We all learn about sex one way or another; it would be nice to think that everyone learns about it in calm, measured tones that are sensible and not silly. I suspect that is a pipe dream; as much is learnt from our friends talking in the playground as from our parents and teachers.
I made it a point to introduce the subject early home when my son came home; he was eight at the time, and so I needed to be careful how I phrased it. I took advice from his school’s sex education plan (even primary schools teach sex education now – when I was at school, it wasn’t even discussed until secondary school) and from some reading, and I felt confident that I knew how to do it sensitively.
The first thing I vowed to do is always call body parts by their proper names; I am not one of these parents who insist on giving those parts silly and vague names. How would Bryan learn the purpose of what each part did if he didn’t even know what they were called?
Also, I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed into calling them by their proper names; he is male, and has the same male physique as everyone else. If he is heterosexual, his partners will have the opposite, and those partners deserve a boyfriend who doesn’t go all giggly when they’re together.
That was our starting point, and we talked about the inevitable changes that puberty would impose upon him; he was interested in both his body and what would happened to girls. That was good; if he wants to be a dad when he’s older, he’ll need to understand the full process. He has declared that he wants to adopt, but I made the delicate point that children are still made in the same way, even if he’s not there at the point of conception; he seemed to accept that, and I saw the realisation dawn on him as he worked out how he was created.
He is currently in Year 5 at his primary school, and I’ve been pleased to consulted on their approach to sex education; teaching children about families, emotions, and puberty as part of a bigger picture that I don’t fully remember learning about when I was a child. I always make sure I subtly increase our chats as he has lessons in school, to make sure he understands who he can talk to about the entire subject.
I was really surprised, however, that the lessons are still split into boys and girls – literally, with the two genders being taught in different classrooms. I remember that happening when I was at the start of secondary school and being confused by it; we never learnt about female issues in quite the same detail, and I was genuinely interested. What did “consent” mean? What were condoms? What did “safe sex” mean? Splitting the genders for these lessons doesn’t quite sit right with me; I want Bryan to see the female of the species as more than just mysteries and prospective romantic partners, but as friends and family members with their own complex physical and emotional selves – and that is far better discovered with both genders in the same room as the conversation happens. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it eludes me so far.
As Bryan navigates his way through the world of puberty, relationships of all kinds, emotions, and what consent means for him, I want to be there for him. I want him to know that he can talk to me about anything without embarrassment. He will, inevitably, be embarrassed from time to time, but he deserves to be heard as he understands his changing emotions and physicality – and when he chats to his mates about all the terms they’ve heard, I’d rather he check it out with me than not so that things don’t get lost in translation!