Thoughts on sex: education, ideas, bias and parenting.

I’ve had quite a few sleepless nights lately, including this one, not so much due to Zephyra as my own issues. I’ve had a lot of muscle pain, and it seriously interferes with my ability to lay down and rest… so instead of doing work or something else productive, I go online and watch ridiculous reality television. We don’t have cable and haven’t in a long time – and even when we did we barely watched anything. The only reality TV we generally indulge in are downloads of Hell’s Kitchen or ANTM. That wasn’t ridiculous enough, so I decided to watch a bit of what everyone talks about but I’ve never actually seen: “16 and pregnant”. I went to the MTV Canada site and streamed the full episodes there. In the last two weeks I’ve made it into season two… and one thing keeps hitting me as I watch these girls struggle through such life-changing events: what the fuck is up with parents not allowing their kids to sleep in the same bed as the father of their baby, now that they’re pregnant?
I mean really now, do you think you’re putting the cork back on that? The cat’s out of the bag dude, you’re not going to win this battle. Your teen had sex. A lot of sex. Unprotected sex, at that (at least, most of them did – some legitimately got pregnant while using birth control for a variety of reasons, most of which came down to improper or incomplete sexual education; like how antibiotics affect birth control, missing 2-3 pills matters, or not to use a condom that has gone through the fucking washing machine. Maybe if you gave your a kid a goddamned safe stash to pull from that shit wouldn’t have happened… anyway).
For most (I would argue all) of the parents, this seems like an attempt to exert control over a situation where they perceived themselves to have none. It isn’t about logic or reality: it’s about winning, and dominance. I hate seeing that kind of shit, because it means you’re parenting with your ego instead of your brain. Many of the parents seem to think the best choice at this point is to encourage complete and total abstinence, and some of them go to great lengths to try and accomplish it. Sometimes stupidly great lengths, like the above-mentioned forbidding them from sharing a bed… as if that’s going to somehow stop them. Now that they’refucking pregnant and all. Naturally it doesn’t work: because that never does, and these parents are fucking stupid for thinking it would.
“Now that I’m pregnant, in desperate need of reassurance and support, scared the father of my baby will leave me, and trying to love my changing body… total and complete abstinence sounds like something I’m ready to commit to!”

Seriously.

Anyway.

This has led me to a lot of thought and inner conversation about sexuality, and how it relates to parenting… not just teens, but children of all ages. I think about how I’ve discussed and portrayed sexuality and sexual health to my children, how I could do better, where I’ve missed out, and my goals for what I want to achieve with the sexual education I provide to them. When they’re old enough to go out on their own and begin experimenting with their sexuality I want them leaving our house believing that they were provided with a complete, accurate, timely and most of all unbiased education… but that’s a lot easier said than done.

When I think about sexuality and my kids, I think about gender-bending Xan: throwing a temper tantrum yesterday after getting out of the tub because after tearing apart his dresser he discovered, “There is nothing pink to wear!”. I told him he could wear one of his many, many other clothes in many other flattering colours, but he refused. Exasperated, I told him to remain in his room until he decided to wear something more than a smile. About ten minutes later he emerged wearing Tempest’s rainbow tye-dye dress, which is a size 10 and is slightly too big on her… so on him it reached his ankles.
He twirled into the livingroom and announced, “I love this dress! It flows all the way through my body! I don’t even have to wear pants!”
“Are you wearing underwear?” I asked him; an important question since we planned to leave the house later.
He pulled up the skirt to show me that he had on Tempest’s pink striped undies. “It matches!” he answered, grinning.

I don’t think Xan is transgender, nor do I really think that he’s gay (though, who knows – only time will tell), but if he does turn out to be either – or other – I want him growing up comfortable with himself. I want him to know that he has the freedom to express his sexuality, his nature, and his right to live and dress comfortably… regardless of what others may think. I want him to know his parents love and support him, and that being gay, being transgender, being pansexual, or asexual or something in-between wouldn’t make a difference to how we love him, or how we treat him.
Today I don’t want him to fall prey to the old trope of how certain clothing is not ‘standard’, and therefore he shouldn’t wear it, or be seen in public wearing it. He’s happy, he’s confident, he’s comfortable and he’s also just four years old… why should someone else’s opinion on gender stereotypes matter to him? We constantly compliment his style choices, tell him he’s funny and smart, ask him what he’d like to wear and give him a lot of options. Maybe it’s just a phase he’ll outgrow, and maybe he’ll grow up to be a cross-dresser and professional drag queen, and either way I hope he remains as comfortable as he is today.

