Friday, June 20, 2008

Kids and sex? That question is best directed to me...

I was over reading Sci-Fi Dad's blog today. As I have been in general, I've been a bad, bad cyberfriend to Sci-Fi Dad and his wife, who is expecting. I'm behind on the pregnancy and life updates, how their little bunny is doing (especially with her new glasses), and so forth. I finally did my Google reader scan this morning (after clearing it the other day when it had over a 1000 unread, and since then, up to 200---you people impress me with your loquaciousness) and I was impressed to see that the bunny has a redecorated room and that Sci-Fi dad has been busy on his many blogs and columns, yet still took time to answer reader questions.

Out of 14, 2 were dedicated to how he would deal with a teenage daughter/sexual creature.

It suddenly struck me that we are all very, very keen to ask men this question: how will you handle boys (read: slavering sexual beasts---nudge nudge wink wink, you know) coming on to your daughter (read: precious pure princess angel)?

Hmm, that presents a concept (stereotype) that troubles me on several levels.

It presumes that boys are sexually aggressive, implies just a wee bit at least that boys lack finer feelings and only want one thing, and from it we can infer that girls are sexually passive and require a dad to protect her innocence. It also shines a light on the gender-driven cultural dysfunction of sexuality both for women (madonna and whore) and men (hormonally driven out of control sexual creatures). And that's just at a start.

It honestly just struck me, this idea and thought.

I've asked this question too. I've joked about it, and all along, completely missed the implications of what I was saying---and the classic stereotypes I was perpetuating.

Speaking as a female who once---albeit it quite long ago---was a teen who dated boys who were also teens, I can say that at least in my experience this isn't the case.

Parents of course need to guide, arm and support their children, but I believe this goes equally for boys and girls. Even though it was over 20 years ago, I'll never forget the boy who questioned, oh-so-emotionally, why there was such a pressure for sex, and why holding hands didn't mean enough anymore.

Bottom line, talking about sex with kids is tough, but we must do it, and do it honestly, conveying to them the biology and sociology of it...with the same tone and undercurrent that displays our respect for them, and our understanding of them as individuals, and that their peers are individuals too---not nameless, faceless stereotypes out for any particular thing.

I did have to use No with more than a few boys more than a few times. It doesn't always work, I know that. And things happen where we have no control. However, setting that aside, speaking again from my experience, No can work quite well. In part, this is good sense: spending time with boys who were good people (and there are plenty) and choosing situations in which I felt safe.

That's because I learned I had choices and control, and an identity in and of myself, not related to what the opposite sex thought of me. I wasn't entirely free of desiring boys to find me desirable, or being boy crazy---not by a long shot. But I used my good sense. I also was able to usually rise above the idea that I had to be Pretty, and that my worth and value came from the superficial. I usually recognized that I had brains and personality and in the end, they'd last a lot longer (or so I hope).

That's what I hope to teach my girls.

I tend to have the lead on sexual education in our family. I'm not sure whether it's because I'm with the kids substantially more, or because we tacitly agree it's a girl thing. In truth, I think it's because my husband was raised with a lot of euphemisms, whereas my parents, although they didn't exactly have an open policy about it, did do their best to make themselves available and communicated a fair amount (more than some, less than others). Plus, my mom gave me books (you know the ones) and I'm a fairly open person and have less discomfort discussing this topic. To his credit, my husband responds to questions and queries openly and honestly, and I think he even breathes during the conversation too.

Most importantly, I encourage a healthy and loving and close relationship between my girls and their father. He is their first man they know, and I model and shape the base of how they think of men by how I treat and talk about my husband, just as he molds and shapes how they think of men by how he is in their lives. He works hard to be close and involved, a parent, not a fill-in, and in my opinion, it shows.

I hope it shows later in life, too.

So when people ask my husband---my girls' father---how he will handle Those Boys Who Come Sniffing Around, he responds with humor, which I think indicates his confidence that his girls will manage just fine.

But that's the funny thing: they always direct the question to him, and never to me, really. That's sort of ironic if you know the two of us well, and consider who we each are individually as people, rather then our gender.

I wonder why it is that we are so curious about fathers and daughters, and not so much about mothers and daughters, when it comes to the developing sexuality in our children. I wonder whether mothers of sons experience it differently.

When it comes to how my husband will handle boys in his daughters' lives, I think the young men have a much better shot with him than with me. (A) He's a much nicer person than I am in many regards, and (B) he's much more...hmm...how to explain this without totally doing the wrong thing...err...he's much less likely to give people---boys---a hard time.

He jokes about how he and I will double-date with the girls until they are 25 at least, and I joke about how boys will have to have the first date here at the house over the dinner table and that I will have to vet them before my girls can date them.

Here's the difference: he's really kidding and...I'm not. I'm serious. My girls will not date any boy I haven't met.

