As you may have gathered, I work in a Red State. That means that sex ed in schools is not funded or allowed, unless it is abstinence only. This is a radical departure from my high school sex education in the 1970’s in the same state. We had the grainy 20 year old film about “how your body changes in puberty” in 5th grade, some anatomy lessons in 8th grade, and the STD and birth control information in 10th grade. The health teacher laid out a variety of implements on a desk: a pack of birth control pills, a condom, a diaphragm, and an IUD. The diaphragm was HUGE. She told us about the pros and cons of each method. It was clinical and professional. But I never forgot it. When the time came for me to need birth control, I already knew what I wanted to use and how to obtain it. Hint: I didn’t go with the diaphragm. None of this was considered racy or unusual. We kids made the typical sniggers when the words “penis” or “vagina” were used but over all, it was a plain and practical curriculum.
We now know that states with mandatory sex ed have kids who have later first intercourse, better use of birth control, fewer STDs, and a lower teen pregnancy rate. There is also a higher graduation rate. So why wouldn’t we want that? In contrast, the 4 states relying solely on abstinence-only education have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, abortions, and STDs.
Anyway, if you live in a red state too, it’s all on you to teach your kids about sex. So here’s how I do it.
We started young. There’s a lot of information out there for parents about naming body parts in the bath and answering questions like ‘where do babies come from?” And then the information sort of dries up after that. But you have to keep the conversation going. Doctors’ kids are used to fairly graphic dinner table conversation, so we have an advantage. But the real trick is to keep your antenna up for opportunities to add to the discussion.
Watch TV with them. The opening sequence to “Look Who’s Talking” was the opening to talk about fertilization. “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was the impetus for discussing homosexuality when they used the word “fags”. I kept it simple.
“Whats’ a fag?”
“It’s a boy who wants to get married with another boy. Or a girl who wants to get married with another girl.”
The end. They were very small, so I kept the answer in their frame of reference. They later learned that actual gay marriage was a whole other discussion. Later, “Glee” has provided many opportunities to have discussions about birth control, and making decisions. “Twilight” was a great illustration of unhealthy relationships.
Use TV to point out responsible use of birth control and when the characters seem to magically not need it. Make a note of when characters face repercussions to unprotected sex and put in your two cents about what their choices are or what they could have done differently. Two cents is about it too. They won’t have the patience for a long lecture. Pick one point and make it. They won’t appear to listen. But I’ve found if I make the same point again, even months later, I get an exasperated “I know, Mom! You’ve said that like a MILLION times.” It always amazes me how well my comments about sex actually register. Use every media tool to your advantage. News stories can be lessons in sexual consent, or how to sense trouble, or how to avoid being drugged, or how to report sexual harassment abuse, or rape. Songs on Pandora can be lessons in the dangers of one-sided relationships or in calling out men who diminish women. If you look for it, you can find something to talk about every day, in a comment the length of a tweet. These short sweet comments are so powerful. But only when they keep coming from you.
Your kids are being bombarded with rape culture, irresponsible sexual behavior, and sexism. You need to turn that information around to their advantage, so that they will know the difference between coercion and a loving healthy relationship. And more importantly, so that their most loving relationship is with themselves.