When I think about my children and sexuality I think about Tempest who, as a part of having autism, has no concept of her own sexual self other than the bare facts. As far as she is concerned, there’s no emotional piece and she doesn’t quite understand how people can want the act… love and attachment, particularly in a romantic context, are still very difficult concepts for her to understand. As for sex: she has no interest in it, no need to have interest in it, and is unaffected by its existence other than her passing curiosity and a need to know everything she can about a query that comes up until she moves onto the next.
We’ve had all the talks with her, she knows the details on a level that most kids her age probably don’t simply because we cannot explain it to her in a cutesey, childish way… she simply won’t understand it. Sometimes she repeats ideas or expressions she hears from people, as a way of testing if it’s the way she “should” act because she picks up on how different her reactions are from the other kids her age. Things like walking into our bedroom in the evening and seeing us naked in bed watching anime on the laptop and commenting slyly, “Whyyyy are you naked?”. It is something I know she did not come up with on her own, and has likely picked up from a friend or television program. We laughed and told her that we sleep that way. Immediately she went on to something different.

Two months ago on a walk through the park she stopped by the bridge near a creek and watched the ducks. Below us, a mallard approached a female and mounted her. She was quiet and watched without any notable reaction. I approached and waited for her to either lose interest, or to ask me a question about what she was seeing. After a moment she turned to me and stated, “Those ducks are mating.” Followed by, “Do they mate for life?”
“Yes, they do.”
“Oh.”
And that was it. Very matter-of-fact, no emotional reaction, no disgust and none of the giggles of discomfort and bashful curiosity that other girls her age are starting to express… it’s just another thing for her.

A few days ago sexuality came up again with her. She’s a big fan of the television show Dr. Who, and when my mother became a fan of the spinoff series Torchwood, she would often go upstairs and watch with her since Curtis and I haven’t gotten into it yet.
A few days ago my mom came down and asked me how I felt about her seeing a sex scene, as one had aired in an episode they watched and it took her by surprise. I asked my mother what it was like and she explained that it was an image of casual sex between two consenting adults. The entire act was shown, but it wasn’t explicit. One of the characters is supposed to be an alien to absorbs the man after he’s had an orgasm, as she needs the energy from a sexual act to live. Something like that, anyway.
“She watched it and seemed totally unaffected,” my mother said, “She didn’t ask me anything so I didn’t say anything… but I wanted to make sure you were okay with that.” Tempest is different, her brain works very differently than a typical kid her age, and sexuality is as mundane to her as any other scientific topic. It’s like learning about digestion and then watching a show about eating food.
While the rational side of me said it’s no big deal, a little biased piece of me wanted to jump out and have a tantrum.
“As long as it’s portrayed as a loving act, yeah I’m okay with that,” I said.
“Well, I don’t know that I’d call it loving,” admitted my mother.
I thought about what I really intended to say. “No… by that I meant consensual: something both parters want and enjoy. We’re not wary about much, but sexual violence, particularly toward women, is a big no-no.”
“No, nothing like that. It was just casual sex.”
My knee jerk reaction was to say that kind of sex somehow isn’t as good, or isn’t as ‘okay’ as sex between long-term partners. I pushed it back.
“I’m okay if she goes into sexual education knowing that some adults may participate in casual sex. Just because I don’t personally approve of it for me, doesn’t mean it’s bad, or that people who do it are bad people. I don’t want her learning that.”
“As long as you’re safe, you can do what you want with sex,” my mother offered.
“Yeah. I do want her watching it with someone so that if she has a question that comes to mind, she can get an honest answer right away.”

Our culture tells me that by allowing her to see that scene, and continue to watch the show, I have exposed to her to something bad. The same culture tells me she’s too young to understand sex, to think about sex, to know about it… and far too young to know about sexuality in a casual or uncommitted sense.
But, Tempest is the kind of kid that is largely unaffected by that kind of thing. She has complete and total separation from television, video games and the like, and even among the “scary” or “strange” she has no real emotional response. It’s not like she doesn’t know what she’s seeing – or rather, what it represents – but autism spectrum brains are a little different about stuff like this; she’s not made uncomfortable by watching what she perceives as boring and normal an act as eating. It has no emotional impact, therefore the idea of different kinds of sexual acts (ie. casual sex vs. married, committed couple sex) are all broken down to their basic actions: tab A into slot B. The end. While other kids her age are beginning to giggle and joke about “it” or pretend boys have cooties, she may not develop a concept of the taboo until adolescence. Understanding all that, she feels no urge to feel stressed by a – and let’s be perfectly honest here – relatively PG sex scene in a television show.

Still, later that day I found myself opening a dialogue with her in case she had any questions.
“Tempest, Nanny told me that when you were watching Torchwood there was a scene in it where two characters were having sex.”
“Yeah,” she answered. She was barely paying attention.
“Did that make you uncomfortable? You don’t have to watch a scene with sex in it if you don’t want to, but if you’re curious that’s okay.”
“I’m fine. It’s a TV show. Aww! Did you see that baby over there? He’s cute!”
And that was it. Any reassurance I may have needed was effectively given by that short exchange.

