I’ve talked a lot in this blog about a pleasure-centered and consent-centered approach to sex: that whatever feels good and is done with the consent of all parties is a good thing for us sexually.  But that becomes a trickier message to convey when we start talking about sex to our kids, our nieces and nephews, and other young adults that “we” are not comfortable thinking about as sexual beings.  And that ends up being unfortunate for everyone, in my opinion.

On one end, I totally sympathize.  It’s awkward and uncomfortable to have a 10 year old kid ask you about sex.  Sex is a complicated topic that a 10 year old is not ready to handle in its entirety.  Even if you’re an open-minded adult who been prepping “The Talk” for your child, you’ll still get thrown off-guard when those questions comes up from someone younger, older, gayer, more emotionally distant, or just different than you were expecting.  How much is too much information?

I think this article from “The Good Men Project” does an amazing job tackling the issue:

So many adults are fearful that telling kids that sex is pleasurable will simply encourage young people to have it before they are physically and emotionally ready for the consequences. Better, they imagine, to emphasize that it’s important to wait and to stress the risks. But as it turns out, centering pleasure is a great way to minimize the chances that a teen will be pressured into doing something that they don’t want to do.

BINGO!  A five year old that asks you about sex is not going to run out an boink the next prepubescent he/she/ze sees if you tell them that sex is about feeling good.  They are just looking for a straight-forward answer, and will probably leave the conversation at that.  But long-term, the messages you send to children about sexuality will stay with them, and help them develop a sexual sense of self thatpostsecret: virginity is centered in what they want and feel, rather than the fear, guilt, and self-sacrifice that can be instilled by other messages.

So let’s break it down.

WHEN YOU SAY…. The implicit messages are…
Wait until marriage. There’s something wrong with sex.  Something about the covenant of marriage makes it ok, but in general, it’s a dirty thing.
You have sex when you love each other. Sex for pleasure is wrong.  It is something you do to show commitment to your partner, and you do it on behalf of them, not for your own enjoyment.
Getting sex will get you pregnant, so you shouldn’t do it. Having sex is irresponsible.
Save yourself for your husband/wife If you “give up” your virginity, you’re worthless to your partner.  Your only value is in your chastity.
You’re not old enough to make that decision; you’re not ready for it.

 

Having sex is only for adults
Boys won’t respect you if they know you’re easy Sex is inherently shameful; a girl who has sex is worth less than one who is a virgin
There’s only one step between having sex and selling your body. Prostitution is bad.  Sex is bad.  If you enjoy sex, you’re on your way to become a prostitute, and filling the world with moral decay.
Your first time should be special Pressure to save the experience for the “right person,” sex will only be good and ok if you do it with the person you’re going to stay with.

 

Now let’s try this with a pleasure and consent-focused approach

WHEN YOU SAY…. The implicit messages are…
Sex is something you do because it feels good Sex is generally a good thing; it has the power to make you feel good.  It’s not shameful- we can talk about it.
He (she/ze) doesn’t have to love you, but he should respect you. You may not be with this person forever, but the experience of sex with them should still be positive.  You should be in charge of the decision to have sex.
You’ll know when you’re ready. You know your body better than anyone else.  Your sexual desire is relevant and important.
It’s never perfect the first time. Having good sex take practice.  It’s ok to keep having sex, to ask for different things, to work towards sex that is enjoyable.

 

See how different that is?

Come on lurkers, I want to hear from you.  How would your adolescence have been different if you had heard some of the latter messages, rather than the former?  Do you have any messages that you would add to either list?