My children are getting older... which wasn't part of the deal when they were infants, but OK, whatever. And as they get older the challenges I face as their mom change. Homework, playground politics, personal responsibility, and also Big Important Issues are now at play. What is death? What is all this scary stuff on the news? What is sex? How do we, as parents, answer these questions? What can kids handle? What's appropriate? A lot of people, reasonably, discuss sex in terms of "making babies." I think that's an important component, but I'm not telling my kids that sex is about reproduction.
I mean, obviously sex can be about reproduction. But, usually, it really isn't. Think about your own sex life and the sex you've had over the course of your life. Your honor, I rest my case. So while I think describing it to kids as "the way people and animals make babies" is probably easier for parents and caregivers, it's also painfully insufficient and far from a satisfactory answer. I think they can know, in various age-appropriate ways, that human sexuality is a rich tapestry, full of lots of different motivations. And, honestly, even with the most open and honest parents, there's a ton about sex and sexuality that we'll never explain or discuss with our kids. That's OK, too! To be honest, I'd rather not get into the subject of blueberry fetishes with my kids if I can help it.
But I do think it's important to let my kids know that sexuality is, in fact, a tapestry, and not, like, a strictly functional but sort of nice dish towel (to continue with my textile metaphor). Not only do I think the approach is more accurate, but I also think the messages it sends (and doesn't send) is important for kids to hear. So with that in mind, here's why the whole "we only have sex to reproduce" sex lesson isn't a lesson I'm willing to teach my kids:
OK, it's not that it's dishonest (sex can lead to pregnancy, as I know from experience) but this is definitely incomplete information. Like, I wasn't a newly minted college student living my best life thinking, "All right! Reproductive sex! I'm going to propagate so hardcore. You're welcome, the human species!" I was having sex because it was (and is) awesome. Exceedingly few people will start having sex just to get pregnant.
Perpetuating the human race is just one of the many things sex can do and, honestly, it's one of the neater things to come out of it from a biological perspective. (In time, an actual baby human can develop from two cells. That's nuts!) I don't mean to take away from this almost mystical element of sex. And it's important that kids know that's a real possibility (or, depending on other factors, consequence) of having sex. But sex can also make your fancy bits tingle, which is reason enough to give it a go at some point. It can be an expression of love and affection. I want to make sure my kids have a full idea of the spectrum of things sex can be.
Not All Sex *Can* Result In A Baby
Two women can have sex for decades and no one will ever, ever, ever get pregnant.
The idea that "sex is for reproduction" takes an extremely limited view of what sex is (read: assumes all sex is penetrative p-in-v sex) and who is having it (someone with a penis and someone with a vagina). In short, reducing sex to baby-making is heteronormative AF and contributes to the idea that queer sex is some sort of aberration of a "natural" paradigm. And yeah, sex that can result in reproduction is perfectly natural. You know what else is? Basically any kind of sex you can think of. Humans have been screwing other humans of all sexes and genders since the dawn of time. Why is that sex any less valid than sex between a cis-dude and a cis-gal? And in a world where, for weird reasons, it often is, do we really want to contribute to that narrative?
It's Bad Math
OK, say you're talking about the life of a heterosexual person who would like to have children... that's still not usually the point. I've been with my partner for 15 years. If I'm being conservative in the number of times we've had sex and liberal in the number of times getting pregnant was the point (two of my three pregnancies were not strictly speaking planned and none of them were super-duper planned, but let's say getting knocked up was the reason for those three couplings) less than .002 percent of the sex I've had has been done for the purposes of reproduction.
It Contributes To The Idea That Feeling Good Is Very Often The Whole Point
It's easy for straight men to prioritize their pleasure when you frame the point of sex as being reproductive. Even if no one is trying to get pregnant or impregnate anyone, you can do that whole "technically" bullsh*t that empowers dudes to think that if the point of sex is procreation, and if a person can't procreate unless a dude orgasms, then a man's orgasm is the most important thing.
But imagine a world where everyone agreed that the primary point of sex, generally and most frequently, was pleasure, and that everyone's pleasure counts. Imagine a world where a woman who never felt entitled to an orgasm (or, worse, was experiencing painful sex) knew that it's not supposed to be like that. Oh what a world it would be.
*Technically* You're Making A Zygote
A baby can develop as a result of sex which, again, is a biological wonder. But the sex itself makes a zygote which has to go through embryonic and fetal stages before becoming a viable baby. Personally I don't want to perpetuate the homunculus myth that basically imagines tiny little fully formed humans existing from the moment of conception.
It Creates A False Sense Of Accomplishment
"Mommy, what's sex?"
"It's how humans reproduce. A penis goes in a vagina where a sperm meets and egg and if things continue uninterrupted then about nine months later a baby is born. Does that answer your question?"
"Yes! Thank you!"
"Great! I'm SO GOOD at parenting."
OK, so that was a good start. But if that's where you leave it off then there is so much you're not covering and they'll never think to ask and if they feel like you answered them completely they will be less likely to come to you and this is just so not at all complete.
It Perpetuates The Idea That We All Need To Have Babies One Day
Many people feel that, at some point, they should have kids. And that feeling is often, in part, a result of the way society is structured (around family units) and part of that, for many people I'm sure, is a biological drive to pop out a mini-me. But maybe part of that is the belief that the deep-down reason we're all boning is because, at some point, we're going to do it "for the reason it's intended."
So let's make sure that when we're teaching our kids about sex that there are a lot of reasons people do it and no reason is any more or less valid than any other. Why (and if!) they choose to be sexually active is their choice.