Isn’t it too early to start talking about sex? I mean, my baby is only seven. She’s still a baby, for God’s sake. But one of her friends got wind of it somehow, so I suppose it’s just a matter of time. I just never imagined this day would come. No one imagines this day when they are busy dreaming about babies and how much freaking fun they’re going to be.
And once you have them, it’s easy to block out all traces of impending maturity when you’re surrounded by tiny socks, half-destroyed toys and scrambled eggs in the tub.
I learned about the whole beautiful, awful business at age seven, but that’s because I read it in a science book, or rather it was read TO me, from a science book, by a freaky babysitter. Initially I got a very dry, sterile explanation of the procedure. She taught me sex in the voice of Ben Stein, if Ben Stein were reading directions on how to assemble boredom itself.
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah ... blah,” she began while I started to droop into a pool of my own drool. Then the windows began to rattle, and her voice grew jittery and excited, ramping into a screech for a full on Celine Dion finale, “And THEN … (wait for it, wait for it) … Part A goes INTO PART Beeeeeeee!” Glasses break, my mind explodes, and then she stares at me in sparkly-eyed anticipation as though she were a manic child opening a birthday present, or a starved beast spotting a limping gazelle.
It was a simple explanation, but I found it revolting, and the visual aids almost made me go blind. “Are you SERIOUS??” I demanded in my young, squeaky voice, a sound too woefully insufficient to effectively convey the depth of my distress. I now realize I was missing the word “Fucking.” As in, “Are you FUCKING serious? THIS disgusting act is what is required to make more humans? THIS is what caused THAT??”
I made up for my impotent squeaking by pacing the room, gesticulating with my hands, and pointing accusatorily at her two-year-old son. He was now no longer an adorable child, but the vile fruit of her lewd liaisons, whose heavy-headed toddling suddenly became obscene. Freaky Babysitter, the formerly bold executioner of childhood innocence, was now implicated in the crime of sexual intercourse, and she rightly turned her face in shame.
I felt a profound pity for adults who had to endure “The Procedure.” I couldn’t believe my mom and dad would go through such a god-awful ordeal just for me. My poor mother! My poor father! I vowed I never would. Even though I thought babies were kind of awesome, nothing, not all the candy in the world even, would ever possibly be worth it. I would rather drink bleach from a garden hose or live only on eggplant evermore.
So you can imagine my surprise when much, much later in life, the skinny, unoriginal, pimply monkey boys around me got all muscle-y, and suddenly everything that came out of their mouths seemed outrageously funny. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out The Procedure wasn’t half bad after all!
But learning about it at seven was undoubtedly traumatic. Perhaps someone should have told me sooner? Maybe kids should learn about sex when they are learning how to use a spoon. It’s the same A-goes-into-B logic. Maybe it would be more acceptable at that age if it were presented as something as routine as everything else. It could be shown in a little cartoon, and it could make the Legend of Zelda sound, the universal sound of unlocked secrets everywhere. Kids start asking at around age three where they come from, and yet we whistle and act all shifty and make up nutty little lies that are no nuttier (pun shamelessly intended) than the truth.
And the half truth of "you came from my belly" is just as confusing and leaves too much room for childlike interpretation.
That in itself is freaky. I mean really freaky. Like the movie “Alien.” Or like an actual pregnant woman. But kids accept it because they accept everything at that age, no matter how ridiculous. They’re kind of like Republicans that way.
At seven they begin to develop the Bambi steps of independence, and their worldview begins to form, or at least its infrastructure. The rest is just fluff. But all the parts are there, the framework is in place, and there is a definite truth to “Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” except, as my 7-year old self might point out, for that ONE COLOSSALLY DISGUSTING THING YOU DECIDED TO LEAVE OUT, ASSHOLE!
The late reveal of sex is like the introduction of an entirely new structure to their mental framework, but too late for it to be effectively melded to the whole; it feels tacked on at the last minute (much like the penis itself, actually). It’s as crucial to the framework as a bathroom is to a home, and yet we slip it in (pun also intended; yes I’m ashamed) like so much fine print, like an extra fee. Add-ons never quite work, though; they tend to reveal themselves as the unintended requirements they are: a house where the bricks don’t match, a kitchen where the linoleum is curling, a den with cheap art by Thomas Kinkade of the same cottage over and over and over.
