Last night, you wondered out loud why some mommies have girl babies in their tummies, and some mommies have boy babies.
And so it begins.
We talked about how your DNA is like a recipe for how your body will grow. We paused. You asked more. We talked about how daddies have sperm and mommies have eggs. We paused. You asked about robots. We talked about robots. That seemed like a good place to stop, because you are only 6.
But later, as I congratulated myself on saying all the right things, I realized that this was the easiest that the conversation would ever be. As you grow, we’ll develop a laundry list of the typical things that parents of high-schoolers worry about. Questions about robots will be replaced by our thoughts on teen pregnancy, internet shaming, bad judgment, pornography, consent, and protection. But while we may share the responsibility of starting the conversation, we fully recognize that we are not the gatekeepers of your sexual identity and experiences. We are not in charge of who you have sex with, or when you choose to do it. The only thing that we’re in charge of is telling you the truth about sex, and layering in the cushion of our family values. We’re not going to lie to you. Sex is awesome. You’re going to spend most of your adolescence thinking about it, talking about it, preparing for it, dissecting it, and wondering about it. That’s life. And forbidding you from doing those things, makes sex more mysterious, more frustrating, and more mythical than it has to be. And that, my sons, is more dangerous than all of the other things that we worry about.
So when you’re ready, this is what you can count on us to tell you:
1. Your body belongs to you. You may have been birthed from my belly, but I do not own your body. You are in charge of your penis. How you use it is up to you. If you hurt it, or hurt someone else with it, then you are at fault. If we start telling you how and when to use your body, then it sends the message that you are not in control of your own desires. There are serious, life-changing consequences to how you use your penis. It’s our job to explain those things to you, but it’s your job to decide what happens next.
2. Your partner’s body does not belong to you. It does not belong to her parents either. Your partner’s body belongs to her. We will teach you about the enormous responsibility that you have to be kind to your partner. To listen to her. To ask, and double-check, and pause, and pay attention. To encourage her to be sober, and present, and an equal decision-maker. Not because you are terrified of her dad greeting you at the door with a shotgun, but because you respect her and care about her and want her to feel good about how she chooses to use her body.
3. You will know the truth about sex. We will be honest with you about STI’s and how easy it is to get pregnant and how hard it is to get healthy. We will talk openly about what drugs and alcohol do to your body, and how to unroll a condom, and what happens if you try to document your escapades to save them for later. If you are old enough to have sex, then you are old enough to buy your own condoms. To sit down to dinner with your partner’s parents. To ask your partner if what you’re doing feels good, and encourage her to tell you what she needs.
4. You deserve to know that sex can be mind-blowing one day, and soul-crushing the next. Sex is not a perfect fix. It is not an unbreakable bond. It can be used to start a relationship, end one, or prevent one. It can be used to talk, to listen, to beg, to threaten, to promise. If we mythologize sex, and talk about it in terms of “preserving it” and “fearing it” and “giving it away”, then we are taking the responsibility off of you, and putting it on the act of intercourse. Sex is what you make of it, and….
5. You’re going to make really bad choices. That’s how you learn. I hope to god that none of those bad choices cause permanent damage to your heart or to your body, or to your partner’s heart or body. Your dad and I will do everything that we can to arm you with the information and tools that you need to make safe, healthy choices. But you’re going to screw up. I did. Your dad did. You will do the walk of shame. You will question your judgment, question how sober you were, question if she really cares about you. You will wish your body was different, wish you didn’t give a damn, and wish you could just erase that one. But no matter how many times you trip and fall….
6. You can always talk to us, and nothing that you say will surprise us or make us love you any less. Some day, you are going to have sex. That’s what human beings do. We will do everything that we can to teach you how your body works so that you can protect yourself, but ultimately, you will need to want to protect yourself. We want you to be the kind of young man who knows that you and your partner are worth protecting.
7. We will create a home environment that is free of body-shaming, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and secrecy. It’s our job to help you dissect and interpret how our culture serves up women as three-course meals. We will teach you about the enormous pressure that your partner might be under to look a certain way, act a certain way, and desire a certain way. We will examine what the world is teaching you about what it means to be a man, what it means to be sexual, and what it means to be powerful and dominant. We will explore the bullshit together, so that you know the truth about women’s bodies and won’t contribute to their shame or their pain.
8. We do not expect you to be afraid of us. Teaching children to fear breeds secrecy and shame. Worry about how your choices hurt and frustrate you, not how they will hurt and frustrate us.
9. We value your privacy, and we want you to value it too. We will not dish about your (mis)adventures in dating on Facebook. We will not tease you about your girlfriends at the dinner table. What you choose to do with your partner is private, and keeping it that way shows that you respect her and respect yourself.
10. Wait until you’re ready. Do we want you to have sex in high school? Only if you’re ready. And I promise that your Dad and I will do everything that we can to arm you with answers, self-respect, courage, and kindness, so that when the time comes, you will know if it’s right or not.
Your body belongs to you. Please use it accordingly.