Let’s talk about sex

Dara Squires
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Or rape, really. Let’s talk about healthy sex and unhealthy sex. Let’s talk about what consent really is. And let’s have those talks with our children.

My eight- and six-year-old know what sex is and where babies come from. They’ve seen dogs “humping” (I was so pleased when an older neighbour friend taught them that particular word …) and have a basic idea of how it all works physically.

But they’re too young, yet, to really understand the emotional side of sex or hormonal drives. When my six-year-old daughter asked me once while watching two squirrels mate why they decided to do it right then and there in the middle of stealing seeds from the bird feeder, I wasn’t exactly certain how to respond.

When she asked me if I thought “Rosie,” as she had named the girl squirrel, was OK with it or if it hurt I knew exactly what to say. I told her that sex, in people especially, should never happen unless both people really want to and that it should never hurt. I also told her that if Rosie wanted it to stop than she had every right to tell “Chippy” (the male one) to stop.

Maybe you think six is too young to get into those kinds of specifics? I can’t say what the exact right age is. I do know, though, as a parent, that you have to seize the moments you are given and that every message you want them to learn has to be repeated over and over and over again, from young childhood on.

Last week, my eight-year-old, whose ears are getting bigger with age, overheard the word “rape” in a radio newscast. “What’s rape?” he asked. I told him it was another form of assault: one person — usually a man — hurting another person — usually a woman. I wasn’t sure about explaining the sex side of it, partly because his younger sister and brother were present and partly because I just didn’t want him to see that negative side of it so early in life. We moved on to other topics, but I know, especially as he begins reading more, that this will come up again.

I hope it does. Because the fact is whether he asks me about it or not, he’s being exposed to these ideas constantly. He’s coming across it in our rape and porn culture that makes even children’s popular music about sex — and he’s seeking it out, actively, by conversing with peers, reading and searching the internet.

In 2009, Internet company Symantec released a list of the top 100 searches children make using their Norton Family Online software (an Internet protection program that many families use). The fourth most popular search was “porn.” Let me clarify that, the fourth most popular search for children age seven and under was porn. The first three were YouTube (with tons of sexual content), Google (even with parental controls blocking kids from visiting sites, children can still read the site summary), and Facebook (notorious home of child sex predators).

Those same top three were present for older children (tweens and teens up to 18) with their fourth most popular search being “sex.” So no matter what age, children are showing an interest. And these are children whose parents are already monitoring their Internet usage.

It’s been said that most boys are exposed to porn online by age 11 and most girls by 14. So perhaps I oughtn’t feel so guilty about the fact that my eight-year-old heard the word “rape” while I was listening to CBC. After all, I’d rather he heard it while I was present than when I wasn’t. But unless we’re willing to be present through our kids’ explorations and searching for information on sex, than they’re going to get their information elsewhere — like from online pornography.

There’s been a lot in the media lately about rape — from Delhi, India to Steubenville, Ohio. And the statistics and arguments have been dragged out once more. A 16-year-old girl gets drunk at a party, which leads many full-grown adults to insist that it’s not really rape because she wouldn’t have gotten drunk if she didn’t want it. When adults think this way, what hope is there for our children?

But there is hope. Our daughters hear, like mine already has, that no one has the right to force them to have sex, that lack of argument doesn’t mean consent, that if they’re drunk or high or wearing revealing clothing or walking after dark or even if they’ve been flirting and/or making out that doesn’t mean they have to have sex.

But do our boys hear this? My six-year-old daughter asked me about sex and I turned it into a conversation about rape. My eight-year-old son asked me about rape and I avoided talking about sex. Isn’t that typical?

Our boys are getting the majority of their information from online pornography, which tells them that women are all “looking for it” and are regularly doing things like having sex with multiple partners at once, having anal sex, and performing oral sex as foreplay.

Essentially they’re growing up in a kind of confusing vacuum. We’re so afraid to discuss pornography with them that we can’t address what they’ve already seen. And we’re so afraid to discuss rape with them that they may, inadvertently, become rapists. Yes, I just wrote that.

I would’ve found the term “inadvertent rapist” offensive a few years ago, but as I’ve talked with men and read their comments, I see that many really have been confused about the idea of consent — at least in their teens and early 20s.

Young men, because they see it on TV and pornography and hear about it in popular music, don’t really know that a drunk girl can’t legitimately give consent. Unless we tell them. They don’t know that convincing a girl to have sex when she’s already said or indicated no is a form of coercion. Unless we tell them. They don’t know that even if a girl says yes she can change her mind and they should stop. Unless we tell them.

A lot of women and adults of all genders don’t seem to know these things either; so how can we expect our boys too. Unless we tell them.

We need to start telling them this before the Internet and popular culture tell them otherwise. We need to make our message stronger than media’s. And if that means talking to six- and eight-year-olds about sex and rape — in a way that they can understand — then that is what we must do. For if we don’t, we might find out that they’ve been learning someone else’s message all along.

You can comment on this column or access previous editions of Readily A Parent using the following short link: http://bit.ly/DaraSquires.

Organizations: Symantec, Google, CBC

Geographic location: Delhi, India, Steubenville, Ohio

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