Other people’s thoughts on “the talk”

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?


  1. I agree with you on the fact that we in no way can control our kids’ sex lives.
    Actually, I think it is dangerous. Leading our kids to think that someone can tell them what is good, bad, how they should behave sexually and when… it is the best way to lead them to accept abuse later on, to be told by other people what they should do and how they should do it.
    I want my kids to have tools in their hands, to make the best decisions they can for themselves. And know that, if they mess up, they can come to me and we’ll see how I can help them deal with it.
    But that I, in no way, should be there to tell them: you are not allowed to have sex until you’re 18 (funny how that number is often not the same for boys and for girls, even though girls mature faster than boys and are often physically and emotionally ready earlier than boys).
    Unfortunately for me, their father has a very different approach to sexuality. And to life really. Now that he cannot control me any more, he thinks there is nothing better to do than try and control his kids.

    1. That’s a whole other interesting topic: reconciling different parental views toward sex/education in parenting. I think I’ll leave that for the parenting blogs. 😉

  2. I very much take the Lea Grover approach. I’ve just always been really open with my daughter in terms of sex; we’ve never sat down and had A Talk about it. It’s drizzled out over the years in bits and pieces when appropriate. I didn’t censor shows that showed nudity (not sex, just nudity). I never used cutesy names for genitals. At 12, she still looks away when people start kissing on the screen, but at least I know she knows what sex is. She knows about STDs and how you get them. She knows how pregnancy happens. She knows what a condom is used for (and the many other silly uses her male cousins can come up with for them).

    There’s even aspects of kink that I haven’t hid from her – she knows that my husband and I like latex, for example. She knows that in some relationships, one person leads while the other follows. We joke that “boys make good pets” and that finding the nerdy ones is the best course of action because they’re so eager to please and trainable lol (half kidding).

    I don’t want to think about her having sex, not because I don’t expect it to happen, but because I worry about STDs and pregnancy and if they guy will be a selfish little prick or if he’ll actually care about whether or not she enjoys herself. I’m not going to go so far as to take her to buy a vibrator at 17 like a friend’s mom did (that’s out of my comfort zone). But I do hope she advocates for herself and her needs/wants.

    1. I would add, and I should have in my post, that I’m grateful for your answers. They made me think, and I’m appreciative of that. And I always welcome argument from those who disagree with me. I’m sorry if my disagreement was either brusque or dismissive. I didn’t mean to be. I simply meant to disagree.

      1. Was there nothing in all the links/comments shared that you did agree with? With none of that expressed, it feels like you’ve set all our contributions to the discussion aside in the trash pile, along with the ones you’ve specifically refuted as terrible/damaging in the above post. Or maybe you do just disagree in entirety with things we’ve found helpful to us. Each parent, each kid, each family relationship is different, and it feels a little like you think you’re on the path to discover The One True Sex Talk (i.e., the one you’ll have with your kid), and the rest of them (the ones we’re having/plan to have with ours) are Not Good.

        (you’re not the only one who chafes, eh? 😉 )

        1. Sorry to make you chafe. No, there was lots in the Smiler piece to which you linked I liked. I think, in general, most of his bullets  are good ones, but most of them aren’t what I feel like I need to target in MY talk, and his emphasis on values and dangers feels more shameful and less joyous than I want my talk to be. Coupled with his packaging of the thing – the fourteen things I MUST tell my son – and I was chafing so hard I lost my way.

          I actually liked what you, and all my commenters, had to say. I just wasn’t crazy about most of the links. (Though see the recent link by Cande – I love that one.)

          Finally, it was precisely that “one true sex talk” thing that so bummed me out about Smiler. I definitely should have a different talk than he should. Our values, and relationship to sex, are entirely different. That’s why I was looking to flesh out MY talk, and why it bummed me out that he was seeking to flesh out MY talk too!

          His emphasis felt entirely negative to me – all about the risks and dangers of sex and how to mitigate them, when it’s ok to have sex, with whom.

          I’m definitely in the minority in that I conceive of sex as one of the less risky, less dangerous, activities in which I regularly engage, and it’s important to me that I communicate that, AND that I communicate my reaction against that more stigmatizing way of approaching sex.

  3. I have totally mixed feelings about sex education in the home. I never got any and am quite happy I didn’t. I had a secret world of sexuality from when I was 4 or 5 (to present day mind you!). I was masturbating at a very young age and I had my first sexual experiences when I was 6 or 7 with friends. I’m leaning towards thinking that talking about sex honestly and openly when a child asks is the best way to go. If the child doesn’t ask, then it’s probably not necessary to approach it. I think kids have more comfortable ways of dealing with it and it’s not necessarily going to be the “best” way or the most informed way but it will be appropriate for them at that time. That is over and above the basics of staying safe and healthy mind you. And I believe you mentioned this to some degree yourself already.

    I think that the topics you brought up in your first post on “The Talk” were very valid, each and every one of them thought out meticulously and I agree with everything you said. I don’t know how old your kid is but it’s likely he/she already has his/her own opinions, ideas and experiences those will what he/she will hold on to most. It will likely be a discussion with your kid that will open your eyes more than his/hers. Sometimes I think that parents want to have the talk so they can get an idea where their kids are sexually speaking, and that’s it’s a good thing, but it’s more for the parent than it is for the kid…. again over and above the whole safety stuff.

    As regards to porn there’s all sorts of articles out there on the dangers or the non dangers or porn and children, out of curiosity I’ve read a couple, one pro and one con. They both make very valid points.
    Fact is I have seen some crazy shit in schools here where I live and I doubt things are any different there. I’ve seen middle school girls doing sexual favors of varying degrees to get money to pay for their apps or prepaid cards. I’ve seen boys filming a dare blow job in high school class and passing it around, not to mention the massive quantities of porn videos and gags that go around on social media between fairly young children with smartphones.

    Porn is out there, porn is circulating, porn will be an influence and a parent isn’t necessarily going to change a boy’s opinion about it, especially when all his friends are chanting “bang her harder”. It’s when we grow up that we realize how dumb/fucked up or smart certain things are.

    Having said that, I wish you luck on the talk. I’m sure it’ll be an interesting experience for both of you, eye opening and informative with such a well versed and prepared father.

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