My previous posts about knowing when you’re ready for sexual initiation were from an adult’s perspective, but let’s be real: it often happens long before reaching that magical elusive threshold. What about our children, then? What’s the rule for deciding when the right time comes for them?
Here’s a simple rule about rules: they should be simple. Regardless what they’re about. If you can’t explain a rule to a child, it’s not simple enough. It’s not that I accept no rules. I just want them to be as simple as possible, because the simpler they are, the fewer of them we need. The less convoluted the law, the easier it is to follow. The fewer exceptions there are, the easier they are to remember and explain. The clearer the terms are defined, the less confusion could arise. And if some things cannot be clearly defined, you have to base your rules on things that can.
With that attitude me and my Wife are trying to build a home of consistent rules and show our daughter the world in similar fashion. We rarely ever forbid her to do anything and if we do, we always provide a real reason. If she wants to climb a tree by herself, we’d rather explain to her she’s not ready because she lacks in strength or coordination. And if she persists, we might just agree for her to try, but with caution, under our supervision and guidance. This applies to every aspect of life: education, creativity, fun, technology, media, housework, food, hygiene, and – most importantly for us – emotions. This sometimes requires excruciating amount of work on our part and we’re often exhausted after just a regular day with her, but we see her growing up to be a resilient, wise human being.
Even though it’s years away, I’d like to believe we will apply the same ideals when the time comes for sex talks (notice how it is usually referred to as “THE sex talk”? Singular? As if one conversation about “birds and bees” could be enough.) For me it’s sensible and respectful to be open with kids about sex and teach them to be open as well. Much like with caution in climbing trees at the age of four, if they’re aware of the emotional and physical risks (including, but not limited to, STIs and unwanted pregnancy), recognize themselves as the ultimate owners of their bodies, understand the idea of consent and learn that sex can and should be fun and pleasant, they will be safer approaching it on their own when they are ready.
But wait, isn’t she my daughter? My precious little princess whom I’d better lock away in the tallest tower of a thickest-walled citadel? Should I just allow her to do anything she wants with whomever she desires? Is there a place for “you do you” in a parent-child relationship? Well, in light of what I wrote above, I don’t believe it’s okay for me to forbid my daughter to have sex when she wants to. Forget “okay”, let’s be real here: however hard I may end up wanting to, there is no way to have control over it at all. If they want it enough, there’s no wall thick enough, no tower tall enough to stop kids from having sex. What is “sex” anyway? What should I forbid? Kissing? Touching? Sexting? Full-on intercourse? 21st century forms of intimacy that haven’t been invented yet? See what I mean by clear definitions? It’s just as fuzzy as the difference between child and adult.
With all that, we still need to remember that a three-year-old may not realize the risks of climbing a tree. Similarly, a teenager may not be emotionally mature enough to know if they’re ready for sex, but when the opportunity arises and their raging hormones with it, they might find themselves ill-equipped to stop and think it through. Just like a chain smoker when the craving comes, no matter how fixed he is on quitting, has no room in his mind for anything else. We’ve all been there, if not with cigarettes then with pepsi or, yeah, with sex as well.
The parents’ mission is therefore not to forbid, but to equip children with tools to decide for themselves. I cannot speak from my own experience yet, since as a parent I’m still about a decade away (and from the other side I only have that one embarrassing memory of my father trying to have “the talk”… about six months too late), so I’ll refer to something I’ve stumbled upon some time ago.
I rummaged through half the Internet today to find the source of these rules one Cool Dad came up with for his children about when they might be ready:
- If you feel the need to sneak around, not be open about it with anybody (hopefully, but not necessarily, your parents) you’re not ready.
- If you don’t know or trust your partner, you’re not ready.
- If you don’t understand why and how to use condoms, you’re not ready.
These are just headlines to be discussed thoroughly, that’s why I recommend reading through the whole post. For example, I think combining the first two gives us another guideline: if your partner feels the need to sneak around, then they might not be ready.
In searching for the above I also found this, for want of a better word, checklist, which applies not only to the first time ever, but to first times with new partners as well. Some points could even be consulted for every single time. The list overlaps with the quoted Cool Dad’s rules, and the first point there is quite liberating.
Finally, we need to let out kids know we’re there for them not only before, but also after. (Not during, though, since I don’t think us holding their hands during their sexual discoveries is something anyone would be comfortable with 😉 Just as we’re there to catch our daughter when she loses grip on that tree she’s climbing, a safety net of loving and attentive parents to catch kids if something goes wrong, no matter what, is essential.
With these ideas I believe we can prepare our children for the risks and pitfalls of intimacy, but also for its pleasures.
PS. Thank you to Ophelia and my other friends for discussing these topics with me in the last weeks! You showed me perspectives and made me aware of things I had no idea about. This series of posts is as much yours as mine.