It’s bad enough that kids find this stuff out too late, but it’s even worse when they find it out from some source other than their parents - through a schoolmate, a science book, or perhaps even Penthouse. Sadly, these methods are generally the most prevalent worldwide (hell, in Afghanistan some men aren’t even told by anyone what a vagina is, let alone their parents; they just find out on their wedding night if they get lucky), and they’re how most American kids are introduced to the mechanics and geography of sex, but the subtle psychological effects aren’t to be underestimated. The discovery that something so vast and bizarre and essential as sex has been actively hidden from you by your parents is bad news. It’s like that same add-on to the house, with all the subpar accoutrements, but now it’s also where you KEEP THE GIMP. (The following is a "Pulp Fiction" reference, I do not mean to imply that all bound black men are gimps. There are plenty of nice bound black men. One of my best friends is a bound black man.)
What’s a parent to do, though, when the most chilling fear we have about delivering this information is that we will get phone calls from irate parents because our child is telling other children. And my daughter is not one for delivering dry facts. She can add enough hysteria and drama to a paper cut that you’ll be convinced she’s lost a limb. So the telling of how Part A fits into Part B is enough without her tendency towards melodrama. I shudder to imagine the story of A and B after she gets done with it.
She’s a bit like her mom with her flair for exaggeration. And when I learned the terrible truth, I told everyone I could think of under the age of ten. I was become Death, destroyer of seven-year-old worldviews, as word of The Procedure spread like a diabolical contagion. And though I didn’t even have a cell phone or Internet, I was committed. I probably indirectly caused unwanted pregnancies in the Himalayas with just one rotary phone and a Pink Huffy bicycle.
So to prevent my daughter from following her mother’s example as the giddy carrier of the atomic sex bomb, I suppose I should begin to discuss sex with her in simple, boring terms. But this requires the opening of one’s mouth, and then actual words have to come out, with sound and everything. And even if that point is reached, there comes the vocabulary hurdle. Personally, if I even think in the vocabulary of “penis" and “vagina," two of the least appealing words in the English language, my superego rouses herself from a post-hysterics faint and stuffs a bar of soap in my mouth and gets a switch from the yard, and I start speaking in what sounds like a series of clicks.
So to get around that loony school marm I have to be inconspicuous in my speech; I have to use euphemisms. The stunning auditory horror of “penis” and “vagina” is the wellspring from which the river of euphemism flows. Even obstetricians, those supposedly clinical professionals, speak in code when telling new couples the sex of their baby. Most often the OB makes a little joke about looking for either the “hotdog” or the “taco.” I don’t mind “hotdog” so much, but I loathe “taco.” It is no improvement whatsoever over “vagina.” And I can’t have my children running around talking about their tacos. I have a friend whose daughter talks about her monkey, as in “My swimming suit is rubbing my monkey.” This is unacceptable as well. Another OB once called it a “ladybug.” I find this the least offensive, so that’s what we use at my house. So of course, Alex once asked her father in a group of acquaintances, “Do you have hair on your ladybug too? Like Mommy?” And later, when my sister bought Alex a ladybug nightlight for Christmas, which I had completely forgotten in the Christmas hubbub, Alex came to hug me goodnight and to explain that she really couldn’t sleep unless she could sit and look at her ladybug. This particular revelation required mommy to consume several stiff eggnogs.
“Ladybug” has worked well for us for several years until Bo came about and started speaking at a rate of 400,000 words a day. She calls hers her “funny bottom.” I can’t even say “butt” either, so the three of us run around shush-like, whispering about “bottoms,” “funny bottoms,” “tinkle,” and “poop” like three repressed Jewish schoolgirls. I can only imagine what the kids’ teachers think.
So, if I must, I will own up to my responsibility as a parent and teach my children this fundamental part of life. I will make clicking sounds while demonstrating with a few simple drawings. This will be the basis of my children’s sexual understanding and confidence. Perhaps they can access the wisdom I’ve imparted by recalling this picture on their journey as sexual beings.