It made me wonder if I would have felt the need to bring it up with her if what had been on screen was a loving couple, or if she’d been a boy? Would the people who are reading this now, recoiling in horror, also react differently in those situations?
These issues are always complicated, but it’s significantly more so with little girls. Women and their sexuality is still something of a big issue. As an unfortunate as it is, women’s sexuality is a topic that’s deeply misunderstood, stigmatized, attacked and shamed; and the younger the girl is, the more difficult it becomes to discuss it openly with others.
As Arwyn at [ Raising by Boychick ] recently said on the topic of children’s exposure to sex, “We have a standard in my culture that says sex must be kept completely away from children at all times — except in billboards, pop music, television, and the daily news, of course — because to expose children (pure) to sex (vulgar) is to corrupt them. We force sexualization on children, with heels and push up bras and Barbies to mimic, and deny them their own sexual agency, pathologizing the schoolyard kiss and the playing of doctor. We make sex huge and important and tell them nothing about it, except that they mustn’t have or want it.”
God forbid a parent talks to their children about sex in a frank, straight-forward manner. They’re practically criminals for even thinking about it. Sex education is under attack in many areas of the USA in particular, and by the way the media portrays the topic you’d think it’s on the way to becoming illegal to even discuss the most basic terminology. In many homes, “Penis” is as bad a word as “Fuck”.

It is a complex issue… but I don’t think it needs to be as complex as we’ve made it seem. I think the line between inappropriate, and age/child-appropriate is clearer than we imagine it to be, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with honesty and openness… no matter what age the child is. If they’re capable of curiosity, than they deserve honesty.
I suppose my only caveat to that is that I think some children may have different needs and wants about how that information is given to them. While I believe it’s extremely important that all children are fully (and promptly) educated about their own bodies, as well as other people’s bodies and boundaries, it’s equally important for parents to pay attention to the how and what their child is curious about so they can tailor fit their discussions. By that I mean that some children want it all at once, and ask a lot of questions that may make you uncomfortable, and then promptly get over it and go about their business; while others want it in little, easy-to-digest pieces that they have time to really think about. Some express a lot of curiosity about gender issues, or masturbation… others aren’t interested in every detail and just want the basics. Case and point is the difference between how we broach the topics with Tempest and Xan, who need two very different approaches. Tempest wants the cold, hard biological and functional details. Things like “Why do people have a desire to masturbate?”, “How many inches does a penis grow when it becomes erect?” or, “What causes an erection and why would a boy get one in a situation outside of attempting to conceive a child?”. While Xan simply wants a basic, more age-appropriate understanding of these issues. For instance, asking Freja “Can I see your panties?” (to which she responded, “Okay! Want to see my vagina?” which earned an equally enthusiastic reply: “Okay!”).

One of the things that deeply bothers me is when parents – or worse, educators – impose a bias that restricts a child’s (or teen’s) right to complete and honest sex education. Biases like:
– You have no respect for yourself if you have casual sex.
– Someone who wears low cut shirts and high heels is a slut.
– If you cross dress, you’re not a good example of your sex.
– Gender and sex are one and the same; and are inborne.
– Someone who doesn’t enjoy regular and frequent masturbation is unhealthy and repressed.
– An adult who enjoys viewing pornography is a bad person.

I have been tackling my own biases recently. As I brought up in the example with Tempest, one of my more difficult ones in particular is a long-held bias against women who enjoy casual sex. It is not something I’m personally comfortable with doing, and for a long period of my life I believed it to be a bad thing under any and all circumstances. In my mind, no one who engaged in frequent casual sex was an unhealthy person with a terrible self-image with no self respect.
This was not a message I got from my parents, it was a message I picked up from the culture around me. It was a slut-shaming message that was aimed exclusively at women, while giving men a free pass to enjoy their sexuality however they chose to. If a man and woman engaged in casual sex, the “blame” fell on the woman to make what I imaged to be a more responsible choice. It’s taken an embarrassingly long time for me to get past that, and sometimes I still find myself having that same old, unfair, knee-jerk reaction to those choices.
Just the other night while Curtis and I were watching “Hell’s Kitchen” an episode featured a two contestants who enjoyed casual sex shortly after they met. A fellow female contestant commented on the situation in her confessional later: “Skank a dank!”.

As we watched, Curtis raised his eyebrows and said, “I’m sorry, but I agree! That’s crazy! She just met him!”. I said nothing in response… because that was my first reaction too, and I really didn’t like it.
I was quiet for a few minutes, trying to understand where those feelings were coming from. Why does it even matter to me? Why do I feel so judgmental about this topic, and why has it been so hard to shake that? I know better now… I can appreciate third wave feminism and I’m learning more about it all the time. So why am I still thinking this way about women who enjoy and celebrate their sexuality in a different way than I chose to?
After some thought, I realized that those ideas didn’t take root until high school, and the first examples of slut-shaming that I remember were directed exclusively at the three or four girls who tormented me for many years. This group of girls tortured me, both physically and psychologically, and I was terrified of them. One of the things about them that stood out to me from the beginning was that they were all sexually active at what I considered a young age (14 or 15) and engaged in a lot of casual sex with many different boyfriends over the course of their high school years.
They were safe, healthy and happy – but because I feared and loathed them, I stigmatized their behavior (and thusly the same behavior in all women) because it was one of the only ways I felt I could have an upper hand. I was ‘better’ because I was a virgin, and they weren’t. That made me superior, smarter, and it made me win in some small way. I had some sort of power over them because I perceived myself to be a better example of my sex than they were… and due to my own very low self-esteem, there was literally only one thing I could think that made me better, or even worthy as a human being, let alone as a woman: my virginity.

