Soon after Kara Haug’s episode called Sex, God & Politics came out I found myself driving one of my teenagers home from a practice and talking about sex. The subject came up because friends of his had caught another friend of theirs masturbating. Sometimes I’m still surprised at how casually my kids tell me these things as, if I’m being honest, the thought of telling either of my parents about anyone masturbating still makes me a little vomittey. But there we were talking about masturbating which then led to me asking if his friend who has been dating a girl for a few months is sexually active which then led to talk about pressures of being his age and what the next few years might look like. I finished with the reminder that should he ever feel ready to have sex I wanted him to come to me so that we could protect him from some of the consequences of sex that he’s not quite ready for.
What I wanted to say was, “You’re not ready! You’re not ready for any of it! Your brain is literally not even fully developed yet! If you feel like you’re ready for sex DON’T DO IT! The Bible says not to and also you’ll probably get her pregnant and also STD’s.”
That’s what I wanted to say.
But I knew from our conversation with Kara that saying those things would only make the divide between mother and son that much bigger. I knew if I told him he wasn’t ready that when he felt ready he would never come to me because he would know I would just tell him he isn’t ready. I knew that if I told him in any way whatsoever that sex is bad and can lead to bodily harm that when he started to have any kind of physical contact with someone else and it felt good that he would no longer trust me with any matters related to sex. And I knew that more than anything, I do just want him to be safe, healthy and happy and that one day I want him to be able to have a healthy sex life with his partner. Though I know at his age so much of what he’s learning and doing is influenced by his peers I also know he is still heavily influenced by his dad and me. I could give up what influence I have to his peers but I’m not one to go quietly into the night. Ever. So I make sure to talk about these things often enough and with such casual indifference that it’s actually not altogether rare that I find myself with a child talking about masturbation or puberty or sexual desire.
Lest you think this comes naturally to me you should know that it doesn’t. I continue to be vomittey and shaky for minutes after these conversations. I, like most of my generation, could write quite the dossier of conflicted feelings with regards to sex and sexuality. Having always identified as female I have felt our country’s insane pressures and claim to my sexuality since as far back as I can remember. The whole “lady in the street, freak in the bed situation”, was only compounded by growing up Christian so if Ludacris will allow it would sound more like, “Lady in the streets and in the bed until you’re married and then it’s freak in the bed as long as it results in a baby that you for sure keep.” It’s really no wonder that I found myself in a Wal Mart bathroom at 20-years-old finding out I was pregnant and being just as shocked as everyone else that it could’ve happened to me.
So I don’t really know if what I’m doing is right. I’m sure I’ll find out one day in family therapy or while watching one of my kids do stand up and imitate my open sexuality conversations to the amusement of the crowd. But it won’t stop me from trying. As Kara reminded us all in the podcast episode, keeping lines of communication open with your kids is the first and biggest step to keeping them safe and giving them a strong foundation for a healthy view on sex and sexuality.
When we were adopting, many experts told us that it was entirely likely that we wouldn’t feel love for our new child until months or even sometimes years after the adoption goes through. The oft spoken phrase in adoption is “fake it ‘til you make it.” Meaning fake the love, fake the mama adoration until it’s there for real. That’s my advice to you today. If talking about sex and sexuality with your kids feels weird and clunky just fake it ‘til you make it. The first few times will feel so totally unnatural that you’ll want to take a cold shower for hours afterwards but by the third or fifth time you’ll go to brace yourself for the awkward and find only patience, compassion and love. For yourself and for your little cherubs.
Tesi Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and blogs on her own website www.tesiklipsch.com. She lives in Michigan with her husband and 5 children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10 and 10.