Section: Opinion

Weekly Column: Parents, don’t treat sex like a taboo

One of the few memories I have from my childhood today is of my mom and I sprawled out on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, watching an episode of the classic live-action TV series starring Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean. In the episode we were watching, he had climbed up to the highest diving board of a pool and, after many cowardly attempts to jump in, fell into it when a teenager stepped on his fingers. Unfortunately, the unexpected impact of the water causes Bean to lose his swim trunks. He pulls himself up the pool ladder and wanders aimlessly in search of them while completely bare-assed. 

 

Realizing that her second-grade child had just seen a middle-aged man’s buttock was extremely distressing for my poor mother. I remember very vividly the scream that escaped her lips as she instinctively whipped her popcorn-greased hands across her body, whacking me in the face to cover my eyes. It’s not like I hadn’t seen anybody’s butt before. From then on, I was never allowed to watch the live-action Mr. Bean again. Another example was my mom bought us tickets to see Titanic. The same popcorn-greased hand whacked me in the face, hoping to cover my eyes, when Jack drew Rose like one of his French girls and when they had car sex, despite the fact that it was literally just a shot of Rose’s hand.

 

Reminiscing on these two memories makes me wonder: What is it about kids being exposed to nudity and sex that freak parents out so much? And when, really, is the right time to talk to your kids about the birds and bees? My answer is that there is never a right time. And you should do it as early as it comes; it’s completely counterproductive to put in the effort to shield them from something that is such a natural part of life.

 

I guess I appreciate the sentiment behind it. You want to keep your kids “pure” by holding them for as long as you possibly can, gingerly sheathed in the tender embrace of childhood innocence. But keep in mind that associating nudity and sex with impurity, in its worst form, promotes an unhealthy disconnection from the body, and enforces self-deprecating dialogue that a person’s worth is determined by their sexual experiences.

 

Society today very openly and mistakenly conflates sexuality with morality. The notion of purity — especially when it’s coerced or projected onto a young girl — assigns her worth to a reductive and dangerous dichotomy, even when it’s done indirectly through the form of impeding her knowledge of it.

 

Teaching your children about sex instead of shielding them from it does not connote parenting without values, if that’s what you’re worried about. Instead, you are helping them understand their inevitable sexual thoughts and desires, and giving yourself the opportunity to follow up with future conversations about controlling impulses, consent, disease prevention, safe sex and birth control options. Besides, sex and nudity are natural and vital parts of life, so if they’re not going to learn from you, they will learn about it from their teachers (if you’re lucky). If not, then they will definitely be learning it from some random sketchy pornographic website. So, which do you prefer? 

 

If it’s the preservation of childhood innocence part you’re worried about, use Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy for that. Or take your kid cloud-watching or something. There are many ways you can still preserve their childhood innocence, while also making sure they’re aware of the realities of the world, and their bodies. Don’t be scared if a sex scene or a middle-aged man’s buttock comes up on screen. Preserving childhood innocence does not equate to keeping your children in complete ignorance. How can they be prepared for anything if they don’t know about it? 

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