The following is an interview I did with my 14-year-old daughter after she graduated from the Unitarian Universalists “Our Whole Lives” (OWL) Sexuality Education Program. This OWL course was the program for 7th to 9th graders, and it ran for 26 weeks covering about everything it possibly could in that time frame – values, gender identity, healthy relationships, to name a few topics. I asked Marcia a few questions as we drove in the car – Cindy was also with us and chimed in a few times. It was done over a series of conversations in the car so there were interruptions. I’ve transcribed the essentials below.
Me: So, parents will want to know, now that you have all of this great sex education, does it make you want to run out and do it?
Marcia: Um, No! Actually having information makes you less curious because no one is hiding information from you. If you’re hiding information, and I mean it’s obvious if you’re hiding information – adults aren’t very good at hiding it especially if they know it’s like “ew, embarrassing”. Not hiding it and just saying it straight out makes kids not necessarily want to go out and be rebellious because they already know. And if you hide info from your kids, they’re more likely to go out and turn to other sources or try it out for themselves.
Me: You said it’s “obvious when parents are hiding something.” How do you know?
Marcia: Well, I’ve got a mother. (I guffaw. She laughs, says “Um, yeah. I love you.”) It’s obvious because if they’re hiding it means they’re not telling you so they’re doing what they can to avoid the subject and that’s also very obvious. Because if there’s a sudden change in subject, then there’s probably something you’re not “supposed to” know. If kids don’t get good information from the people they trust and the people they trust don’t give them information, they’re going to turn to less accurate resources. And it’s actually so much better to tell your kids exactly what they need to know in their life than to have them turn to websites and learn stuff that may not be true.
Me: So you and I talked about how lots of parents don’t have good information because they didn’t learn it.
Me: I imagine some parents don’t talk to their kids just cause they don’t know what to say cause they didn’t learn it themselves…
Marcia: read mom’s book. (chuckles)
Me: heh, nice pitch.
Marcia: Yeah, right?
Me: What would you say to parents who don’t have any info…
Marcia: don’t Google it, please.
Me: …if their kids ask them.
Marcia: Turn to an expert…like, mom. Lanae St.John, her book is called “Raising Sex Smart Kids”… Anyway, um, turn to an expert because if you turn to Google or the internet. I mean we turn to Google for just about everything in our lives but sex and sex education, it’s not a good source. Talk to my mom.
Me: Did you learn something that you didn’t know from your mom?
Marcia: Yeah, well first of all, I learned that a birth control sponge can be a barrier method AND it has spermicide in it.
(little sister Cindy is in the background and has been listening in, now asks)
Cindy: What’s that?
Marcia: Eh, you’ll learn about it… awww, well, okay, this is a teaching moment! (to sister) A barrier method. What do you think that is?
Cindy: A barrier is something that’s hard to get passed.
Marcia: Yeah, and if it’s a birth control sponge… So, it’s a barrier for what?
Marcia: Sperm, mm hmm and do you know what spermicides are?
Cindy: (feeling sassy) “A” Plus! …What?
Marcia: It kills sperm.
Me: The root word “-icide” is in words like insecticide, pesticide. It’s a Latin root which means to kill. So spermicide means it kills sperm.
We got interrupted from our “interview” but came back to it when Marcia wanted to correct something.
Me: So you corrected me that the sponge wasn’t your biggest takeaway. What was?
Marcia: That we are sexual beings for our entire lives. We should learn more about our bodies. We will still have the knowledge of math, language arts we get in our schoolwork. But we should learn about ourselves the first thing.
Me: That is a wonderful segue. Author Peggy Orenstein, you know that name, posted a picture on her facebook page of the American Girl “Care and Keeping of Me, Book 2” a while back and it contains this picture.
Marcia: …a picture of the vulva. 5
Me: What do you notice?
Marcia: Not all of the parts are labeled.
Me: Which ones?
Marcia: The clitoris, clittoral hood, the outer and inner labia.
Me: (totally fangirling on my kid at this point) Beautiful! Wonderful! I think it’s adorable that you know all the parts! Aaah!!
Marcia: (mumbling) oh my god, mom.
Me: Okay. This is a book intended for older girls. What do you think of this?
Marcia: I think it should have a little more information. Yeah. It’s saying “this is what you have” and then even in the picture it shows this thing but it doesn’t label it. That’s gonna make them turn to other sources to find out what it is. Possibly. Unless they can turn to a parent, and sadly that’s actually not very likely.
Me: Right on.
Marcia: So American Girl wouldn’t label the clitoris?
Me: I guess not. That’s what it looked like, didn’t it? I wonder who decided that. And why. Was it TMI and were they trying to be minimal?
Marcia: I guess it is because the clitoris is really sensitive and it has erectile tissue and it, …I learned about this except now I can’t remember.
Me: It’s only function is pleasure.
Marcia: That. Yeah.
Me: Do you think it’s because the only function is pleasure…
Marcia: Yeah, cuz if people ask what is the clitoris for and then people have to say it’s for pleasure.
Me: So, if you were going to teach parents, as a kid talking to parents, about what’s ok/what’s not okay, what would you…
Marcia: (interrupting) Well everything’s okay. I’d focus on values. That’s a really important aspect. I’d also focus on what to do and go over options in case of unplanned pregnancies. Telling them they have more options than abortion or adoption.
Me: What are the options?
Marcia: Like keep the baby. Open adoption – which is when you get to see your child grow up and someone else can take care of them, as opposed to a closed adoption where you don’t.
Me: I recall you had an exercise where you wrote your goals, or you were asked when you think you could be a mom…
Marcia: Yes, that was where I said, if you can’t take responsibility for the possibility of having a child when you have sex, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all.
Me: When do you think you want to have kids?
Marcia: Want to or ready to?
Marcia: Ready to is when I have a sustainable job and a partner who can help me. And I don’t know when I’d want to. I guess when I feel I’m ready?
I was thinking that I would tell my kids that if they can’t talk to their partner about sex, then they shouldn’t be having it. It seemed to be an Okay concept. Yet Marcia seemed to develop that all on her own after her extensive sexuality education both in my home and through OWL.
When I’ve suggested this concept to adults though they don’t like the idea at all. It is a challenge, that’s for sure. It is tough to talk about sex, what you want and need. It’s tough to bring up STI testing and results with a new partner. The very notion that “if you can’t talk about it, you shouldn’t be doing it” would be nearly impossible for lots of people these days because of the monumentally ineffective sex ed they did get. They didn’t learn much so to actually be required to talk about it when they have societal messages telling them the opposite? “Say what you want?” Risk being outed as a slut? Or kinky? Or a perv? (I mean this in the good way) Or that you really are not that interested at all? There’s too much at stake. It would take a whole separate blog post to go into the socialization that pushes people to “pair off”.
Our home has been living out the complete opposite of what some abstinence-only sex educators believe; that no one needs to be taught about sex, but they should just “do what comes naturally” when the time comes. In order for one to derive any real pleasure and enjoyment, I believe a person can very much benefit from more education about how things work and debunking the harmful myths out there.
So, tldr? My 14-year-old thinks, “If you’re not ready to take responsibility for the possibility of having a kid, then you shouldn’t be having sex.”
Bam. That is the opinion of a 14-year-old who has lived with accurate sexuality information her whole life. I am so proud.
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