As my brother reminded me recently, that idea is rooted in cultural beliefs that originated from a time when women were property and men – most specifically our fathers – “owned” us. In particular our sexuality: our pleasure, our experiences and our choices. Sexuality was only to be used or enjoyed with their permission. We are given away at our weddings by our fathers as a gesture of our ownership, and sexuality, changing hands. Instead of belong to our fathers, it now belongs to a husband. We never belong to ourselves.
We wear white to inform the entire congregation that our prized and only truly important virtue: our virginity, arrives untainted and untouched by anyone (including ourselves) to be carefully unwrapped and enjoyed solely by our new husband. His sexuality and sexual freedom is never called into question.
These messages are so deeply entrenched in our culture and history that they’re still very much alive and kicking today. Some areas even popularized “Purity Balls” where young girls promise their virginity to their fathers, wear white, and dance with them in a celebration of men owning their daughter’s rights to sexual freedom… and for some reason people regard this as ‘sweet’ and ‘proper’. Regardless of how I was raised I picked up on those messages at a time in my life well before I had any grasp on my sexuality… let alone how complicated it would become. Instead of celebrating women’s choices, I participated in slut-shaming, misogyny and my own self-oppression by imagining that the only part of me that was worth anything during those vulnerable years of my life was an archaic sense of purity.

I was lost in thought, silent for several moments while the episode played on. Finally I spoke, “That’s not really fair,” I said to Curtis, “She’s the only one that receives that judgment, and it puts a lot of pressure on her. In order to be ‘good’ and have ‘good’ sex, she can’t enjoy sex the way she wants to. What about him? It’s a choice they both made together, and they both take responsibility for it.”
He thought a moment about what I’d said, and nodded thoughtfully, “You’re right, that’s true. I shouldn’t have said that. If they’re safe and happy, that’s what matters.”
“Casual sex isn’t something I’d do, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad… and that kind of slut-shaming isn’t okay. Women can express their sexuality however they wish to, and should be free to do so without judgment”.
He nodded firmly in agreement, then added, “Yeah, and really if she’s going to feel weird about any part of that, it probably wouldn’t be until after she saw the episode when it aired and realized that the guy is an egocentric dumbass.”
I laughed; his jokes broke the tension that I was feeling over the topic. “That’s true. He’s sleazy.” And we went back to watching.

I allowed myself a moment to be proud that I’d managed to overcome my snap judgment, even if it took a little while. That’s not something I want to pass on to my kids. It’s hard, because a big part of me wants to teach them my bias because I still believe it to be the “right” way. That part of me wants to say things like, “I never ever want you to participate in casual sex!” even as I recognize that most of that is aimed at my girls and not my son, even when I know that’s unfair, even when I know that’s sexist, even when I know that’s not something that’s even up to me… it’s still there.

Changing your mind is hard, even when you’ve taken big steps to open it.

Links of the Day:
Why do you care? Some thoughts on sex, judgment, an being a woman with children – The piece that I quoted from. Semi-related to my topic; a post about sexuality and its relation to child abuse by Raising my Boychick. Where is the line?
The mystical pregnancy “…is a trope writers use to create drama and terror by invading, violating and exploiting women’s reproductive capabilities. Often these female characters have their ovaries harvested by aliens or serve as human incubators for demon spawn. Sometimes they are carrying the Messiah and other times Satan himself.”

Comments

comments

36 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    This a link to an etsy shop that a girlfriend of mine posted on Facebook. I thought it was pertinent to this discussions going on here…the designer’s bio in particular caught my attention.

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/VulvaLoveLovely?ref=pr_shop_more

    Bethany

  • Hypothetical question for you… if you felt boys were being held to the same sexual standards as girls (i.e., their virginity was seen as a positive thing, and they were looked down on for having casual sex), would you feel the same about teaching your kids not to have casual sex?

    • admin says:

      Yes. For one, framing the attitude as, “Women’s virginity is seen as a positive thing” isn’t quite correct, it’s more like, “Women’s sexuality is seen as inherently negative and dirty”. Virginity is valued as a byproduct, but that’s not really the point of the prejudices against women’s sexual freedom.
      My motives aren’t about men vs. women, but about being able to express your sexuality safely and happily, in whatever way that you feel comfortable doing… ideally without shame, prejudice or bias. I want my children to be safe above all, but I also want them to know that as important as sex is… it’s also just sex. It was by far the best advice my parents ever gave me (and, ftr, I still waited and don’t regret anything about my sex life).

