When I asked for people’s thoughts, I got a bunch. Here, I’d like just to respond to a couple of things that people posted/suggested:
1) Adam Savage tells the story of talking to his twin boys about the internet at The Moth.
Several readers suggested this, but I was underwhelmed. Take a listen. See what you think. Here’s what I think:
Savage’s somewhat giddily reporting that he has his sons’ first porn search terms, and analogizing this to video of their first steps, felt a little… creepy… to me. I mean, on the one hand, I like the sex-positivity that acknowledges that sexploration is inevitable and healthy and to be encouraged. But it’s not the sort of thing that parents should be intruding on. Our kids need privacy, and I felt a bit like I was being coerced into violating one son’s privacy by having to hear Savage quote him saying, “I searched for big boobs.”
The bigger problem I had with this talk was its conclusion, which could be summarized with the quotation, “The internet hates women.” This seems 100% wrong to me, for a dozen reasons. First, foremost, the internet isn’t so much a thing as it is a sort of representation of our collective brains. If the internet hates women, we hate women. (And certainly, in many ways, we do.) But laying this hatred at the feet of the internet feels almost a dissociative way of avoiding responsibility for our own misogyny. And/but, if the internet hates women, it also loves them, and is indifferent to them. And it really likes cats.
It’s important that kids learn about sexism, patriarchy, male domination, the male gaze, and feminism. But dumbing this all down to a simple slogan like “the internet hates women” does no good. What kids need to learn is that men are, generally, physically stronger than women, and that we have, historically, used that physical advantage to horrific effect, coercing sex, submission, and subordination, and that, because of both our relative strength and our history of bad behavior, we men have a special obligation to ensure that women feel safe, always, in all contexts, but especially in sexual contexts. And, that we have an obligation to police our fellow men to be sure that they’re behaving themselves, always, around women. That we need to do away with “boys will be boys,” and promote, “men should be real men.”
I prefer what Tony Porter says here about what it is to be a real man:
2) Several people pointed me to Andrew Smiler’s “14 things you must teach your son about sex,” at The Good Men Project. This one just made me angry. I “must” teach my son these things? Really?
I chafe when people (other than a boss) tell me what to do, and/but am greatly appreciative when people tell me what they do. This isn’t stylistic – it’s fundamental. I don’t agree with Smiler, for example, that I should “specify an age at which [I] think [my] son will be both physically and emotionally mature enough to have sex.” I mean, first off, the physical question kinda answers itself, doesn’t it? What I think hardly matters. He either is physically mature or he isn’t. And the emotional one? I don’t feel particularly well suited to weigh in. Nor do I think my opinion much matters. Parents have undermined their own authority with their children for generations by misunderstanding where their children are sexually, and by seeking to impose outdated or irrelevant standards on contemporary dating and sex. What’s more, who said my son shouldn’t have sex until he’s emotionally “mature enough”? He has done a gazillion other things before he was ready for them emotionally, sometimes against my wishes, sometimes at my instigation. The idea that everything we do should come at precisely the right moment maturationally seems to me insane, and unrelated to how life actually works.
I think of parenting as being the responsibility not for protecting one’s child from that which can hurt them, but for providing her or him with the tools to play whatever cards s/he may be dealt. Particularly as puberty approaches and passes, the idea that a parent can protect a child from her/his judgment becomes increasingly ludicrous – and damaging.
And finally, I couldn’t agree less with what Smiler writes about porn: “porn is about as realistic as an unscripted ‘reality’ TV show and as healthy as junk food,” he writes, and then refers readers to “makelovenotporn.tv”, a web site about which I’ve written, and which does nothing for me (but which may well float Smiler’s – and his son’s – boat). Sure, some porn sucks. Some porn is great. But Smiler’s not the arbiter (any more than I am). And the idea that I should direct my kid to some or other porn site strikes me as insane. I have infinite confidence in every child’s innate ability to find the porn that’s right for her or him.
I’ve got thoughts on porn and kids, which I’ll write about in a coming post, but here’s a one-paragraph summary of what I think about porn and kids: kids today are unbelievably lucky in that there is such a plethora of readily accessible erotically stimulating material that every sexually curious child can and should learn what excites her/him, what disgusts her/him, where her/his areas of curiosity are. Porn is a tool, not an actor. Kids have notoriously poor judgment, and, in particular, ineffectual governors when it comes to engaging in repetitive behavior, so they need to be parented – to be sure they don’t give their phone number to the wrong people, to be sure they don’t fall down a porn vortex never to return. And yes, there are other dangers in porn: much of it is unrealistic, or advances politically reprehensible ideals, or oppresses women, or reduces humans, or women, to nothing more than sex objects. But this is true of everything: our kids are well used to these phenomena from watching TV, from seeing advertisements, from seeing movies, from listening to music, from reading books. Porn’s no different. They understand that, perhaps better than we do.
People pointed me to other thoughts on “the talk” – to Lea Grover, telling her daughter, “We don’t play with our vulvas at the table,” and to a professional sex educator talking about how to teach sex ed (a question which seems to me very different from how parents should talk to their kids about sex and sexuality).
I haven’t found any examples, yet, of anyone writing about or modeling a talk of the sort I wrote about here, but I’m gonna keep looking. Help me? What are your thoughts?