October is Let’s Talk Month, so, let’s talk about sex (among other things).
I thought I was ahead of the curve. I really did. I’ve talked to my kids about their bodies, about dating, about making out, about sex.
We’ve covered the basics.
But I was still unprepared to have my 9-year-old daughter come home and tell me that her 10-yea- old friend had just been seriously propositioned by a 10-year-old boy.
Back in my day, dating in 5th grade consisted of holding hands. Going to the movies together and sharing a box of candy. It might get as far as some awkward lip to lip kissing.
Now, my daughter’s 10-year-old friend is being asked to have sex.
I knew it was coming, but I, like a lot of parents I know, was caught a little off guard that it happened so soon.
I don’t know how this girl knew to reach out to my daughter to talk about sex, but I’m glad she did.
Because sex, sexuality, boundaries, communication, age of consent and things of that nature are pretty regular topics around my dinner table, my daughter didn’t flinch when she heard her friend’s confession.
She answered calmly, and non-judgmentally, “I’m not ready for that kind of dating yet. I just want to get to hold hands and maybe go to the movies for a couple of years. I have to be a lot older before I have sex. I also have to be on birth control, and be with someone for a while, to make sure we trust each other and communicate well.”
She said her friend’s eyes got really big, and then really crafty when she heard that. My daughter said she could tell her friend needed some information. So, she brought her home.
My daughter has copies of Changing Bodies, Changing Lives and It’s Perfectly Natural along with a book called 33 Things Every Girl Should Know in her room. She dragged her friend into her room, closed the door and pulled out the goods.
Together these two girls looked, searching for information on what to do when a boy propositions you and you’ve said no – but you’re not sure what he’s going to do next.
There wasn’t a lot of advice for what to do if he retaliates by lying and saying you did those things even though you didn’t. But there was advice on what to do if he tried to force the issue.
“Stay firm. Say no. Get help.”
But get help from where?
This girl’s parents are AWOL.
The teachers are either too embarrassed or too scared to answer questions from the youth they teach.
A friend recently relayed a story about her daughter, a freshman in high school. This girl overheard some of her friends talking about girl who “gave her boyfriend head” behind the school.
Because of my friend’s insistence on using the correct words for body parts and sexual acts when they talk about sex, this young girl didn’t know what that meant. She knew what oral sex was, and what fellatio was, but not “giving head”. So, she asked.
A teacher walking by overheard her and replied with a threat of physical violence if he ever heard her talking like that again.
The girl was undeterred. She felt she needed to understand what her friends were talking about. Especially as it turned out the girl in the story had been videoed giving her boyfriend head, the video had gone viral and she had committed suicide over it.
To a teenage girl, it seems extremely important to know what was so bad that this girl felt she had no recourse but to kill herself over it.
My friend’s daughter went to the principal’s office to ask him. He wasn’t in so she asked the vice principal who told her, “That’s not an appropriate question for you to be asking. I’m not able to answer that for you.”
She refused to leave without speaking to the principal, who echoed the vice principal and then called my friend to report her daughter’s misbehavior.
“Why couldn’t you just tell her it’s oral sex?” my friend asked.
It was a simple question, with a simple answer. But no one felt empowered to answer it.
The prevalent fears seem to be that if we inform youth about sex, they will want to have it, so instead we cloak it in silence and wrap it in shame tied with a bow of fear.
Because of this culture of shame and fear that we have built around sex and sexuality, girls and boys are being slut shamed to death. I will not call it being bullied to death, because that allows us to ignore the truth of what we are doing.
We, the adults in these children’s lives, are refusing to educate our children. We are refusing to give them safe spaces to ask questions and get truthful answers about the things they see and hear all around them – from billboard advertisements to television shows to internet porn to gossip in the halls.
And then, when they are pressured into performing these acts, or when they choose willingly to perform them, and someone takes pictures or videos and shares that media with the word – we shame them.
From Steubenville where the female victim was slut shamed BY ADULTS for being raped, to these dozens of other recent cases where girls have killed themselves after being horrifically slut shamed by their peers as well as by adults – our culture of fear, shame and silence around sex is hurting our children.
This contributes to the culture where women are discouraged from from reporting rape, sexual assault, and street harassment.
So, when I learned that my daughter’s 10 year old friend was being propositioned by a boy at her school, I didn’t stay silent.
When I learned what my daughter and her friend were doing behind that closed door – going through books and looking for information on how to stay safe and how to say no – I reached out.
I called my daughter’s friend back in, looked her in the eye and said, “You can always ask me. Anything. This is a safe space. There are no bad questions, bad words or bad feelings here. It’s complicated out there, but we have your back.”
She blushed, smiled, and left.
But the next day at school, she asked my daughter, “Hey, can I come over after school and talk to your mom? I have some questions.”
“That’s okay. She’s got answers.”
As adults, aren’t we supposed to have some answers? Aren’t we supposed to be preparing our youth to become adults? Isn’t it time we took off our own blinders, so we can help them take off theirs?