      It’s also hard to ask that question because we don’t – and haven’t ever – lived in a world where men and women’s sexuality are seen as equal. Women have a huge amount of sexual oppression aimed at them, and have for a long ass time. I wouldn’t even know what that hypothetical would be like, since so much of our culture is based on it.

      • I guess I just see things differently. (Surprising, I know. ;)) At home and at church, I got the very clear message that abstinence was expected of males as well as females, without any of that boys-will-be-boys crap. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that attitude is prevalent in the world around me. It seriously irks me as well, but I tend to think more that boys should be held to the same standards as girls, and that abstinence should be seen more as a matter of self-control and learning to make decisions than as a matter of “sex is dirty, don’t do it”. (That is an area where I think my upbringing was lacking, something I don’t intend to pass on to my own children.)

  • victorymarch says:

    Not directly related to what you’re talking about, necessarily, but have you ever read any Michel Foucault? I think you’d find his history of sexuality stuff really interesting.

    We discussed some of his work recently in one of my sociology classes, and one of the ideas that really resonated with me is that in ancient Greece and Rome, people weren’t so much “straight” or “gay”, but “sexual” or “celibate” (or asexual), whereas nowadays the influence is very Christian, particularly Catholic, where you are either “normal” or “deviant”.

    I really admire you for challenging your bias like that– it really shows that you’re stressing an unbiased, informative, comprehensive approach to educating your children. It’s so important to understand where knee-jerk reactions come from. Everyone has them, but progress happens when people make the effort to move past them.

    Sex Ed is so empowering! I’m hoping to get into the public health field, and one of the reasons is because I feel really strongly about informing, empowering, and educating people about something that is split into this weird dichotomy of shame, shame, shame, and ubiquity. You’re not suppossed to talk about (or even want?) sex, but you can’t escape (often harmful, violent, aggressive) images of it in your daily life. Something is so wrong there, and it’s really heartening to see you take it to task.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately so it’s interesting you brought it up. I’ve been trying to figure out what I am going to say to my kids about sex–I was homeschooled until I graduated and I lived in an environment where any sexual feelings at all were considered to be “immoral” and that I should just “fight them off”, as opposed to acknowledging them as a normal part of growing up. I have been reading old journals and I am saddened to see the shame and self loathing I experienced over having completely natural thoughts and desires about sex. I’m now 27 years old and I have only just started to accept that what I thought was so “perverted” is actually normal and I am trying to figure out how to give my children a healthier perspective. My son is potty training so he’s becoming more interested in his penis and so it’s been something of a challenge for me to set aside my first instincts of “that’s inappropriate!” and “Don’t touch that!” It’s definitely not an easy thing to overcome.

    On the subject of casual sex…when I graduated high school, I joined the military in order to get away from my parents. Within the first six months of raising my right hand, I was raped by a fellow service member. My response to this was to engage in casual sex in hopes of discovering what “normal sex” felt like. Casual sex for me was never a “celebration” of my sexuality, although I tried to describe it as such when confronted about my lifestyle. It actually made me feel like less of a woman. I feel like advocates of casual sex fail to mention the consequences it inevitably brings–like heartache, self disdain, possible pregnancy, and even disease if one is not careful. Of course, this could all be, as you said, reactions from what is taught culturally but having experienced such a life, I can tell you that I rarely felt empowered even though that is what I was seeking from my partners. I more often than not felt like total trash–disposable. This is not a feeling I want for either of my children.

    I think, in the end, that my kids will have to make their own decisions and I will do my best to be honest and approach the subjects of abstinence and casual sex with an open mind. I will explain the realities and the consequences of both situations and hope that in the end, they will be smart enough to make the choice that will not hurt them–whichever it may be. I do believe now that abstinence until marriage or being in love is the best choice because of all of the baggage I now carry. I’ve been having trouble with it affecting my marriage and I would like to see my kids go into a lifelong partnership without such troubles. I think the best that I can do for them is to tell the truth, educate them properly about sex, and hope they make the decision that is best for them. That’s all any parent can do, anyway.

    I’ll hop off my soapbox now…

    Bethany

    • admin says:

      I’ve been thinking about this comment for a few hours. First of all, wow… and thank you for sharing something so intimate. I can totally understand where you’re coming from, and where that behavior came from.

      At the same time, your line, “the consequences it inevitably brings” is not fair… while that’s your experience, it’s heavily biased by how you personally felt casual sex was for you which was weighed heavily with your sexual assault and the years following.
      The same phrasing could be said, by someone with negative experiences about anything: marriage, divorce, dating… so while your experience was crappy, that doesn’t mean that it is that way for all people, nor that those who engage in it are survivors of assault or those seeking some answers (either physically or mentally). Your experience =! the experience of others, and that’s part of what I was trying to address in my own bias here in this entry.

