Everyone has his or her own particular story, whether it was the infamous “talk” parents awkwardly fumble through, a classroom lecture with muffled snickers, snippets of a graphic television show behind your parents’ backs, or even catching a naughty (yet unsuspecting) older sibling in the act. The details may vary, but the bottom line remains the same: we never quite view our bodies and our private parts in the same pure way after finding out the truth.
Just why is it we are so reluctant to talk to kids about sex? The thought of “the talk” brings back some of the most awkward memories for parents and children alike. The former reads online articles and even purchases books instructing them on the best methods to approach this sensitive subject with their supposedly innocent little ones. By the time many finally fess up the courage to sit down to have “the talk” with their children, the internet might have already done the task for them.
The level of our discomfort on this subject is so high that we would rather have children believe a stork dropped them on a doorstep than to tell them the truth. Just how gullible do adults believe kids are these days? This is the age when many 1 year-olds receive kid tablets for Christmas; they are are born with the innate ability to perfectly handle technology. Parental controls might be easily thwarted with their skills.
So, how was it us kids from the prehistoric 80s and 90s first found out about the birds and the bees?
For me, it happened one fateful afternoon when I still lived in Colombia. I was in my second grade classroom, and it was time for our weekly Sexual Education class. Our teacher, Miss Marta, was a stout woman who wore an unmistakable air of authority. The fear every single child in that classroom felt for Miss Marta paralleled that which the Boogeyman invoked within us. In hindsight, I suppose stirring fear would be an effective way to teach second graders about anatomy and sex.
“Boys and girls, I must ask something of you. The topics we will discuss today are serious and sensitive. I ask that you please act like mature young men and ladies.” Of course, a maturity preamble will really control second graders during a lecture on our “changing bodies.” 7 year-olds are not exactly the epitome of maturity. “Turn your books to page 73,” Miss Marta’s stern voice commanded.
I looked up and noticed Ms. Marta’s eyes were absolutely drawn to the text placed on the desk in front of her. Usually, her glare scanned the room inspecting our behavior. Something about her demeanor also seemed different. Less demanding and more hesitant. I shrugged off my thoughts and turned to page 73, as she specified.
Emphatic gasps shattered the classroom’s deafening silence. Exclamations floated around the room with the swiftness of flying dust. Three words were repeated with painful frequency: what, look, and the all-too-expressive huh. I sat in utter silence. My young eyes were glued to the image gracing page 73 of my Sex-Ed textbook. Though exactly what that image entailed was completely unknown to me.
It was not every day that a 7 year-old growing up in the 90s saw what I was seeing. The Internet was nowhere near as widespread in 1997 as it is in 2014. As such, 7 year-olds did not have access to the same amount of information as they do today.
There, covering the entire lower half of page 73, was the picture of two figures: a man and a woman. The figures were actually outlines of very real-looking human bodies. The male outline was colored green and lay on top of the blue female outline. Considering the fact that the figures were presumably naked, it was possible to see each and every body part outlined in great detail. Yes, even THAT body part.
By then, we all knew and understood the male and female body parts, or so we thought. That day, we realized they actually fit together. Boyish snickers drifted across the room. The girls were sorely silent. Miss Marta ordered the boys to settle down and act in a mature manner or they would get detention. After coercing them into obedience, she proceeded to explain the act of sexual relations as a reproductive process. Though her instruction was entirely scientific in nature, some of my classmates found it incredibly challenging to keep a straight face throughout her explanation. Amusement and revulsion lingered throughout our classroom.
I was dumbfounded. Suddenly, it all made sense. My mom always forced me to either cover my eyes or leave the room during “adult” scenes in soap operas. I never quite understood what she meant by “adult” scenes until that day.
That afternoon, I ran off the school bus and sprinted into my house. As soon as I opened the door, I called for my mom. She was in the kitchen. I took the Sex-Ed textbook from my book bag and flipped it to that scandalous page 73.
The scent of my mom’s delicious seasoned chicken greeted me upon barging into the kitchen. Her back was turned to me as she sliced some vegetables.
“Mom, I learned something new today! Look: the man’s penis is penetrating the woman’s vagina,” I proudly replied as I pointed to the diagram on page 73.
The swiftness with which my mom spun around would have made Jackie Chan jealous. Her eyes were aghast with horror. The ceramic plate in her hands slipped cracking into a million pieces upon hitting the tile.
“WHAT?!?!?!” Her panicked voice exclaimed as she snatched the textbook from my hands. Her eyes scanned the contents of page 73 with growing dismay. Her knuckles turned white from holding on to the book so tightly. She closed it and put down on the counter.
Disconcerted, I asked, “Is something wrong?”
My mom bit her lip in hesitation before saying, “Honey, we need to have a talk.”
At the time, I did not understand my mom’s reaction. As a grown woman, I now comprehend the panic she experienced at being forced to have “the talk” with her only child at such a young age.
I find myself at a bind as I understand the importance of talking to kids about sex before they find out from dubious sources. However, I cringe at the thought of having “the talk” with my unborn children. Maybe it’s time that we as a society agree children need to be informed earlier since our changing world forces them to mature sooner than we would like.
It’s interesting that even as adults we often feel uncomfortable discussing an act as natural as sex. Our society has done a wonderful job of stigmatizing something which most people do at one point or another. The ironic part of it all is that many of us are perfectly comfortable teaching kids about violence through TV and video games, but sex is a topic which is completely out of the question.
While I do not recommend my particular loss of innocence experience, I do think it is important to talk to children before they arrive to their own conclusions through shady websites or their friends’ crazy stories. After all, we all find out eventually. It’s just a question of when and how.