Between a movie and a birthday recently, my son and I found ourselves with an hour to kill at the mall. We spent some obligatory time in the video game store so he could point at 19 things he wants for Christmas, but then moving toward an exit, he looked at me strangely and whispered, “Dad. We just passed a store that sells bikinis.”
I perked up. Because, hey … women in bathing suits. And then I realized that he was talking about the Victoria’s Secret display windows we’d just passed.
“Buddy,” I said, “Those aren’t bikinis. That store sells underwear.”
To a 9-year-old, underwear is something you get as a stocking stuffer on Christmas, and it’s the obligatory, worst thing you get once a year. A store dedicated to selling it is the stupidest thing known to man. I remembered that I used to think that at exactly the same moment it was communicated on the Mancub’s face.
“They sell pretty underwear,” I explained. “Sometimes women want to wear underwear that is attractive to other people. There are other stores that sell underwear for men, too.”
The Mancub didn’t respond to that, but I could see the gears turning. It didn’t seem like something I could leave alone, so I ask him, “Do you like it?”
He gave me a furtive glance and said, emphatically, “NO.”
“I do,” I said casually. We went on to Dave & Buster’s, but I knew I had Father Work to do.
I’d intended to have the birds-and-bees conversation a couple of weeks earlier when it came to light that one of the Mancub’s friends was talking about egg fertilization or cellular mytosis or something or other at school. That didn’t end up happening, but my ex-wife is never one to miss an opportunity to do things first with the kids, so when I sat the Mancub down the next morning, he said that he already knew all about sex.
Okay, I thought, so you’ve gotten the abstinence lecture.
I asked what he knew, figuring that maybe I’d let him teach me, then I could fill in the gaps. “I’m not comfortable with this conversation,” he complained.
Well, that’s why we didn’t have the discussion the first time, so I decided that we had to forge ahead. “Lots of people aren’t comfortable with this conversation, buddy,” I told him. “Did you know that there was a man running for Congress that thinks that women can’t get pregnant if she is raped?”
There ensured a tangent to define rape, to wit, that it was when a man has sex with a woman who doesn’t want to, and that it is Very Bad.
“My point,” I continued, “is that this man was very important and has lived a long time, and even he hadn’t had good conversations about sex. If he had, he would have known that what he was saying was wrong and hurtful toward a lot of people. See, even when people are too uncomfortable to talk about sex, they still listen to other people’s opinions. And what happens when people don’t know about things, but they want to sound like they do?”
“They make things up?”
“Exactly, son. Do you want to really know what’s going on, or do you want to listen to people who might or might not know what they’re talking about? I’ll tell you the truth and you can trust me.”
I hadn’t planned this part, but even as I sent up a silent “WTF, Todd Akin turns out to be a teaching tool”, I realized that persuading him that the conversation needed to happen had the ancillary effect of chilling me out to deal with the whole thing frankly. He indicated that we could go ahead.
So, it turned out that he knew that pregnancy results from sperm fertilizing an egg, but he had no idea as to the delivery method. I’m sorry, but while we don’t have to get into the relative merits of reverse cowboy versus the missionary position, a boy who doesn’t understand what a boner is is going to be panicked when he gets his first one.
He didn’t know the difference between sex and pregnancy, so I explained that when a man and a woman love one another, they might choose to have sex but it would not necessarily create a baby. I told him that he isn’t allowed to do it until he’s at least 18. Not sure I put the bar high enough there, but we’ve all been to college, right? If my boy can graduate high school a virgin, he’s on the right road. I just made sure to put emphasis on the fact that you had to be really sure about someone, to really love them and know them well, before you should consider having any kind of physical relations.
We started with diagrams of the male and female reproductive layout, and went through the mechanics of where the egg comes from, where it travels, where it is fertilized, where the pregnancy takes place, then how growth of the embryo and birth take place. The Mancub asked good questions, like how the umbilical cord comes into existence. I had a laptop fired up for the diagrams, but I’ll admit that Google came in handy once or twice. Not because I didn’t know, of course, but just so I could look up the Latin terms.
The Mancub wanted to come back to sex versus pregnancy, though, and that’s the tricky part. I think one of the really crappy things about sex education in this country is that tell kids that it’s just for procreation, when everything in the pubescent body is screaming, “Hey, yes! Let’s do this!”
You try explaining what a clitoris is, while denying that sex is awesome.
So we moved on to the fact that there are more nerves per square inch in men’s and women’s groins than anywhere else, so touching them feels good. As it turned out, it depends on the kinds of touch – as the Mancub pointed out when he asked whether that’s why it hurts so godawfully to be kneed in the nuts. ***Yes. Yes, it is. I was glad to hear that he only knew of that annecdotally.
Then I got to the “forewarned is forearmed” portion of the program, and explained how blood flows to the penis and that creates an erection. This was greeted with a mixture of horror and skepticism, but we reduced it to a question of physics. I explained to him a woman’s reaction to the prospect of having sex, but even then, could he imagine a man getting one part of him to go into one part of a woman?
“It would be like pushing playdough through a keyhole,” he said. He laughed.
That’s a pretty good analogy. I laughed, too.
I think this will be a running dialogue, so I stressed that he can always ask me anything and I’ll give him an honest answer. Future lessons are being planned on STDs, homosexuality and peer pressure, but I think it’s a pretty good start.