My continued unemployment has bestowed upon me the benefit of an excess of free time which, although I’m sure could be better spent writing the next great American novel or volunteering at local homeless shelters, has manifested itself in a variety of more shiftless, miscellaneous pursuits . . . the latest? Collecting vintage sex education books.
“A problem which faces many girls who feel themselves alone and hungry for love is that of masturbation, or auto-eroticism. Particularly for those who feel themselves to be inadequate, or for those who are maladjusted, the temptation to resort to self-abuse may be a strong one.” – The Road to Womanhood: Knowledge, 1967
Sections like these provide a good giggle as well as, for a feminist with an interest in the history of sex education, a way to contextualize American sexual attitudes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, books published ‘to inform’ an uneducated public from the ‘60s and especially earlier periods are unabashedly sexist, gender essentialist, homophobic, and moralistic to the extreme. Child-bearing is described as the epitome of the female experience and sex in the absence of marital monogamy is demonized. However, these books, some written fifty years ago or more, seem to have been produced in a culture that understands something that has been lost in translation in the intervening years:
“Children don’t acquire mere knowledge from their parents. They also get their attitudes from you, even though no definite opinions may have been expressed by you. So if you still retain the idea that sex is trashy, and really something to be ashamed of, your child will see the feeling behind your words, and shape his opinions accordingly.” – The Road to Womanhood: Knowledge, 1967
“The subject (sex) is one which must be dealt with in a way that does not arouse fear or guilt; fear and guilt are catching, so get rid of them before you begin to teach your child, because you are laying the foundation for so much of importance in the life of future parents.” – Peter and Caroline: A Child Asks About Childbirth and Sex, 1961
Take these statements and contrast them with a recent “mommy blog” posted on the topic of this billboard advertising a dating/hook-up mobile network for gay men.
“I never thought this would be me: A liberal feminist complaining about a sex-positive, homosexual billboard. Like that would ever happen.
Well, it has and here it is. Because I’m also a single mom complaining about her child’s premature loss of innocence, caused by driving past this billboard every day on the way to elementary school.”
“It’s not the blatant porn-iness of the over-lit image, or that it is of two men. It would be equally annoying if it were hetero. It’s the fact that I am forced to figure out a way to frame to my fourth-grader the fact that some people like to find causal sex partners fast using their mobile phones.
I know some would tell me to use the opportunity for an illuminating conversation. But I don’t need Manhunt Mobile to set my Important Talks Agenda. Our family really could have gone awhile longer without that particular conversation—and should’ve been able to do so.”
“I know I could have lied to my son, which I don’t typically condone, but honestly I couldn’t come up with a suitable story fast enough to fit that image and service. Still can’t.”
Sigh. Where to start? Well, besides the complete inaccuracy of this blogger calling herself a liberal feminist (and her clear attempt to use this and her later mention of her “gay friends” as a mask for her own prudishness and homophobia in a similar logical vein to the, “I’m not racist, I have tons of black friends!”) and besides the mind-numbing idea moms like this put forth that their taste level should guide the rest of the civilized world or risk traumatizing ‘the children, please, God, think of the children!’. Besides all of that.
A mom, raising a child in the twenty-first century, really can’t think of a “suitable story fast enough” to explain a billboard that is tamer than most perfume ads? As if, as one commenter replied directly on her blog’s comments section, it’s as if she would “need to be Shakespeare to somehow come up with a creative explanation.” The kid is nine. He should know what dating is. He should know (with such a liberal feminist mother!) that men sometimes love men. And he hardly can intuit from this billboard that Manhunt Mobile is on the more ‘casual sex’ end of the spectrum compared to other dating sites.
“Mom, what’s that an ad for?”
“That’s a dating site for men who love men (you know, like all those friends Mommy has).”
Mommy doesn’t have to explain that “people like to find casual sex partners fast using their mobile phones” if she doesn’t want to (although there would be nothing wrong with talking to a nine-year-old about the difference between long-term and short-term relationships.
What Mommy does have to be able to do (or let’s say should do as a responsible parent) is speak to her child about sex spontaneously and often without letting her own judgments and biases color the conversation. There’s no such thing as an “Important Talks Agenda” unless you’re also planning on enforcing a “This Is Definitely When My Child is Going to Be Thinking About/Questioning/Having Sex Agenda.”
Kids are inquisitive and curious and they’re living in the real world just like everyone else – not some fantasyland you wish they inhabited where there are no shirtless men or nasty words like “vagina.” Whether it’s a billboard or a raunchy joke at school, these things are going to come up (pardon the pun), and your moment for sex education is not going to be when you’re prepared with pamphlets and demonstration dolls. Wake up and deal with it or the consequences will be visited on the child you claim to be protecting.