Our society is incredibly prudish. Discussions of sex often turn people red with anger or embarrassment. Throw the subject of children into the mix and minds explode. When I began blogging about my then-7-year-old son identifying as gay, a lot of people went right to sex, no matter how ridiculous that may have been. "How can a kid that young know about anal sex?" they asked. My answer? He doesn't. Why would he? In my mind, 7 years old is a little young to know the details of any sex act. Now my kid is 9 years old (and he still doesn't know about sex acts), and puberty is hanging on the horizon. My little boy will soon start becoming a little man, and as a gay-identified kid, what kind of sexual knowledge will he need? How will "the sex talk" be different for him? I don't have real answers to these questions, but I am trying to figure it out.
The first thing I realized was the phrase "the sex talk" is misleading. As someone way smarter than I pointed out, "the sex talk" isn't just one conversation. It is lots of conversations. It started when my son was a baby and we taught him the names of all his body parts. Like a lot of parents in our generation, we didn't go for cute little nicknames for our son's sex organs. Instead he learned the names "penis," "testicles," and "scrotum." These words aren't dirty, and there was no reason he shouldn't know the right names for his own body parts. So, about 8 years ago, without even realizing it, we began the sex talk, and things just moved on from there.
When I gave birth to a little boy, I had no idea how much time I would spend in the following years talking about penises. After three little boys going through their discovery phases, I have said "Please put your penis away" more times than I ever thought possible. And that's really the next part of the sex talk. We teach our kids that parts of their bodies are private, and that bringing their penis out at the grocery store isn't really the coolest thing to do (especially around your grandmother, who gets really upset about it). We teach our kids to protect themselves and let them know that other people are not allowed to touch them on their "swimsuit area" or in any way that makes them uncomfortable. For us, all these talks took place before first grade, before any of us was thinking about sex.
All those things are basic, but now we are getting to the more advanced learning. I started researching what people think we should be telling kids about sex at this age. Almost all the experts seem to agree that what we think of as the "traditional" sex talk should happen by fifth grade. As much as it may horrify parents, some kids are fully physically capable of having sex by age of 11 or 12 (and maybe younger). They need to know how babies are made, the more explicit version of what I told my sons when I was pregnant with their little brothers: that "a mommy part" and "a daddy part" come together inside mommy's body, where the baby then grows. I remember these talks from when I was a kid. For me and a lot of others my age, they took place at school, with one class for boys and one class for girls. Everyone was uncomfortable, and no one, including the teachers, wanted to be there. It was all very clinical, and I think most of us left more confused than we'd been when we'd entered.
But let's admit it: Sex is weird. Yes, it is natural and beautiful and all that good stuff, but when you are a kid, it's just freaking odd. Adults talk to kids about it in such a way that it makes everyone uneasy. They say that it's something that everyone does, that otherwise we all wouldn't be here, but that kids shouldn't really talk about it and should never do it. And it's scary. On top of the general anxiety, there is the possibility of pregnancy and diseases. That's big stuff to think about when we're in high school and college, but at 11?
So here's when we get to the part with my husband and me staring at each other across the living room. Our kid is growing up. Our gay kid is growing up. And while he definitely needs to know all the physiology of how tiny humans are created, and about birth control (because let's face it, everyone needs to know that stuff), that's not where the talk ends for him. And we are faced with questions: Where should we go from there? When is the right age to start talking to him about sex as men have it together? And what should we cover? It's complicated. Despite popular culture's belief, not all gay men have anal sex. It's not required. Frottage and oral sex are much more popular. And on the flip side, anal sex is getting a lot more popular with heterosexuals.
It was at this point in our questioning that we realized that not only do the sex talks need to be different for our oldest son, but they need to be different for all our sons. We want our kids to have all the knowledge they need to keep them and their partners safe. As a society, we usually don't discuss sex like this with presumably straight kids, and I can't help but think that we should. And the discussion of safer sex needs to go beyond "Hey, kid, here's a condom."
I'm not a childhood sexuality expert. I'm just a mom. But I am a mom trying to do her best to raise a gay son to love and celebrate who he is, and that includes his body and how he expresses himself romantically. The problem is that there aren't a lot of resources out there. So I want to start a discussion about it here on The Huffington Post. I plan for this to be the first in a series of posts about talking about sex to our gay kids -- because we need to figure out how to do it. And hopefully we can help all our kids in the process.