      Again, thank you for sharing this.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree. I was thinking while I was typing my first comment that I was probably biased due to my negative experience. However, I don’t know that I’ve ever met a woman who engaged in casual sex and truly enjoyed it or felt empowered by it. That’s not to say such people don’t exist–I just have never met them. I met a variety of women in the military who had casual sex and brought home different partners every day of every weekend and none of them struck me as particularly happy. In fact, I even had one show up at my door freaking out because she’d brought two men home and was regretting her decision. So again, probably bias on my part.

        I don’t disagree that there are women out there who can handle the emotional side of casual sex (and there is one). I personally have never met any of these women and I was a part of a fairly large organization where casual sex is a standard part of life (oh the joys of the military). Again, I’m not saying these women don’t exist, I just feel that women who enjoy casual sex and are not affected by it negatively are the exception rather than the rule.

        But overall, I have often struggled with not letting my own personal experiences dictate my opinions and the advice I often give. While I don’t believe my experience should be completely disregarded, you are right, it is not the same as everyone else’s. It’s something I am working on.

        Thank you for listening/responding. I’ve been following you for awhile and though you may not be aware of it, you’ve really helped me expand my horizons in many areas of my parenting. I really appreciate your open-mindedness and your struggle to give your kids the best education and attitude towards life that you can. You always make me stop and think outside the box. Thanks for that.

        Bethany

        • admin says:

          I’m in the same boat, though not for the same reasons, but as I grow and learn more about people I end up meeting a lot of sexually confident women who chose to express that in a variety of ways… and I’ve learned a lot about how society pressures women to be virginal and pure while men are seen as hypersexual. That stigma puts a really heavy pressure on women to only enjoy sex the ‘right’ way, and I think that has a LOT to do with how many women feel about their more casual sex experiences. Culture shames them, so it’s hard not to feel ashamed as a result… even though you have no reason to.

        • I’d like to respectfully disagree with your assertion that there necessarily is an emotional response to casual sex. Now, because of outside judgement, there is some emotional entanglement, but that is not because of the sex itself. I think that is an important distinction.

  • I admire your parenting style when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality. I wish more parents were as open and honest about it as you are. Growing up my mom never talked about this stuff with us- we learned all about sex from ‘fully alive’ (horrible health/sex-ed books in elementary school)…and to be completely honest, this lack of ‘open communication’ has affected my sexual development as an adult. I am 26, and only in the past few months have I been comfortable saying that I am bisexual. I used to hide those feelings, suppress them because i thought they were ‘wrong’. Why should I feel bad about who I fall in love with? because mainstream society tells you it can only be a MAN and a WOMAN who fall in love.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant- but just wanted to say that I totally respect your views and I think they will help your kids grow in to mature, confident adults 🙂

  • starpolish says:

    How prescient, since I read this after just coming back from my city’s SlutWalk.

    I had the very same “I am better because I am a virgin” idea for a very, very long time, mostly because I was involved with a very shaming church. While I challenge my ideas constantly about what is okay regarding sexuality and others’ sexual choices, old shame and even other’s old shame seeps in. My most recent relationship ended after four years, and he was raised Catholic, including Catholic school. That guilt runs DEEP, despite the fact that his parents encouraged us living together before marriage, etc.

    I see a lot of sexuality/gender assigning with my niece already, and it makes me sad. I only hope that as her aunt, I can help influence her to understand she can be a virgin if she wants…but she should also be able to enjoy (safe, sane, consensual) sex is she wants, too.

  • chem_nerd says:

    Reminds me of one summer night… holy crap, it was 10 years ago now. I had just graduated from high school, and would be starting college in the fall. I went to high school in the US deep south where abstinance-only education was law – our health teacher thought it was stupid, but he legally couldn’t teach anything else. Needless to say, the state of North Carolina can show you ALL manner of examples in which abstinance-only education does not work.

    Well, I had never even had a boyfriend all through high school and was a social recluse who spent my Friday night home reading or watching Animal Planet – I’d have been given any information on sexuality, safe sex, et al that I had asked for, but like Tempest, I had very little interest in it, so I didn’t bother asking. But this one night, my Dad and I were at one group camp and my Mom and sisters were at another (my parents are missionaries – though not the in-your-face evangelical variety – and we spent the summer at a number of church camps all over Russia). As the kids are getting ready for bed, my Dad came and found me where I was attempting to read a book in insufficient light, and told me to put it away before I made my eyes any worse than they already were – we were going for a walk. So we went and walked through the meadow near our camp site for a couple of hours – Dad, knowing that his naive, abstinance-only educated not-little-anymore girl was about to go out into the real world, and that she was probably clueless. So we talked for two hours, about casual sex, and safe sex, and protected sex, and sexuality in the dorm, and numerous other related topics. It was awkward as all get out for both of us. But to this day, that remains one of the single most valued things my Dad has ever done for me – I never needed the information when I was in college, but Dad cared enough to make sure that I had it. He gets major points on that one.

