not, all are struggling to find a way for themselves without that essential context of what a healthy sexuality might look and feel like. And don't we all have much better ways we'd like to be spending our time and energy? Isn't it liberating to imagine what it would feel like for these issues to gently drift away from us, to imagine how life would be without this ongoing struggle?...

When I think of what I want for my kids as they grow, certainly being safe and happy are the highest priorities. But to be honest, I don't really care whether they ever get serious about learning an instrument, playing sports, or getting into an Ivy League university. What I care about -- what I've always cared about -- is that they are able to find the fun in whatever they do and be proud of themselves, that they learn to communicate well, connect with, and care for other people, and that the petty neuroses of life in the 21st century pass them by. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I stuck with piano as long as I did and the Ivy League education has afforded me wonderful opportunities. But I'd trade them both (and more) for an earlier, more peaceful acceptance of myself.

What do you think?


skyethebard said...

Hello. I'm a friend of your husband's :-)

My son is 12 and will be a teen come the end of April. He has always been surrounded by a mix of bisexual, straight and gay people (as well as other, less-defined queer folks) and he knows that whatever his sexuality turns out to be, we will love and support him. Many of the Tribe are poly, as well, although certainly not all. My son has grown up being much more aware of relationship structures... and their beginnings, bodies and ends...than most children. He's seen the pros and cons of being single, monogamous and poly. I really think he will feel free to try out the different relationship styles until he finds "the fit." I think that one of the best things I've ever done for him was raising him in clothing optional space. When we don't have company, our household's dress code is very lax *lol* We also belong to a clothing optional camping space which we visit throughout the warm seasons. He's seen the naked, honest bodies of men, women and children of all ages, colors, shapes and sizes. As a result, he has been less swayed to buy into the Beauty Myth. I'm not saying that he'll never have body-image issues but I think it's a lot less likely.

All of that said: Do I still wish my son had the wonderful class your son has? YES. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for kids his age to study something SO important along side their peers. I think the opportunity for open dialog might carry over into adulthood, offering those kids, your child, the wonderful freedom to not just HAVE sex but actually TALK to their partner(s) about it. I wish all schools offered such a class.

Thank you for sharing :-)

Anonymous said...

What I think is that you're a sweetheart and a fine parent. There's really just so much you can do or say, and you're there for the boys, which is most important.
You'll have opportunities over the coming years for more discussion, and you'll know what to say when the time comes. Of that I have no doubts, even if you do.

SallyBR said...

This was such a beautiful post, Ruth...

I am kind of disappointed I did not see it earlier, but better late than never.

You are a great Mom!