“Mommy … what’s prawnstitution?”
And so began our first real conversation about sex, prompted by an episode of Futurama.
My son was 10 at the time, and up until then had been avoiding any discussion of sex that included explicit details. Years earlier, he’d asked my husband why Noah needed two of each animal on the Biblical ark, and when he heard that it had to do with keeping the species going, he stopped all further explanations with, “I’m sure I don’t want to hear the rest of this…”
But there we were, having a mother-son moment in front of the TV (where all the best bonding moments come), and I figured I’d better seize the moment. Who knows what they teach in health class these days? I wanted to be ahead of the game on this one.
“Well, a prawn is a big shrimp. And prostitution is when people—usually women, but not always—have sex for money, not because they like the person.”
He pondered this, and I offered up that he could ask me anything else about sex that he liked.
“Well … Nigel”—I’m making that name up; my son has no friends named Nigel—”said the craziest thing. You know what he said? He said that a penis gets really big, and then goes INSIDE a vagina.”
Nigel knows his stuff, it seems. (And his parents, if they’re reading The Mid, won’t know it was their son spilling the info, because I cleverly named him Nigel.) I told my son Nigel was correct about the penis and the vagina.
“Really!” he said, the way you might respond to hearing that someone you know who’s not all that bright has just won the Nobel Prize.
He had more questions. I know that the birds and the bees talk is supposed to be father to son and mother to daughter, but I wasn’t about to go running through the house looking for my husband, and we were having such a perfect moment already that I decided to roll with it.
Mostly I just wanted to clear up any confusion he might have, because now it was Nigel instead of health class that was supplying this vital, life-shaping information, and I wanted him to feel OK about whatever he was thinking about it. I told him that it was normal to think about sex a lot, and also normal not to think about it at all. It was normal to think about it and not want to think about it, and normal to be confused by it, or fascinated by it, or turned off by it. Really, there’s no wrong way to think about it at ten, and I wanted him to know that. With boys, of course, there are the surprise physical reactions they can have to things, so I mentioned that too, and how it might be triggered by seeing a pretty girl on TV or in real life, or reading something in a book, or even nothing at all. And I mentioned dreams, and how that’s normal too.
“Well THAT’s a relief,” he said, seeming happy about it but not really looking at me. We were still watching Futurama. Zoidberg scuttled across the screen. A few minutes went by.
“So how often do people have sex?” he asked, after a while.
Good question. Big question. No real answer. I told him that it depends on the people, and avoided getting into the duration of long term relationships and how things change, and what it’s like when you first fall for someone and ALL you do is have sex. I tried to explain in a way he could understand.
“So … do you guys have sex?”
“Um, yes. Yes we do.”
It would have been easy to give him a “none of your business” answer. I’m fine talking about sex abstractly, but I generally don’t discuss my personal sex life with other people, particularly with people I’m related to.
“Um. Pretty often. You know, sometimes.”
“Like … when was the last time?”
Oh boy. But you know? He wasn’t prying. He wasn’t trying to find out specifically about me and my husband and our personal sex life. He was looking for context. How often do people do it? I remember when my Mom told me about periods and all I was interested in was the actual flow. Was it like a dripping faucet? A waterfall? A cut on your leg? What? These are the details that shape our world.
“Um. A couple of days ago.”
“Really!” That same tone. Acknowledgment of a surprising answer.
I turned the conversation back to him, and then we were quiet for a while.
“You know, you can always talk to Daddy about this stuff, too.”
“I think I’m comfortable talking to you.”
“Can we keep watching Futurama now?”
So that was it. The Big Talk. The birds and the bees.
When I was a kid in the ’70s, there was a controversial book called Show Me that was supposed to teach kids about sex, and it horrified my siblings and me as we flipped through its extremely explicit pages. Banned in many places as child pornography, it took sex education to a very unpleasant place for kids. I remember nervously asking my mother when I was going to have to have sex, and receiving the extremely reassuring answer that it wouldn’t be until I really WANTED to. “Good!” I said. “Then I’m never going to.” How times change.
So with my kids, I try to find that very thin line between letting them know that sex is normal and wonderful and will be part of their lives, and making it clear that it’s not anything they have to fret about for quite a while. In the meantime, I worry. Are they asking other people? Will they end up in therapy because their sexual curiosity is being inspired by Futurama?
I don’t know. We’re still just winging it.