    • admin says:

      That’s really cool of him. 🙂

      • chem_nerd says:

        Yep. The faculty at my sisters’ school – his coworkers for a number of years – would likely have been shocked and horrified that he actually spoke honestly with his kids about sex, never mind that I was 18 years old and not a child anymore. Unfortunately, the number of English-speaking schools in Moscow is… limited, and neither are exactly great options. That one is the ‘if you don’t believe precisely what we do, you are going to Hell’ option – granted, probably still an improvement over the one with snotty xenophobic dip-brats and the occasional drug problem, but it still makes me glad that they’ve been able to get my youngest sister into the Berlin public school system before she starts high school this year. I’m actually a politically moderate, religiously moderate Christian, and some of the faculty at the school in Moscow would likely consider me some close kin of the antichrist because I voted for Obama (and am planning to vote for him again) and have found my politics, while still pretty moderate, leaning further and further left, likely as a result of having been through high school and college during the Bush administration… (Yes, I know that christianity and the democratic party are not mutually exclusive, but I dare you to try and convince them of that). Yeah – there are somethings I didn’t talk about when I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge helping my Dad grade Physical Science tests…

  • I can’t really figure out why, but this picture reminded me of Tempest, but older:

    Photobucket

  • jadethe2nd says:

    Talking about casual sex in particular is something I want to handle very carefully with Dinah, in part because that is how she was conceived and I don’t want her to transfer any negative connotations she picks up on it to herself and her existence. It’s tricky because while I don’t think having casual sex is bad, it does need to be acknowledged that any unexpected complications arising from it will likely be a lot more complicated than if they were to arise in a committed relationship.

    Thankfully the subject hasn’t come up yet, so I have some time to think about my approach 😉

  • admin says:

    I JUST watched that one (I jumped around a bit). I cried the whole way through. 🙁 They seemed a lot younger than many of the other couples featured on the show, somehow… And yet a lot more mature at the same time. It was really sad seeing them go through the humiliation and shame from their families about giving their baby up, and the letter Tyler wrote to his baby was heartbreaking.
    Apparently they’re still together. I immediately went out and did Google searches about that hoping to find that out… because of all the couples there, they seemed like the ones with the most promise to make it.

  • _evalution says:

    have you seen this monologue by julie sweeney, about discussing sex with her daughter? it makes me laugh till i cry.

    http://youtu.be/Ry-LwxR746s

    i grew up with some very prudish messages about sex, in a very very fundamentalist christian home. it’s a constant struggle for me to know how and what to discuss with my kids, especially as L gets older and asks a lot more questions about the HOWS of baby making, and HOW a dad can have a kid if he can’t get pregnant? even though i think of myself as really open minded and liberal, and totally thought i’d be a parent who discusses things factually and without shaming or freaking out or bias, it really throws up all those old messages about sex being taboo and bad when she asks something. it’s harder to discuss that i expected. and i feel like for her safety, she needs to understand how sex works and what is okay, and when, and what isn’t.

    • admin says:

      It’s a LOT harder than people realize to get past the way you were brought up. When that stuff is ingrained in you from an early age, and it’s very black and white, you grow up with a blockade in your brain about it. The fact that you’re putting so much thought into the issue is huge, and you’re already ahead of the pack… many find it too difficult. So with that in mind, good for you. It’s crazy how much effort it takes simply to be *neutral* about an issue that you were raised believing was bad.

  • wolfteaparty says:

    I used to have the same slut-shaming attitudes, as well as an image in my head of bitchy, nasty backstabbing girls who were promiscuous, and nice girls who saved themselves for The One. I thought casual sex was a gross, nasty, sleazy thing to do. It is really easy to adopt such attitudes without realizing it. I began shedding these attitudes when I wound up with a lot of polyamorous friends. While not the same as casual sex, it still defies the norm of sexual allegiance to only one’s husband. I also needed to revise my outlook when I ended up being single for a very long time, with no relationship in sight. When you’re single long-term, casual sex starts looking like an attractive option when it’s either that or being sexually frustrated. It is also easier to find people who want sex than people who want a relationship.

    Weddings are now kind of disturbing to me, for the reasons you describe. I know that most people are no longer consciously thinking that a woman becomes her husband’s property when she gets married, but certain aspects of the ceremony still symbolize it, and there is still that double standard that men are allowed to play the field and women who do the same are sluts. (At my college, girls stood a chance of slut rumors going around about them even if they were still virgins.)

  • I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how being queer has redefined and shifted the expectations I had for myself and my life. If I’d grown up straight, I’d imagine I’d be like my cousins, falling into serious relationships in college, getting married a couple years after graduation, settling in a house in the same 5 mile radius where most of my extended family lives. But being the black sheep, and not particularly accepted or supported, pushed me out, led me to live in the city where I am now with a great group of friends I count as family.

