Our granddaughter has reached the age when it’s time for The Talk. This has always been an awkward parental duty. Here is your child, who you diapered and bathed as a baby, and you face the prospect of them someday romping passionately with someone else, even if the intended outcome is to produce the grandchildren you’ve been yearning for. It’s harder in the United States because our views of sex get twisted by puritanical ideals of chastity and the commercialized hyper-sexualization of everything. Now, we must contend with a post-Roe society.
As a husband with a daughter and a granddaughter, I know America has never been a safe place for women, as well as transgender and intersex people who are female presenting or have a uterus. For all of them, it means not walking alone at night, sticking a key between your fingers so you can use it as a weapon, not leaving your drinks unattended, and having a friend who can get you out of a bad date. You can’t dress too revealingly, get too drunk, or flirt too much. And if something terrible happens to you, it’s always your fault. And now, if you get pregnant, it’s considered God’s will for you to carry that baby.
While states have been eager to penalize those who get and perform abortions, they don’t show equal zeal to prosecute and punish men who commit rape, incest, and the abuse of minors. In fact, the new laws against abortion will discourage women even more from pursuing justice against their assailants. They fear they would be the ones facing prosecution if they end that pregnancy, while the men who harmed them avoid consequences. (Should I mention that two of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe had credible accusations of sexual harassment? Or that justices base their stance on abortion from religious organizations with long histories of sexual abuse?) The anti-abortion movement has never been pro-life. It seems like it’s pro-rape.
But these attitudes of fear, rage, and dread put us in this situation. If we didn’t look at sex with shame and embarrassment, we wouldn’t be so afraid to discuss it with our children. Or be willing to educate ourselves. We wouldn’t have so many ignorant and judgemental people, especially those in power. We would be more accepting of those whose lifestyles differ from ours. We would make birth control free and easily accessible. Women can get the reproductive care they need. People (men in particular) would be more respectful about consent. Those who violate that respect would be more certain to face consequences. And such violations would be unnecessary because we can create healthy outlets for sexuality. And we’d all have a lot more love.
We need to give The Talk differently.
First, we need to teach children about their reproductive organs the same way we do with all other body parts. By the time children enter kindergarten, they know what their brain, stomach, heart, and lungs do. They should know the same about their genitalia. (They’ve already had to deal with them during potty training.) They should learn what they do, how to keep them clean and safe, and how they will change as they get older. It’s their bodies. They should know how they work and how to keep them healthy.
Next, they should learn about consent. They don’t have to let anyone touch them if they don’t feel comfortable. This doesn’t apply just to the “private parts,” but anywhere on their bodies. They shouldn’t feel obligated to kiss and hug anyone, including family members, if they don’t want to. Abusers start with what seems to be normal looking hugs and kisses, but children know when affection is unwanted and uncomfortable. Children should know they have autonomy over their own bodies.
When it is time for The Talk, we should give it without judgement, embarrassment, and shame. Children should always feel comfortable about talking to their parents and other caregivers with any questions they have. We should encourage curiosity. If they express unsafe desires, they should learn why they’re unsafe—not just that they’re wrong. Treat children with respect, and children will treat themselves the same way.
Our problems are caused because we don’t talk openly about sex. (And I’ve been guilty of this as well.) When ignorance and fear about sexuality is at its highest, we need to flip the script. If we start giving The Talk in a more positive and shame-free way, we can turn away from right-wing bigotry and cruelty and move towards a healthier and more inclusive society.