Sex education and my son

written by LIE contributor Renee; originally published at Womanist Musings

I came across an article in Madame Noire that neatly dovetailed around a conversation I recently had with a friend. The article concerns parents who have decided to allow their teenagers to have sex in their home. The response was mixed, with some in complete agreement, and others saying that they planned to teach their children abstinence.

I have had a lot of time to think about this over the years and each time I publicly discuss my approach to sex education, the naysayer hail fire and brimstone crowd inevitably attack my supposedly over liberal ways. Since he first started asking questions at the age of three, I have been very open with my oldest child about sex. I have always answered his questions in simple basic language, so that he could understand what I was saying, but I was always honest and forthright. My goal from the very beginning was to establish trust and an open dialog. I never want there to be a time when he feels that there is a question that he cannot ask me.

The unhusband and I decided that on his 12th birthday, we will start to leave condoms in the bathroom for him to use or not use at his pleasure. We have both made it clear that we would prefer him to wait until he is emotionally ready to engage in sex, but we are well aware that our wishes and his decisions may not coincide. I was driven to this decision when an article appeared in our local paper about twelve years olds having lipstick parties, at one of our local schools. I realized that the pressure to have sex has greatly increased since I was kid.

Today, our conversations about sex have moved beyond the simple mechanics, to conversations about consent, sexuality, masturbation and STD’s. It is important to me that he understands the concept of enthusiastic consent before he becomes sexually active. An absence of no does not mean yes, and this is why we have talked about not pressuring a partner into having sex and to respect boundaries. Just as we have taught him that he has autonomy over his body, it is important that he understands the same concept of autonomy applies to others. We started this project by simply asking him if we could hug or kiss him and accepting his answer as final. We have never forced him to show affection to others, and from this he learned what it is to respect the personal space of another.

We have told him that masturbation is a perfectly valid outlet for sexual feelings until he is ready to have sex. He never has to worry that I will walk into his room, because I have always knocked before entering and I don’t enter his room even to clean it without his express permission. We have talked about the fact that sex is more than penile vaginal penetration and why this is a heterosexist approach to sex and sexuality. We have talked about why it is important to know yourself completely, and that sex is about sharing an intimacy.

When he turns 16, we will grant him the right to have sex in our home. It is my hope that he will wait until he is older to take this option, but at the very least, I know he will not be sneaking around and that he will have protection readily available. Sex is a natural part of life, and I refuse to pretend that he is not a sexual being, because he is my son and we have been taught to teach our children abstinence. I would rather live in the real world, than to have him become an early father, or to have an std to live with and quite possibly die from. It is our belief that parents who take the abstinence approach to sex education, leave their children unprepared to make responsible informed decisions. There is a far cry from providing a safe environment and education, to encouraging irresponsible behaviour. The most important thing that we can do is to talk openly and honestly to children about sex from the moment they start asking questions without making any assumptions about their sexuality. At this time, our child has not revealed whether he is gay, straight, poly or bi, but whatever his sexuality turns out to be, it is my job as his parent to ensure to the best of my ability, that he is prepared to make the right decisions for him.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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