The joy of talking about S-E-X
I give Rachel and Riley credit: At 11 years old, they know more than I did when I was 20. Contraception, STDs, sperm, humping and -- YIKES -- recreational intercourse. ("Why would you do that?") It's a fascinating, complicated subject, really, especially given that they're not allowed to actually do any of it for another decade or so...
Rachel was surprisingly upfront -- even cocky -- about her knowledge. Riley, on the other hand, hid under a pillow and asked if he could be excused, claiming it was all "way TMI" -- too much information. And, yet, there he was, riveted, his hand raised when we asked if both kids if they knew what the Pill was or how a woman gets pregnant.
"Why do you think someone might wait to have sex until they're older?" Vanessa called on Riley. He had his hand up first.
"Cuz they're not ready. With all their emotions and stuff. It's a lot of responsibility." EXACT-A-MUNDO. This was a nice, mature start. Ostrich-like, Riley then once again buried his head.
"OK, Rachel, can you tell me what sex is?" I asked, expecting some cute story about a stork or neutered Teletubby popping out a Telebaby from a pink purse.
"'Kay," she began, trying to keep from cracking up. "The little fishies, let's say, they start swimming around together -- they like each other, or whatever. Then they lie down in, like, a coral reef or something, do some grinding (insert uncontrollable laughter), then comes baby fishy!"
Pretty good description, actually, just lacking the gory details. We had to make sure they had a few specifics about ovulation, penetration, ejaculation and a nine-month waiting period (not for goldfish, I suppose....). So we launched in.
Luckily, Vanessa had started 'em young with Where Did I Come From (great pics!), which was a brilliant beginning. (In fact, I'd like to re-visit the book as there are a few details I'm still confused about.) Plus, the three of them have pretty much grown up naked together, which is bound to generate a lot of talking and comfort.
"What's f-ing yourself mean?" Rachel suddenly asked. I hadn't seen that one coming... "RACHEL!!!" Riley yelled from under his pillow, incredulous, but even more curious. Just as drugs or pre-marital sex is a tough discussion to be preachy or honest about (the truth may set you free, it will also set you up for trouble when your kids find out you stretched it...), masturbation, too, was a surprisingly difficult topic. Eventually we got around to discussing where they'd gotten their ideas about sex, and if they had any questions (please, no...). They talked about a scene from the movie "White Chicks" involving a fake penis -- their grandma had rented it for them thinking "Unrated" meant rated G or less. Then there was a Mad TV skit with a Circumciser 4000, a documentary they'd seen on AIDS in Africa and the Planned Parenthood workshops we'd attended. (And, yes, that's an endorsement.) The Birds & the Bees touches on so many issues -- none of which have to do with birds, insects or honey. Love, homosexuality, sexual harassment -- PORN came up, for God sake! At this point I wondered if there was any good edu-tainment on the matter -- DVDs with hip actors, animation and interactive activities. "Let's let Squidward explain that question, kids. And when you have a problem in real life, we'll find another cartoon character to try and answer it..."
"Look," I said, "The main thing is you can talk to us, at any time, about anything. Riley. You got that? I can't see your face under the pillow."
Right now they know they can come to us -- we're still a big part of their world. But, like most things involving fluid exchange and long-term commitment, it's not always going to go smoothly. Clearly, talking's a key step -- the more the merrier. Still, we know damn well it's all going to turn on an inebriated evening, a young crush, an older boyfriend, a hot tub and raging hormones. We'll do what we can to prepare them with more of these open-ended chats, embarrassing presentations and continued workshops -- then lock them in their rooms for several years without media or outside chatter of any kind. After that, it's just life: in motion and, at some point, repeating itself.
The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, who recently married Vanessa, the mother of 11-year-old twins -- Rachel and Riley. Illustration by Cary Pillo