When they were younger my kids would say, “Mom, you’re not wearing a bra.”
I’d say, “I know. Women can choose to wear bras or not wear bras. It’s my choice.”
When the boys got older they’d say, “Mom, you’re not wearing a bra. It’s gross.”
I’d say, “My body is not gross. And I do not need to wear certain clothing in order to not be gross.”
Then I got nervous that I am messing the kids up. So I put on a bra. And I started reading more about how to deal with kids and sex. Where is something in between wearing a burka and going topless? And how do other moms navigate this stuff?
I decided to always wear a bra while I’m figuring out how to handle things. Then the boys said, “Your nipples are showing.”
I said, “I’m wearing a bra. And it’s not appropriate for you to talk with me about my nipples.”
And then it ended. I refused to talk to the boys about my body. I think maybe I should have started with that. But I also think I wanted the chance to tell them about women not needing to cover up for men. But look. I’m covering.
I wonder if I am having this problem because I grew up in a sexually abusive home. Or if I’m having this problem because I have Aspergers. Or I’m having this problem because all moms of boys have this problem.
I am unsure of myself in this area, so I read a lot. And now that I have a kid who is gay, I read even more. For example, some people think gay porn has real benefits – showing that wanting gay sex is ok and other people want it too.
Hm. Everything seems complicated to me. And I just don’t want to mess up. I spent so much time saying, “You absolutely cannot let the girl take responsibility for birth control. Until you want to have a baby and take care of it, you take care of making sure you don’t get pregnant. Condom every time.”
Then I found out a lot of moms take control of birth control for their daughters. They get an IUD or hand the girl a pill every morning. Or I don’t know what. It’s way more common than I realized. Or at least in the places where I have lived. I can understand that.
So I switched my tune a little. I focused on safe sex. If nothing else, that’s the way to get my gay son to use a condom. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m planning on serial monogamy.”
What the fuck? From my twelve year old. There is no way I have any hope of being useful in the sex ed department anymore. That was it for me. So I am looking around for sources now. For someone who is more useful to a generation of kids who is already way past my knowledge base.
Mark sent me this article in Philly Magazine about Al Vernacchio — a gay, Quaker sex education teacher at Friends’ Central, an elite pre-K-to-12 Quaker school. He knew he was gay at a young age and it was hard for him to tell his Roman Catholic parents.
This paragraph catches me:
He’s converted from Catholicism to Quakerism. He made the switch five years ago, he says, upon discovering that Quakerism and sex education are “speaking the same language: how to be your most authentic self, how to create authentic relationships, and how to leave the world better than you found it.”
Mark found a link to Vernacchio’s TED talk, but Mark points out that teaching this material in a curriculum format in a school setting would be difficult. Because students are at different stages of thinking about sex even though they’re the same age.
This is true of my own kids. The son who realized he was gay did lots of investigating to figure out what that meant. He is a lot more knowledgeable about sex than his older brother, who is not grappling with sexual identity and takes most sex at face value.
What I like about Mark’s observation is acknowledgement that sex ed has to be individualized to be relevant. What I like about the article is that it makes me feel like I’m not the only adult looking for ways to become educated about sex:
In 20 years at Friends’ Central, Vernacchio has become well known and highly regarded at the progressive, creative-minded private school. Laurie Novo, who’s worked at Friends’ Central (including as co-principal) for 25 years, says she’s never heard a single parent complain about Vernacchio’s classes. In fact, they’re so wildly popular — especially the 11th- and 12th-grade “Sexuality and Society” curriculum — that the school once had to hold a lottery for seats. Casey Cipriani, a 2001 graduate who took the course’s first iteration, says she recalls other students — and even her own mother — asking to read her homework.
I’m with Casey’s mom. I want to read the homework. I have no idea what I’m talking about. After 30 years of sex and two failed marriages I have no idea how to talk to kids about sex in a way that matters to them.
I hear myself defending my right to not wear a bra, and I feel like got all my sex education from 1970s feminists. And if the best sex ed is “be your authentic self” then maybe it was okay when I defended my right to wear a bra or not. And I told my kids I’m sick of talking about my body with them when, frankly, I was.