We send our children to school, some of us, pricey private schools, and hope that they are gaining knowledge that will eventually make them happy, productive, successful. I think we all place our bets on the side of education, in expectation that knowledge is power and we sure as fuck want to make our kids as powerful as possible. How he hell else am I going to get my private jet?
But while we invest in that type of learning, there is another type that is happening less and less often- sex ed. I remember a time where I sat in a classroom (probably around 5th grade) and was shown diagrams of a penis and its inner workings (to the horror of my classmates and I), and later a female equivalent. Men had erections and ejaculations. Women have periods and unplanned pregnancies. The ribbon that tied us all together, were sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion made it's way into the conversation also, along with images of aborted babies, not unlike the video of a still-breathing 12 week old fetus laying on an open palm that makes its rounds around the internet once in a while. What was missing from that conversation, which felt so open and graphic, was pleasure. Never was there a mention of joy, honor, consent, reciprocity. We never spoke of identity, of attraction, of gender expression, of relationship agreements. We missed the most important parts of sexuality, an replaced them with a rather hollow anatomy lesson. *look up the genderbread person for a more well-rounded view of sexual education*
In case you didn't notice, there was no mention in my sex ed class about g-spots, clitorises or moisture. No mention of orgasms, much less multiple orgasms, of anal sex, oral sex, prostate massages. No mention of toys, of lube, of all of the things adults actually use to have amazing sex. Knowing that sex issues is one of the top 2 reasons for divorce, shouldn't we be spending more time teaching our children about the pleasures of sex?
I was privileged to watch some amazing speakers at the AASECT conference in Denver a few weeks ago, setting fire to some dormant sides of me. I heard a woman by the name of Peggy Orenstein speaking about her experiences interviewing young sexually active girls about their expectations. You can hear her TED talk which summarizes the talk that we received here. As it turns out, we are doing such a terrible job at teaching our kids about sexual reciprocity, that we then have an entire society of boys receiving blowjobs having never even touched a woman's vagina (much less tasted it), not in small part because they didn't even want them to. Like this part of our bodies is so undesirable that it is disgusting to expect someone to put their mouth on it.
We expect men to know how to touch women, how to treat them, how to bring them pleasure- but we never even taught them where that pleasure comes from, much less how to move their hands or tongues or bodies. We basically sent them out into the world thinking that women should not be expected to have orgasms, but rather be convinced into enduring whatever we have to endure so that they can receive theirs. We robbed them of their romantic tendencies to pave the way for their sexual appetite. Like those two couldn't co-exist in harmony. Imagine the logical side effect of this: boys tend to date younger and less experienced girls (ones the match their experience level) and create a risky power dynamic where they can get what they want because they "know more"- this power dynamic can easily become habitual and exploited, leading to a cyclically low relationship satisfaction, abusive and manipulative tendencies.
One of the most beautiful quotes that Orenstein mentioned was "we expect sex to be hot, but we don't expect it to be warm". We forgot to teach about caring, about making sure you are honoring the body you are sharing at the same time that we are honoring our own. I love the concept of wanting to respect our desires and to share our pleasure.
We also avidly discussed how damaging it is to say that someone "lost their virginity". Like you can misplace a part of yourself, an object, something that carried more value than not having it at all. Do we really have to give more value to one over the other? As if person who knows how to connect, who shares in body and experience, who feels intense orgasms while in intense company... is somehow less worthy than one who does not. We agree that redefining the loss of virginity must also be included in the new solutions. In this day in age, when we can have multiple experiences with multiple partners of any and no gender, perhaps the best approach is to define a first sexual experience as a moment when you share an orgasm with another person. It would almost be described as something you gain, as opposed to something you lose. You have now gained the ability to reach climax while sharing your body with another. That seems like an amazingly powerful gift.
So my suggestions are this: when you begin talking to your kids about sex, you can start as early as possible (especially since they won't remember very much and you can get all the practice you need making it less awkward for yourself). I like to use the term "sharing your body" so that kids are aware of what is happening, especially since sex is not always penetrative, is not always orgasmic, and is not always heterosexual. I also like to give them the recognition of being trusted with when to share their bodies- studies show that no trauma is caused from a child touching another child of the same age, or kids with other kids- trauma comes from changes in power dynamics and that being used to ensure some type of secrecy. In fact, children are not traumatized by -gasp!- walking in on their parents in the throws of passion. But they would be traumatized if a series of strongly worded phrases force them into keeping their mouth shut. At the end of the day, connection is the most important key to avoiding trauma (this is why talk therapy works, folks!). This does not mean tell your kids to go find a poor little victim to jump on because they want to explore what the opposite sex looks like, it just means you don't have to be as worried as you probably are about it.
The most important thing to remember, is that it is up to you to fill the void in their sex education. Their knowledge of their sexual expression, attraction, identity. These are all ideas that you have to help them understand. We must first teach them labels so that they learn that labels are very useful for communication- but that labels don't encompass everything. We are not just an outlined definition in a book, we are dynamic and blurry-edged, but we can describe who we are more accurately to others if we know what the definitions mean.
The lessons start at home, they start before you know what is happening, and if you don't get a jump start on the information, someone else will do the teaching.