    In large part, we only took what we wanted from our upbringings, and traditional ideas about monogamy and slut-shaming just didn’t come along. There are certainly loving committed relationship, but there’s also a lot of cross-pollination. For instance, I’m moving in with a friend, R, who’s buying a house. I know her because she dated my ex, D. Now she’s dating another girl I dated last summer, A. I went on a second date last night and figured out through the course of the conversation that she’d gone on a date with R a while back. And that’s just one relationship in my life. I know plenty of people with friends-with-benefits arrangements and two couples who’ve been having foursomes with each other recently. It’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of nice. It’s certainly never boring, and I like that about my life.

    • That brings up another interesting thought: in my area of Kansas, there’s a lot of acceptance (comparatively) for females in queer relationships. I’m only really familiar with my area, so my experience is rather limited, but the slut-shaming seems to back off if the other person is a woman. I don’t even begin to understand if this is because society doesn’t acknowledge these affairs to be “real” sex or if perhaps the perceived girl-on-girl action isn’t deemed threatening. For example: a bisexual woman can go about and have many affairs with other women while dating a man and it turns heads, but she isn’t labelled a whore. Not so if the side dalliances are heterosexual. I just think that’s such a strange mix of cultural reactions to a woman’s sex life, I had to share.

  • mamiecaisse says:

    .

    I read an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow recently where she talks about motherhood and how, now that her children are a bit older, she is surprised about how MINDFUL she has to be as a parent, that by continuing to parent by instinct at this stage she might somehow “ruin’ them. I’m not sure I fully understood what she meant until I read your post and thought of her statement in reference to issues of teaching about sexuality.

    While I think my mom did a remarkably brilliant job considering the era/culture SHE grew up in, I still strive to do better. Yet, it would be so EASY to stick to what we were taught or, worse, what society (particularly the all-pervasive American society) considers “acceptable.”

    It is kind of bitterly amusing to think that someone might look at Xan twirling in a rainbow-colored dress and think that you were somehow letting him wear whatever he wants out of some kind of parenting laziness rather than a conscious, mindful decision to let him express himself.

    To REALLY think about it, rather than make a snap judgement, one would quickly realize that, in reality, the lazy parent would have told him to put pants on before going out in public – so much easier to overpower/shame even the most willful four-year-old than it is to go out and help him learn to face society’s pressures and expectations head-on with confidence.

    As for sex itself, I think it has been especially eye-opening for me, as an American raising my children in Belgium, to see the open, straight-forward and honest approach that parents in this part of Europe take with their children. The Dutch, in particular, are known for their pragmatic attitude towards sex and, not surprisingly, the Netherlands has the lowest rate of teen pregnancy, STD and abortion in the Western world. The following is a particularly good piece out of the University of Massachusetts comparing and contrasting American and Dutch attitudes towards sex and their respective outcomes: http://people.umass.edu/schalet/Contexts%202010.pdf

  • I feel I have the opposite internal response you do, but for similar reasons. The girls I caught flack from in high school were all in the Good Christian Clique (named in my head) and routinely demonized me for having different opinions. Part of my support for myself involved my mentally reassuring myself that since I was better sexually educated and came from a family that encouraged me to learn about sexual issues and safely take part, that I was better. It took (and is taking) me a long time to realize that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by having this unchanging black and white view of women who made different sexual choices than I have. I worry what bias I will unintentionally pass down to my children, should I have any. I feel like the best anyone can do is to be cognizant of their own thoughts and the impact our cultures have had on them. Your kids are lucky to have such grounded, amazing parents.

    • admin says:

      It’s really interesting to hear a perspective from the “other” side (at least, from where I stood at the time). Thank you for this.

      • I’m curious if you run into another issue that I also have trouble with. I feel that now I make an effort to be more cautious with my reactions in regards to sexual issues, the more it feels the people who were once in my corner, so to speak, seem so antagonistic. Does that make sense?
        For instance, I have a friend who feels I am being wishy-washy if I try to take a more measured response to a person declaring they have decided they are more comfortable waiting for waiting before becoming sexually active. As to my part, I feel I shouldn’t have to grill them or hear their life’s story. I should just assume they have the capacity for critical thought and unsolicited advice in that arena isn’t my place. And at the same time, if feels strange to suddenly have this divide between us. I’m not terribly great at explaining things, so I am sorry if that comes across a bit jumbled.

        • admin says:

          Not about sexuality, but I do note it in other issues (like discussions about racism or sexism, for instance). Most people don’t enjoy having their biases and prejudices challenged, whether they’re aware of them or not… in particular if they weren’t. I think the knee-jerk reaction is a part of that. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I’m feeling that way that’s usually what it’s about. A little bit of embarrassment, a little bit of shame, because I’m worrying if the person I’m talking to thinks I’m stupid for holding onto something that they managed to let go of.

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