*** WARNING: I AM SERIOUS, IF YOU KNOW ME AND WE GO OUT TO DINNER AND YOU HAVE TO MAKE POLITE CONVERSATION DURING WHICH IT IS NECESSARY TO LOOK ME IN THE EYE, YOU MIGHT REGRET HAVING READ THIS POST ***
***WARNING: ACTUALLY, MOST OF THE POSTS I HAVE PLANNED FOR THIS WEEK ARE OFF-LIMITS ***
*** WARNING: THEY’RE ALL ABOUT GETTING IT ON ***
I am, as you may know, a former educator about the Human Sexual Urges, and how best to gratify them. (MEANING: I sold sex toys, but I had to talk to people about what they wanted and how best to make that happen, for my shop was of the Sex-Positive and Educational variety!) I earned slightly more than minimum wage for my expertise, so you can imagine that I am quite the whiz.
Actually, the most important part of having educational conversations about the HSUs is realizing that no-one, ever, really, is comfortable having them; there is always a delicate balance, when talking about one’s sexual habits, between being overly graphic and coming across as a lascivious weirdo who is just having this conversation so that you can masturbate about it later, or being “polite” according to normal social conventions and basically not saying anything at all. My one great gift in this arena is that I find sex to be totally fascinating in an abstract way, and also was born with a defective Shame Gland, and so could have relatively specific and instructional two-way conversations on the topic of, say, how best to put things up your butt for sex reasons, in a chipper and detached manner, as if I were telling the customers which vacuum cleaner attachments were best for cleaning their upholstery. Once you can convince a middle-aged heterosexual man who is shopping with his wife that you really don’t CARE that he puts things up his butt for sex reasons, and that your chief concern is that he does so in a way that is both medically safe and personally fulfilling, the conversation gets a lot easier.
Do you know what I have never done, however? I have never taught a child about sex! Which is why this comment fascinated me so:
I hereby submit a request for a post about how to talk to our pre-pubescent daughters about this thing they hear about called “sex” (as in, where-do-babies-come-from kind of sex). When I tentatively told my almost-nine-year-old daughter about the sperm and the egg gettig together, I was vague about the mechanics because I refused to tell her “he sticks his penis in you”, like it’s something that happens to her, like her role is one of passivity. I didn’t want that to be the first thing she ever heard about the mechanics of the act. But, I didn’t want to say, “you put your vagina on him”…I mean, when she’s trying to grasp the basic facts of HOW this occurs…the question of agency, of who does what to whom and HOW, was so freaking tricky that I really didn’t tell her any details at all… as a feminist, and as her mother, I’d really like to give her the non-misogynist, non-passive view of her part in the act before she hears about it otherwise. You’re the first person I’ve run across on the web with a blog that might actually be open to hosting a discussion about the language involved in introducing, from a feminist perspective, the basics of how “traditional” conception is accomplished. You up for it?
I sure am! Because, also, there was this comment:
You know what? I think your comment has totally changed my approach to how to talk to my daughter about this. “”Sex” is an umbrella term which I’ve used to denote a wide variety of consensual activities intended to help the parties involved get off. Masturbation is sex; mutual masturbation or digital stimulation of one party by another is sex; oral sex is sex; anal sex is sex; pivving is sex.” I kinda want to explain “s-e-x” to her like this, even exactly in those words, but how do you define “get off” to a pre-adolesent?
It is a fascinating question! One which I have never before attempted to answer! However, here is why it is important to me: had we been having these conversations all along, there might be a significantly smaller part of the population stumbling into Educational Sex-Positive Spaces feeling deep embarrassment that they (gasp!) enjoy the sex that is not all about Making Babies, or staying away from those spaces and just sort of fumbling through unsafe or unsexy sex in which their instructions come from either equally clueless former partners or (at best) tremendously unrealistic porn. (Seriously, people: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: using mainstream porn to teach yourself how to have sex is like the government using Die Hard as an anti-terrorism manual.) Indeed, if we were raising all our kids with a comfortable, positive attitude towards the Sex, including the Sex that is not undertaken for purposes of Making Babies, we might have a far more progressive national conversation re: sex and people who aren’t necessarily setting out to Make Babies with it (GLBT folks, ladies on birth control, etc.) in general!
