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Sonya JF Barnett Headshot

Having 'The Talk'

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My son (we'll call him Evil Genius) is nearing nine years of life on this planet. When I was that age, I hadn't seen any type of erotic image, whether it was for the sake of art or porn, or heard any kind of erotic language. I was still pretty naive when it came to things sexual, and it would be at least another year before I discovered my father's porn stash. My parents never mentioned sex, I was never permitted to see any such content on tv, nor did they ever give me The Talk. Not. One. Word.

Although my parents were openly (albeit benignly) affectionate with each other, our house wasn't a place where one discussed sexuality in any way, except maybe to quash teenage hormonal feelings by yelling, grounding, or illogic. Needless to say, my siblings and I all learned about the birds and the bees as apparently most kids those days: anywhere but home. As I grew older, I vowed to not let the same thing happen with my own children.

What's different about Evil G's upbringing, other than the plethora of information available at his fingertips, is the fact that he's being raised in a household that, compared not only to my parents' standards but to most people's, is quite sexually candid. There are coffeetable books of nudes on display, drawings and photographs from many artists that are a part of my erotic arts community, and he hears many a conversation about sexual health and positivity. We are more likely to permit him watching TV or movies that have sex in them rather than violence. All of it is, of course, tempered to what we consider age appropriate: he is not privy to our porn stash or dirty talk.

Evil G has grown up with adult vocabulary. We were never ones for baby talk, and certainly not ones who give genitals pet names like 'weenie' or 'hoohoo.' If that were the case, I may as well call his hands 'grabbies' (we're not, however, sticklers for proper anatomical terms; 'Balls' is heard often, as slang is quite common in our house). We're set on using liberated and shameless language, instead of enforcing bullshit taboos like being shy of that place down there. Anytime he has asked a question, we've answered as frankly and honestly as possible.

So during a late night walk from a bookstore where he collected Calvin and Hobbes and I collected books on the early days of porn, when Evil G asked a question of a sexual nature, we were suddenly in a conversation about semen, sperm journeys and fertilized eggs. It was all very frank with no giggles or hushed tones, until we passed a family on the sidewalk and he asked to pause our conversation. I told him it was nothing to be embarrassed about, while I inwardly cringed at how the school system has turned my son into someone who now tells me to pull my straps up at the pool and is reprimanded for saying 'vagina.'

We finished the conversation as easily as if it had it been about how Calvin uses a Transmogrifier, and continued toward home with me mentally scheduling the day when I have to give a much more detailed account of sex. Not just how it happens, but why it happens. Because it's natural. Because it feels good. Because it's nice to feel a physical connection with someone, much like a hug. Not merely because people have to procreate.

I don't want my son growing up with nervous energy and embarrassment over something so overly hyped as sex. It's just sex. That thing people do to feel good and make others feel good. There are worse things than sharing orgasms (as long as he has a condom) and it would be nice for him to understand that sex is for more than reproduction and doesn't have to be done only with someone you love. There's too much stigma attached to something that is natural and not harmful. I had lots of sex in high school, and was condemned for it by everyone, including my parents, even though I was never cruel to people, didn't shoot heroin or puppies, never told my teachers to go fuck themselves.

So while I psych myself up for The Talk, I'm hoping it will come off as easily as me explaining how to connect Evil G's toy train tracks. A few weeks ago I had to explain why a positive join at one end and a negative join at the other means they'll work no matter the curve of the route. When I was done, I returned to mention that sometimes that connection is called male and female. "Why?" Well, because the human body is set up so the male penis fits snuggly into the female vagina during sex. "Oh. That's kinda weird to call it that". I said it was certainly interesting, but in a way makes sense. "Huh. I guess so." And now he understands how to deftly create the route for transporting his LEGO, if not how to fit with a future partner.

I have no proof this is the correct way to speak to my son, but it certainly feels right. I wish my parents had spoken to me about sex instead of remaining silent and making me feel ashamed of essentially being a teenager. Maybe I would have gone to them for answers when it came right down to it, instead of trying to hide every weird inkling and unexpected hickey (I remember walking into my house backwards, 15, trying to hide the image of Trojan packet on the back of my t-shirt. Safe sex would still get me grounded). Evil G may still be more likely to talk to my husband than to me, but without the stigma, I believe he'll feel comfortable enough to talk.

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