I read an interesting piece this morning: “What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?”
The author, a sex-positive parent, discusses the discordance between her son’s sex education at home and the farce that occurs in public schools. She has taught her son the proper names for things, honestly answered all his questions about sex, and even, gasp, admitted that adults have sex primarily for pleasure (aside: she makes this Darwinian/scientific in a really awesome way– explaining to her son that if sex didn’t feel good, there would be no incentive to reproduce, and a person’s genes would never pass on).
From the piece:
Our son asked why they didn’t tell him this stuff at school. The mate explained that adults stupidly think that if you tell children the truth about sex, they’ll have sex earlier than they really should. He added that the evidence indicates otherwise.
And I was off thinking: How funny that we can’t bring ourselves to tell our children the most fundamental truth about sex, that most of the time we have sex, we have it for pleasure.
It is astonishing that adults are so uncomfortable with such a simple truth, and that instead of admitting that a normal human function is…well, normal, we mask sex in a cloud of shame that follows children into their adulthood.
It is this line of thinking and speaking that leads to high-risk behaviors.
The path is simple and tragic: Child asks a normal question. Adult responds with guilt, shame and fear. Child learns to associate sex– and being curious about sex– with shame. Instead of asking honest questions (say, about birth control), they have learned to keep quiet and instead engage in risky behaviors.
And by “risky behaviors,” I mean all the things you would think: not using protection, using protection wrong, etc. But I also mean more subtle behaviors. Sleeping with someone who doesn’t care for you. Being silent when something is uncomfortable. Not expressing your desires. Being coerced into something you don’t want to do. These responses have long lasting implications on one’s adult relationships, and affect how we relate to each other as humans.
And what is this costly silence accomplishing?
You can make the long Foucault-ian argument: tightly controlling discourses about sex reproduces existing social structures and (racist, sexist, homophobic) power dynamics. Sex was de-normalized, so to speak, and made into a medicalized, theorized thing (rather than a really fun activity!) over the past three centuries in order to exert social control. In other words, we shame sex outside of marriage, non-reproductive sex, and non-heterosexual sex to exalt the institution of marriage, which in turn props up the current social order and labor system (Foucault doesn’t go quite this far in A History of Sexuality, but admits it is a possibility). Which is why we can’t have a discussion about sex as pleasure, because sex can only exist for reproduction.
As a hippie Marxist, I think this is true and could always delve further down that rabbit hole. But a whole other part of me just wants to scream: Stop. It’s 2014. The divorce rate is high. Teen pregnancy is high. Sexual satisfaction is low. Kids are confused and ashamed, and that’s no way for generations to grow up.
The alternative is beautiful and easy: frank discussions about sex and sexuality. Full expression for each individual. Safe, loving, and purposeful decisions being made by fully informed human beings.
Cultural shifts, of course, are never quite so simple. But I think that in an era of Miley Cyrus’ and Rihannas (and Steubenvilles and Robin Thickes and Terry Richardsons), the time is ripe to have more honest conversations about what we really want to teach kids about sex.