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Why Are We So Afraid to Talk About Sex?

Photograph by Twenty20

One of the most confusing but important subjects we seem to get wrong over and over again is human sexuality. Somehow we have managed to cloak the most natural, spiritual, creative, scientific and necessary experience under a shadow of shame, ignorance and judgment. I realize I've said a lot here but it's my truth and my experience and I'm sticking with it.

Last week a 13-year-old boy grabbed a 14-year-old girl without her permission and tongue kissed her. He had been dared by his friends. The police were called and the boy was arrested. Maryland's criminal code prohibits any unwanted, potentially injurious contact, whether or not it actually results in physical harm.

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On the Internet and in street interviews, people have been saying "boys will be boys" and the action doesn't deserve the punishment. In my personal circles I've heard mostly moms expressing concern for this girl, asking about her well-being and suggesting the boy deserves some type of punishment or a lesson should be taught.

This situation deeply concerns me because it points to a system that does not take the necessary time to properly educate and cultivate an environment of safety and responsibility regarding sexuality from a very young age. In my circles of parents, I've heard many struggling with what is being taught in the schools regarding sex. Never mind what's not being taught in the homes and what has become available with the click of a mouse.

I constantly hear parents wondering how they can "avoid" the sex talk and wishing the other parent will take the responsibility. But I have one friend who took a very unique approach to talking with her child about sex, and it seems to have worked in that her child has always been comfortable coming to her with questions and concerns about sex.

I believe sex is something we should always talk about with our children because it is so natural and important in our lives. It should be a conversation that is as natural as ones we have about food.

My friend started by having age-appropriate conversations about body parts. She never used pet names but called them what they are—vagina, breast and penis. She used animals to explain sex, and as her daughter matured she allowed the conversation to evolve to human relationship. These were on-going discussions over the years, not a one time talk.

By the time her daughter was old enough to start dating and expressed interest in boys, there was a comfort level between them that allowed talk about everything. My friend never encouraged or discouraged sex. However she did tell her that her body was hers and that she owned her pleasure—it was not attached to a boy. She could do with her body as she decided as long as she understood the possible consequences. She also supported her daughter in making health choices regarding birth control and sexual habits to prevent infections and diseases.

I believe sex is something we should always talk about with our children because it is so natural and important in our lives. It should be a conversation that is as natural as ones we have about food. Age-appropriate conversations can create general understanding and evolve over the years. As I see it, by the time a child is 13, so many conversations about sex could be had at home, school, with the grandparents and other family members, that they understand what they are feeling, why they are feeling it and have tools to assist them in appropriately and responsibly handling themselves.

As adults and parents, we know by now that our kids will make up all sorts of false and dangerous information about sex if we don't create safe and loving spaces to have discussions. How do we know? Because we did it when we were young. We shared secrets and lies with our friends about what we thought sex was. We responded to the rush of hormones that flooded our bodies with crushes and clumsy, stupid choices hoping to get the attention of someone we liked. And if we didn't do stupid things, we still wanted attention from the person we were attracted to and likely tortured ourselves desiring it.

In my view, this is not a boy-will-be-boys mistake to be dismissed. But this is also not something for which he should be arrested. This is a family and community information breakdown around an issue that is as natural as eating and sleeping, yet we treat it like a secret or a plague. This is not a bad boy or a silly teenager. He, like many kids, are misinformed and uneducated. They have not been nurtured and properly informed about their bodies, desires and responsible behaviors. The deeper problem is, it's highly likely that his parents, his teacher or the police that arrested him are also misinformed and improperly educated about sex. Many of us are ignorant when it comes to developing sexuality and any other sex for that matter. We leave it up to television, music and pornography to teach us about sex. And that has to change.

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My friend's daughter is now in college. She recently called her mother to thank her because she is watching all of her peers struggle with sex and their natural desires. They experience vicious cycle of shame for desiring sex and guilt for having it. They don't seem to understand that though they have choices, their bodies and hormones are designed to drive them toward sex for procreation purposes. It's science! This information is priceless and necessary for every young person who will successfully and responsibly navigate appropriate sexual behavior. As it stands, shame and repression are the tools used to control something as inevitable as sunshine.

I feel bad for this young boy and I feel sad for those of us who don't see him as a victim of a system that was not designed to protect but to prohibit true understanding, acceptance and appreciation of pure human expression.

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