So, for the record, here is how I would set out to have this conversation with a child. I am going to say, a child of about five or six. Not being a parent myself, I am hoping that parents will chime in with corrections and additional thoughts!
“You know, [Timmy and/or Suzy], I think it is time for you to know some stuff about how our bodies work. This is stuff you will not need to know many details about until you are grown up, because it is a very grown-up topic, but I think you are probably old enough to know some basics about it right now.
“We’ve already talked about how your privates are private, right? They belong to you, and you should never feel like you have to let another person touch them or look at them, and you should never try to force another person to show you theirs or let you touch them. If someone tries to do this to you, you know that you need to come to me and tell me that, because that is a very serious, very bad thing to do to someone, and people who do it need to be punished.”
I like to start the conversation off by emphasizing that violating someone’s boundaries or doing anything non-consensual is a bad thing! I also think we need to teach the children that everyone else has boundaries, just like they do, and that they should respect the boundaries of others. I don’t assume that the children are out doing terrible things to each other, of course, but the fact is that we live in a culture that doesn’t stress full and informed consent as a prerequisite, so stressing that at home is a good solid idea.
“Now: when you grow up, your privates are going to change [I KNOW, THIS IS DORKY. ROLL WITH IT – Ed.] and touching them or having them touched will feel good. This isn’t going to happen to you for a long time. People need to be grown up before they touch each other in those ways. There are a lot of ways that grown-ups touch each other to make each other feel good, and as long as they both want to do this and they like each other, that’s a good thing. It can be a way for people who are in love to express that, for example. Sometimes girls do this with girls, sometimes boys do this with boys, and sometimes boys and girls do it with each other. Every grown-up has their own favorite ways to touch someone or to be touched, and, again: as long as the people who are involved are grown-ups, and they like each other, and they both want to do it, that’s a good thing.”
THIS IS TOTALLY VAGUE. I know! You can see why I want parents to actually weigh in on this business! But I think it is important to stress that this stuff is done for the purpose of feeling good, and that there are lots of ways that it happens other than the old Procreative Heterosexual Intercourse, and that all of those ways are cool and good and potentially loving but at the very least friendly. So, you know, we’re not doing that whole thing where everyone’s genitals are referred to as Baby-Making Devices and other ways of doing it are invisible or shameful and sexualities other than Cisgendered Heterosexual Missionary-Position Enthusiasm are erased.
“Now: one of the ways that grown-up people like to touch each other can lead to having a baby. Some people enjoy having their partner’s penis inside their vagina; some people enjoy having their penis inside their partner’s vagina.”
See? Let’s not talk about sticking-it-in versus enveloping-it. It’s a thing that people like! On both ends! So, you know. Let’s just talk about the fact that the thing has another thing in there. I really dislike terms that imply one person doing sex to another person, especially since the doer is typically a dude with a dick and the done-to is typically a lady with a vagina, which sort of erases the fact that ladies with vaginas are active participants in consensual sex, or should be, and ends up reinforcing both rape culture and the denial of women’s sexual agency.
“When this happens, cells called sperm can come from the penis through the vagina, into a space just behind the vagina, which is called the uterus. Those sperm cells combine with egg cells inside the uterus to make a fetus, which is the start of a baby. The fetus grows inside the uterus, and when it’s fully grown, it comes through the vagina and is a baby. Having a baby is a serious decision, and not all people who want to do this with each other want to have babies afterward, so they take certain medicines or use other ways to make sure this doesn’t happen. It’s very important to realize, also, that touching another person in that private way, or being touched by another person, can make you sick. If you touch a person who’s sick in that way, you can catch what they have. So when you’re grown up, and you start to do this, you will need to know all the ways to be safe. These, we will talk about when you are more grown up.”
BIRTH CONTROL! SAFE SEX! NOT REFERRING TO FETUSES AS “BABIES!” Man, I feel progressive right now. I also feel like there is possibly no way I could actually have this conversation without running from the room in a mad panic, and that I am missing a whole lot. So, again: do you have anything better for me, here?
“So, do you have any questions?”