Growing up, we never really talked about sex in my household. I learned everything I know from the minimal sex education I received in school, from friends (who often didn’t actually have any idea what they were talking about), from reading books and scouring the net, from porn, and eventually, from experience. I definitely would have benefitted from a more comprehensive sex education at both school and at home, which is why there are certain things I plan on teaching my son about sex.
I was relatively young when I first became active and, at that time, didn’t really know how to put a condom on. I didn’t know much about birth control options (save for condoms and birth control pills, the latter of which I knew very little about). I also didn’t know anything about consent, or the dangers of things like rape or sexual assault. Aside from AIDS (which was still a fairly terrifying epidemic when I was a kid in the '90s and nowhere near as manageable or understood as it is today), I knew next to nothing about all the various sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) I could be exposing myself and my partners to. I won't even get started on how confused I was about lesbian sex (or any non-heteronormative sex) until I watched The L Word for the first time (and eventually got schooled by my LGBT friends).
Now that I’m a mother, I know that while my son will receive mixed messages throughout his life, so it’s important that I begin and lead that conversation with him. It’s up to me to give him all the information I can, to answer his questions (no matter how young), and to guide him toward eventually enjoying a positive and healthy sex life. I want to give him the tools he needs to be respectful of others, to always feel and be safe, and to know that he can always come to me (even if he think’s it’s embarrassing). So, with that being said, these are some of the things I plan to teach him along the way:
What Sex Actually Is
My son is only beginning to speak words, so his vocabulary right now consists of calling most foods “apple,” and repeating the letters of the alphabet back to me. Eventually, though, he’s going to start asking questions. Where do babies come from? What is sex?
I’ll explain in so many words what it is and answer any related questions, trying to stay as close to what would be age-appropriate as possible, while simultaneously using the correct names for all of our body parts (because there’s nothing wrong with saying penis or vagina).
That He Can (And Should) Come Talk To Me When He Thinks He's Ready To Have Sex
While I know this strategy might not work, I will definitely try to make sure my son knows that he can always talk to myself, or my partner, about sex or anything sex related. When he does, we’ll make sure to supply him with protection (if he doesn’t have any already) and to discuss any questions he might have. Am I being a little idealistic here? Perhaps, but right now my baby is still happy playing with his cheerios, so I’m trying not to stress.
Why Safe Sex Is So Important
Considering the statistics on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), it’s important that we teach kids early on what they are (diseases that spread through sexual contact that can make you sick, but are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of). One of the most common STDs these days is herpes, which can spread even while wearing condoms, a fact that many teens and even adults don’t know.
I’d like to give him all the facts about the different STDs that are out there and how he can protect himself and others. I’ll also suggest (and even take him if he likes) to get tested once he becomes sexually active, as well as provide him with information and support if he ever tests positive.
How To Prevent An Unwanted Pregnancy...
Because my son is male, he won’t ever have to deal with an unintended pregnancy in his body. Still, that doesn't mean that preventing an unwanted pregnancy from occurring is his partner's, and only his partner's, responsibility (if, of course, his partner ends up being female). My son will know what he can do to prevent pregnancy (condoms, condoms, condoms) as well as what his partner can do, so he can be as supportive as possible.
....And What To Do If His Potential Partner Becomes Pregnant
If my son does choose a female partner, and that partner gets pregnant unintentionally, he will know what her options are (abortion, keeping the pregnancy, adoption). This way he can speak with her clearly about what her options are (in the event she doesn’t know). I’ll also make sure that he knows that at the end of the day, it will be solely up to her to decide whether or not to keep the pregnancy, and that he should be entirely supportive of her decision.
How To Effectively Use Condoms
My son will definitely know how to put a condom on. I’ve witnessed one too many guys fumble around with condoms, clearly unaware of how to make sure they work. If his school doesn’t whip out the practice bananas, I’ll definitely see to it that we do at home.
It's Only Sex If It's Consensual...
