As gay men, my partner and I talk about sex, we joke about sex, we enjoy sex (or did before having two high energy, high needs kids). We feel we're open-minded, honest, sometimes silly, sometimes raunchy, and recognize that sex is a healthy part of human nature and gay identity. So when our children ask us about sex, why are we suddenly so squeamish?
I always imagined that we'd be understanding and laid back parents when it came to sex. Our kids would be informed, we'd be comfortable talking about it, and as a result, our kids would make good choices.
We began with honesty by identifying body parts by their anatomical names, nothing cutesy or euphemistic. Our son has a penis, our daughter has a vagina, though not a Volvo, as she once she exclaimed, "I have one of those too!" when someone mentioned the make of their car.
See what progressive parents we are, labeling body parts correctly? But then our kids started to ask more questions about what those body parts do. And what "sex" means.
At first we defaulted to talking about how a baby is made. A sperm meets an egg which results in a baby! Sex = reproduction! But we were progressive, right? Because we avoided the whole "when a man who loves a woman..." thing. We didn't want to promote heteronormativity. Sex doesn't always have to include a man and a woman. Or even love.
We pulled out a great book, What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, we bought that is very diverse and inclusive – it doesn't ascribe to two genders, or one sexuality. There are many ways to create a family.
One car ride comes to mind when our daughter, age 5, said, "I heard babies come from sex."
I replied, "Yes, sometimes. Sometimes from surrogacy. Or adoption, like our family. Are you hungry for a snack?"
"Did I come from sex?" she followed up.
"Yes. Granola bar?" I prodded my partner to give her some food...
"Did Daddy and Papa have sex to have me?" she asked.
When I said no, the precocious thing said, "Oh, that's too bad," then looked out the window.
Our son, just turned 10, has been asking more detailed questions lately: how does the sperm get to the egg? Why do kids at school talk about humping and make this motion? Why do people make noise when they have sex?
I always take a deep breath and try to be matter of fact. I don't want to act embarrassed because I don't want him to be embarrassed. I don't want to instill any sense of shame or squash his trust in talking to me about sensitive subjects.
My partner received a follow up question: "So the man puts his penis in a woman's vagina?" Yes. "Just puts it in and takes it out?" Well... "Does he have to leave it there for a while?!"
During these discussions, the kids either giggle or look horrified. One day our daughter looked down and said, "so one day I'll pee out a baby?" Not exactly - it is born through the vagina. She laughs, as if it's a joke, and says, "a baby won't fit through there." Well...
I resist explaining the mechanics of sex. But why? Because it's awkward, or because I don't want to talk about it and therefore promote it? Again, what kind of Puritan am I?
I think I'm almost nervous that they'll soon ask about gay sex. I'm not ready to talk about that either, but what are my hang-ups there? Because it will be too personal, and no kid wants to imagine their parents having sex? Or because I don't want to seem like I'm recruiting them to the gay side?
I guess I'm not as enlightened as I set out to be.
Thankfully the authors of the baby book put out a book about sex: Sex is a Funny Word. I appreciate how they have framed it: sex is about respect, joy, trust and justice. I like those concepts and can promote them and come back to them, something tangible to hold on to and guide me when I feel awkward.
Because I want my children to be safe and informed, and I want to provide the forum for discussion at home, whatever they hear from friends or see in the media. I want to keep the communication open and honest, especially as communication is an integral part of sex. And parenting too, of course.