What will I do if I don't like one? We'll see. Maybe their dad's joke will turn into reality, after all.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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24 comments:

le35 said...

I think that I suffered slightly from the "If you want to talk about this, you can ask my anything, but it has to be in my bedroom behind closed doors" policy in my mom's house. I stopped talking to her and asked my sisters because I could do it any time.

apathy lounge said...

My mother's ignorance about sex was exceeded only by her acute shame over having to use real terms. She used a lot of "up there" and "down there" when referring the genitalia. She didn't ever answer our questions when we first began to ask them because she firmly believed that there was a certain time in life when people were ready to know something and just because they asked a question about it didn't mean that this was the time. That's why, when my baby sister asked her what a virgin was, she told her it was soil that had never been farmed before. Baggage, you ask? Yes...plenty.

wheelsonthebus said...

I worry more about raising boys to be respectful of women than I do about teaching a girl to say "no." I feel it is an awesome responsibility to raise sons who are the kind of men you would want near your daughters.

Jenny said...

I too have asked this question of friends whose girls are hitting the dating age. Your post really made me stop and think. As a mother of two daughters I dread that age, at least somewhat. So far, neither of them shows any signs of being shrinking violets so I don't really worry that they'll let themselves be walked on. What is it that gives me pause? Is it just a societal norm? Interesting...

flutter said...

well, actually let's be clear:

your girls will never date any boy that you haven't met- THAT YOU KNOW OF.

Family Adventure said...

This post is very timely, Julie. I have been nagging Mike to have 'the talk' with Christopher for weeks now. We are on the cusp of innocent girlfriendery. My experience is that girls are much more aware at a younger age than boys - my boy anyway. The girls are calling, msn-ing and texting like crazy. Christopher llikes the attention, but you can tell he doesn't really know what to do about it. That'll change, of course, hence the need for the 'talk'.

I am also aware of the stereotypes we so often use when it comes to male and female sexuality. And I had to laugh when I read your line about vetting any and all potential boyfriends. My thoughts were along the same line as flutter's - your girls are clever. They'll find a way! Scary, isn't it?

Heidi

PS: Thanks for that link on my blog today. Very insightful indeed. I'm still horrified, though.

Backpacking Dad said...

I get this question a lot, and my stock answer, as with most fathers, is some hand-waving about a shotgun.

Because that's what the people asking the question expect to hear. It's like we're in a Vaudeville act and they do the set up while I deliver the punchline.

But I never consider for a second that the answer I give to that question is taken seriously, or that I am supposed to deliver a serious answer. Because the serious answer is a complicated mixture of concern, experience, familiarity with exceptions, and helplessness. It isn't what the Setup Man is really after.

So when I am posed this question I take it as a joke, eliciting humor rather than making a statement.

But sometimes I'll give the serious answer, complicated as it is in its content, and simple as it is in its expression.

I will "deal" with my daughter and boys by raising a woman.

Aliki2006 said...

I've noticed this too--those questions are always directed at my husband and I'm supposed to stand there, in the background, smiling.

My parents didn't talk to me *at all* about those things. I had to learn from other kids, and you can imagine the rich and varied explanations I got from them!

Jeff said...

We talk about pregnancy and abstinence and STDs and respect and pregnancy constantly here at the teen ranch. As parents, there's nothing we can do to stop it, but there's no way anyone can say my kids aren't aware of their choices and consequences!

anniegirl1138 said...

Interesting. A year ago I had just my almost five year old girl and now I have her and two grown step-daughters (23 and 25). I don't say much. Just listen. And I am amazed out how little has changed since I was there age.

There is nothing you can do to prevent them from falling in love with boys/young men who will make you scratch your head and wonder if you ever knew you daughter at all (best case) or make you bite your tongue until it bleeds rather than say what you really think. Because it doesn't matter. Just like it didn't matter all that much to us.

We teach them what we know about love, sex and respect in a relationship. We set an example in our own lives. Ultimately they have to go out into the world and learn for themselves.

The fact that there are such double standards yet is telling about how far we have really come.

jeanie said...

I think we really worry about what affected us most during those awkward years - and will probably be the most important things we can teach our children.

Because I know that "No" doesn't always work, my child will learn self-defence.

I also know how insidious peer pressure can be, and I hope to develop a strong enough relationship with my daughter (I can dream) that she will come to me with any problems.

But I also know that V was a teenage boy and I can take his word for the fact that the scowl he is working on perfecting for the boys "who were like him" is effort well spent...

another good thing said...

With a 14 year old boy and a soon to 10 year old girl ( who has had a "boy friend" since she was 7)-- and lots of movies and internet EVERYWHERE. We are definitely talking about s-e-x. And I am trying to be the mom who understands and listens and doesn't giggle or judge.
But I'm not above using the soft pellet rifle, either.

Kyla said...

Flutter's adjustment is true. And painful. Eeek.

