I finished “Girls and Sex.”
It was a lot harder to read than I expected – which is to say, it was really, really important.
The book ends on the note of “what we need to do to change the mess.” More than anything else, as I telegraphed in my last post, is talk to girls (and boys) about pleasure.
The author writes of talking with a mom like herself – progressive and feminist – about talking to her daughter about mastubration and orgasm, to which the mom replies, as so many adult caregivers would, “They don’t want to hear about that from *us*!”
So common a response… and yet, as a non-parent, all I could think was: On what other subject do parents accept that, if their kid doesn’t want to hear it, they won’t try say it? Especially, on what other subject on which so much of a person’s health, wellbeing, happiness, or even their SURVIVAL might depend?
Orenstein goes on to cite survey data that shows that the majority of teens report WANTING to hear more about sex. So it’s factually inaccurate to say that kids, overall, don’t want to hear it. But even if an adult caregiver is reading this and thinking, “Well maybe most kids do, but MY kid doesn’t!” consider how you feel about talking to them about wearing a bicycle helmet, drinking alcohol, walking alone at night, driving a car… on what subject DO teenagers want to hear from their parents? They don’t want to hear you say, “WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!” Are you therefore not going to say it to them?
I believe that when adult caregivers say, “My kid doesn’t want to hear about sex from me!” what they’re actually feeling is, “Neither I nor my kid feels comfortable in that conversation.”
And fair enough. Adult caregivers, like the overwhelming majority of everyone else alive on Earth, have been exposed to their own bullshit culture of guilt, shame, disgust, and silence around sex.
So, adult caregivers, this is all the advice I can muster for you:
Reckon with your stuff.
Reckon, especially, with your own sexuality. Do the work of repairing the damage done to you by decades of cultural shaming, lies, moralizing, violence, coercion, guilt, ignorance, and fear. It’s part of your job as a person responsible for bringing up a new human into the adult world, that you try, as far as you can, not to do to your kid the same damage that was done to you.
Make the world a little better by making your OWN sex life less poisoned by the toxic culture. (How? May I recommend a certain book on the subject of women’s sexual pleasure, as a useful place a to start?)
When you help make the world less toxic for you, you’re helping to make it less toxic for the younger people whose development and happiness has been handed to you. It’s okay – it’s normal, almost inevitable – to feel ambivalent about “promoting” sexual wellbeing in a young person by talking openly and compassionately and honestly about sex. How could you avoid feeling ambivalent about their sexual wellbeing, if you can’t even avoid feeling ambivalent about your OWN sexual wellbeing?
But for the sake of your your person, as well as for your own sake… Reckon with your stuff.
I know it can be scary. I know it’s like the boxes in the attic that have sat there, unpacked and untouched by anything but spiders and mice for decades. But there’s treasure in there. It’s worth it. Don’t leave it for the mice to nibble, so that all you pass on to your kid is a dilapidated box. For you. For your kid. Reckon with your stuff.