I want him to know that he needs to be clear on whether his partner is consenting to have sex with him. If his partner is intoxicated, and he or she cannot give clear consent, he is not to have sex with them. If his partner agrees to have sex with him, but changes his or her mind, it is no longer consensual and he is not to have sex with them. Any time his partner says no for any reason, he is to immediately stop all activity, no questions asked.
Likewise, he needs to be sure that he consents, and never feels pressured or uncomfortable or in pain. Unless both (or all) parties are consenting, it isn't sex.
...So He'll Learn How To Say No To Peer Pressure
I don’t ever want my son to feel like he has to have sex with someone because his friends are encouraging him or judging him. I want him to have the strength to say "no" and stand up for himself. I want him to know that he should definitely not feel rushed to have sex for the first time, not because losing your virginity is some “magical” thing, but because it’s an added responsibility one should understand and be capable of handling before doing.
Likewise, and of course, he needs to know that under no circumstances is it OK to pressure someone else to have sex.
That He Should And Will Always Respect His Partner Or Partners
Aside from general consent, it’s important that partners have respect for one another. Even if it’s just a "fling" or a one night stand or a "friends with benefits" type situation, you should never hurl negative epithets toward your partner (calling them a slut or a whore or some racist remark that has no business being spoken in any capacity or context) or berate them in any way. I hope to teach my son to always respect others, and to maintain this high level of respect when he becomes sexually active.
Porn Is Not Real Life
At some point, my son will find and view porn. I want him to know that while it’s OK to watch (and perfectly healthy and OK to masturbate), he should know that the vast majority of what is out there is not like real life. He also needs to be well aware that the majority of the marketed pornography (especially on the internet) degrades and is violent towards women. In fact, he needs to know that everything that occurs on screen isn't done for the pleasure or benefit of those participating, but for the pleasure and benefit of the viewer (which is why people's bodies typically don't bend that way and not everyone is that enthusiastic about bodily fluids).
Furthermore, my son needs to be aware that people come in all shapes, colors and sizes. People have birthmarks and scars, cellulite and fat rolls, ribs that poke and knobby knees, hair in practically every place imaginable, stubble or no hair for those who choose to remove it, big and small breasts, big and small penises. We are all beautiful in our own way, and the bodies typically highlighted in porn are not an accurate representation of most naked bodies.
All Sex Is Good Sex...
I want my son to know he is loved always. This means accepting him whether he is straight or gay or bisexual, whether he is cis-gender or transgender, whether he feels he is asexual or otherwise. I don’t ever want him hating himself, pretending to be someone he is not because of what he thinks others will think. As a bisexual woman and ally to LGBTQIA folks, I always plan to be there for my son and to encourage him to have whatever kind of sex he wants to have, as long as it's safe and consensual.
...And Having More Than One Partner Is OK, Too
I never, ever want to hear the word “slut” come out of my son’s mouth. I plan to educate him on slut-shaming and how wrong it is. I want him to know that having sex with more than one person (either simultaneously or over a period of time) is OK, so long as he is clear and upfront with his partners. That he should never think or speak negatively of anyone else that decides to have multiple partners. Of course, if he wants to be monogamous always, that’s perfectly cool, too.
Sex And Love Are Not The Same Thing (Although Both Are Nice)
By my second partner, I knew that sex and love were not mutually dependent. Some folks, however, grow up and are raised believing that they are one-in-the-same, which they can be but it’s just not always the case.
I'd like for my son to know that he doesn’t have to wait until he’s in love, and that he doesn’t have to convince someone else that he’s in love, in order to have sex. Instead, he should always be honest with his partners about what he wants. (I'll also let him know that if and when he does fall in love, the sex tends to be even better.)
Sex Is Meant To Be Fun, So Enjoy It
Sex is supposed to be an enjoyable, positive experience. I don’t ever want him to feel shame for having sex, because there’s absolutely nothing "wrong" or "dirty" about it. Raising him in a secular household should help, but others on the outside might try to convince him that it’s a "sin," especially if he decides to have sex outside of marriage. I hope to strike any of those thoughts from his mind.