But about stereotypes? I think there is some truth to them...not across the board, nothing is ever across the board. But I read stories like the one Flutter just posted...or the millions of others like them and the universality of the experiences shows there is a truthful basis for those sorts of gender based generalizations.

But it doesn't make me more or less concerned about either of my kids...I have different concerns for my girl and boy based on their individual personalities, not gender classifications.

Tracee said...

I think we are conditioning boys to be sexually aggressive in all kinds of ways.

Forbidding the show of emotion and the use of a complete vocabulary about feelings with little things like calling them homos when they play with a sister's doll.

Combined with social media like the new e*Trade commercial in which a baby boy makes a porn reference about a "bad girl" reading his blackberry.

At the same time we condition girls to base their value on whether boys want them or not by inundating them with Princess tales. Will he pick me?

By the time they are teenagers and dating there really is a gender divide when it comes to who is "consuming" the other.

Over 20% of teens participate in dating domestic violence.

Which explains a lot of real anxiety when Daddies laugh about their daughters.

I'm so glad to hear that you had a clear sense of self - that really will translate into your daughters having a clear sense of self independent of boys.

Anonymous said...

early sex education at home is a big help.check this out:http://www.sexualhealthcare.net/

kaliroz said...

I'm definitely trying to be the open part about bodies and sex and love. My kidlet's about to turn five and is full of questions. Watching Dirty Jobs doesn't help -- the castrating the horse episode created all kinds of interesting inquiries.

My husband doesn't want to talk about these things. Is, in fact, mortified when they come up. Or when I relay something to him.

It comes from our families, I think. My parents were always very open about things. Very easy to talk to and still are. His parents not so much.

Seeing that really reinforces, for me, the need to be open and honest about things. And I've already begun the "No one is allowed to touch you if you don't want them to talks" at which my daughter rolls her eyes and says, "I know, Mama."

SciFi Dad said...

While I would love to say that I will have faith in the way I raise my daughter, and trust her judgment, there is a part of me who is always skeptical of others. It's the same part of my brain that says, "Just because YOU know how to drive doesn't mean you're completely safe on the road; you need to be aware of the stupid people who drive too." I will give my daughter some liberty, but I will also watch over her, at least a little, to make sure she's safe.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I want my daughter to make smart decisions when it comes to sex and not fall victim to the whims of lust. I did not necessarily excel at that.......and I want more for her!

Oh...and to stay away from sex-crazed boys.....like her father was! (hee-hee)

Melissa said...

Being the mom of boys, I have a slightly different perspective on all of this.

I hate the fact that our culture gives the ol' wink and nudge to boys to go out there and experiment. It gives some of them a "Well, I'm supposed to do this" mentality. So as they are approaching that age (the oldest is now 10), I am trying to convey that sex is more about respect and love than lust. I'm hoping that by modeling a strong marriage they can see that.

And some of the girls I've seen around Stepford are quite predatory. Scary.

Lawyer Mama said...

I'm with Melissa. I hate that "boys will be boys" attitude. And speaking as a girl who deflowered more than one virgin as a teenager (Uhhum!) there are a lot of predatory girls out there. (Not that *I* was one, I'm just saying...) My boys are very young, but I'm already dreading those years.

When we found out we were having a boy (both times) the hubs was so relieved. He tells everyone that now he only has 2 penises to worry about instead of 200.

gunfighter1 said...

When my father gave me "the talk", I was 15. I was going to his ofice with him. We were at a stop light in Baltimore andhe asked me if I had been sexually active... I was shocked, and embarrassed, but I told him "no", which was the truth. He looked at me and said "good!, but if you decide to do something, you'd better wear a rubber"

That's it.

(I think I'll write something on my blog about this)

Kathryn said...

I dated many boys that were quite the gentlemen in both high school and college, so the whole uncontrolable animal attitude towards boys does bother me too. Add to that the fact that I have all boys and I really take offense. I think building your children's (boys and girls) self esteem is the most important thing in so many aspects. The peer pressure just doesn't affect kids with good self esteems the same way.

Lawyer Mama- My hubby said the same thing! :)

kim said...

Recently I was shocked into reality by the question of "how will you handle girls coming on to your son"? Girls today (yes I am like a hundred yrs old now)are sexually aggressive. So really the conversation we had was less about gender and more about who you hang with and not putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.

Beck said...

I think the real thing that people are hinting about when they sat that is that girls - teenaged girls - DO need to be protected from predatory adult men, because most of the girls I knew who developed early were instantly targeted (at 12 and 13 and 14, my God) by men in their 20s, and most of them ended up in VERY unhealthy relationships. One of the girls I'm thinking of got pregnant at THIRTEEN with a 27 year old man's child.

So it's all very well to talk about healthy, well-adjusted young guys who would never even think of acting like that - and most guys ARE like that - but there ARE guys who behave like sexual predators and there are more of them than we like to think.