By Kathryn Libel
Sex was the bedtime topic last night.
My son is 9 and my daughter is 6.
May I just say, this was really uncomfortable?
A little background on this exciting conversation. We are animal nuts and watch a lot of Wild Kratts and National Geographic. We know that animals mate to reproduce, mammals bear live young and give milk, and that birds and amphibians and reptiles lay eggs (as a general rule. Turns out that isn’t exclusively true. Last night I learned that there are rare birds that give milk and mammals that lay eggs.). I’m a nurse, so we call our genitals by their proper names. We have chickens and farm cats.
Also, we spayed the dog.
Sadie’s questions about what exactly the vet took out of the dog and why exactly that stopped her from having babies.
Which led to Sadie wondering how exactly the rooster fertilized the eggs at the farm.
Which led to Jonathan asking how the rooster’s sperm and the hen’s egg made a new chick… and did that mean that his DNA was half Mom and half Dad? And if so, why does he look different from Sadie?
Then Sadie wanted to know how the rooster’s sperm got in there with the egg.
And Jonathan asked if humans have a mating season, since human babies are born anytime and not just in the spring.
Let’s add to this that my marriage recently ended for a huge conglomerate of reasons, which included sexual abuse and an affair (on my part.)
That affair opened my eyes for the first time that I am not broken, sex can be gentle and pleasurable, and that CONSENT IS A THING. The most important thing.
Part of my faith (and life!) deconstruction process has included acknowledging the contribution of purity culture and popular Christian marriage teachings to my abuse, as well as reexamining my previously held beliefs regarding sexuality in general, including in LGBTQ+ relationships.
I’m not sure what I believe about sex anymore, and here are my children asking me all kinds of questions! At bedtime! When my mind really wants to be sleeping.
I say again, YIKES.
What else could I do? I answered their questions honestly. When we got to human mating, I put on my most clinical voice and told my children that human mating is called sex. I told them humans are the only mammals who mate for pleasure and connection, not only to reproduce. It’s a gift God gave us and is designed to be enjoyed…
That’s where my panic set in. I felt like a crazy hypocrite when the rest of the sentence, “within marriage,” formed in my mind and began to slip out.
Instead, I refocused the conversation on that some people use sex to hurt other people, and that’s why we keep our private parts private. I reminded them that if someone or something ever makes them feel weird or uncomfortable, to tell me. They will not be in trouble. I told them they don’t ever have to hug, kiss, or touch someone if they don’t want to. And that’s why I insist that they stop touching/hugging/tickling/chasing when someone says “no” or “stop.”
But where does the conversation go next?
My son is approaching adolescence more quickly than I care to think about. I certainly do not want to repeat the purity culture garbage that makes your virginity the primary attribute of eligibility for a happy marriage.
I want to teach them to value and protect their sexual experiences, and wait to share them with someone who loves them desperately. Preferably, in a healthy, committed relationship. I want them to understand how their bodies work. I want them to understand that real sex is not found in pornography or drippy romance novels. I want them to know that romantic love is fun, and also hard work. But also, fun!
I want them to be fluent in the language of consent, and know that consent is always and only an enthusiastic “yes!” And that trying to coerce someone into anything is manipulative and wrong.
Most of all, I want them to respect themselves and those they encounter, romantically or not.
It’s anybody’s guess when the subject of sex will come up again. Our bedtime conversations are vastly varied and unpredictable. I know that I don’t have a lot of answers for myself yet, let alone the kids.
Kathryn Libel is a Midwestern single mom to a boy who loves books and a girl who loves dirt. Words, big thoughts, coffee, and good food really turn her crank! If she isn’t busy navigating big thoughts and big feelings with her kiddos, she is usually reading, writing, or eating something delicious!