In today’s podcast “Talking to Kids About Sex,” I spoke about a letter I wrote to my son in the summer after his 8th grade year. I post it here for you to read, ponder, copy or steal to your heart’s content.
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My mind got to wandering about all kinds of things that I haven’t talked with you about, either ever, or in a long time. All those embarrassing topics, you know. And I thought, hey, I’ll start a tradition of writing along embarrassing letter to my kids when they graduate from 8th grade. Even better, this time I’ll write it to you while I’m away, so by the time I get home you can pretend I never wrote it, if you want to. The first thing that got me thinking about this was some friends here and I were talking about circumcision, and I thought, you know, I don’t think I’ve talked about that with Jonathan since he was a little tiny kid! So here goes. You have probably noticed that your penis looks different than a lot of your friends’. I don’t know, but I imagine that most boys your age have circumcised penises. In the ‘old days’ (like when your dad was born) pretty much all American boys were circumcised. By the time you were born, some people were starting to realize that this was really dumb, but definitely not everyone. I don’t know the statistics, but I do know that male circumcision is still the ‘norm’ in the US. (In every other country in the world boys are not circumcised, except places like Israel where it is a religious thing.) Anyway, I thought I’d tell you why we decided not to have you circumcised. Basically, it is a totally stupid and awful thing to do to a tiny little newborn baby, to cut the tip of his penis off!! Most male babies are circumcised within the first few days of their lives, when they are too little for anesthesia, so they feel everything. It’s terrible!!! It makes me INSANELY angry that so many people are tricked into doing this to their little babies. The only reason it is done is so that they will look like all the other boys, and like their dads. Nobody just stops it and says WAIT! This is insane! Nobody do this anymore!!! Sometimes, some people claim that it is more sanitary, which is a complete lie, but it makes parents go along with it. The only real reason to do it is cosmetic. I figured, if you grew up and wanted to be circumcised, you could decide that for yourself. So if you do ever feel like you want to look “normal,” that is totally fine with me and is your choice. Now you are big enough for anesthesia so it wouldn’t hurt that much. But personally, I think a cut-up penis is actually not very normal. But that is totally your own decision. You could decide to get circumcised today, or you could decide in50 years, or never. It is your body.
So while I’m on all the embarrassing topics, let’s see, what else? You have a girlfriend! Which personally I think is pretty darn cute. Your life, your relationships, all of that, is totally your own business. You are the boss of your life, and you don’t have to tell me anything about it. And it is also true that you can tell me anything you ever want to. I feel totally honored that you told me when you liked , and when she was your girlfriend. I would never have told my mom anything like that. In fact, I avidly avoided EVER talking about that with anyone, much less my stupid family! So I get that it is private, and that you might not want to talk about it with me. And I am thrilled and privileged whenever you give me any kind of a peek into your life. I don’t know what “girlfriend/boyfriend” means to you these days. Often that means that you hold hands or kiss. In Bryn Athyn there is a lot of conflicting information out there about all of this kind of stuff. Many Bryn Athyn grown-ups would say it is bad to kiss your girlfriend/boyfriend. I don’t know what you are taught at school, but that was what I heard growing up. Also I think Dad would probably say he thinks you shouldn’t kiss your girlfriend, I’m not sure. But personally, I think it is fine, as long as both of you really feel comfortable about it, and really want to. My rule of thumb is, if you can’t TALK about it first, then you are probably not ready to DO it – whatever ‘it’ is, holding hands, kissing, everything up to having sex with someone. And if two people talk about it, and they agree that they BOTH want to hold hands (or whatever)with each other, then that is a wonderful and FUN thing!! That is one of the best things about being in a special relationship with someone, getting to enjoy touching each other, and being touched.
Which leads us to the most “embarrassing” topic of all, sex. There are lots of things to say about sex! I could write a whole book. I’m pretty sure you know all about the birds and the bees. If you ever have questions, you can ask me about it, or dad, and also there are some books on our shelf that cover it all. (“Our Bodies Ourselves” is the best one.) The main things I want to say for now are:
1. You NEVER have to do anything that you don’t want to do, not EVER.
2. NEVER force anyone to do something s/he doesn’t want to do, not EVER.
3. The only way to be clear about the above two things is by TALKing about it. Talk about it with each other at the very least. It is also a good idea to talk about it with people that you really trust – close friends ,parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. I know it is really hard to trust other people, especially adults, to talk about stuff like that. I would love for you to work on finding at least one adult who you feel comfortable talking (or writing) about it with.
4. It is ok to make mistakes. That’s how you learn. And this is also where talking about it is very important too.
5. The only mistakes that cannot ever be fully recovered from is having a baby, and getting a fatal disease. Unplanned pregnancies and STDs are a REALLY ENORMOUS EXTREMELY HUGE mistake and they can be easily prevented. So if/when you ever want to talk more about that, I hope you’ll let me or someone know so you can get the help you need to prevent those mistakes.
I know they talk about sexual abuse in school a little bit, but I want to say a few things that they might not have mentioned. The main thing is, people who have been sexually abused (or abused in any way, really) often have a part of them that is broken, and they don’t function in a totally healthy way. It’s like, if someone had their legs broken in half when they were little. If this person went straight to the doctor and got fixed up and did physical therapy and worked through it all and healed their legs, they might end up with perfectly functioning legs. But probably their legs would always be at least a tiny bit weaker than someone’s which have never been broken in two. And if you didn’t know that about their legs, you might wonder why it hurts them to do some kind of jumping or whatever. You can’t see it, and unless they tell you about it, you might not ever know. Of course, it would be a hundred times worse if, when they had their legs broken, they didn’t tell anyone, and even worse if they thought it was their own fault. Then their legs would heal in really weird painful harmful ways, and their shame and embarrassment would grow, and they would have a really hard time having legs that function normally, and they would feel really bad about it. Unfortunately this is usually what happens when people are sexually abused. It is bad enough that they are hurt in the first place, but then the years of not telling anyone and not getting help (which is what usually happens next) makes things much worse. Someday you might find yourself dating someone who was sexually abused, and you won’t know it. It is a wound that can be well-hidden, and unless the person tells you, you might never know. And this person might not behave in a totally healthy way. So, some things to keep in mind are:
1. if you or anyone you know is ever abused, the most important thing is to get help as soon as possible. Like someone with their legs broken in two, as bad as is, there are things that people can do to help the problem, and the sooner the better. Hopefully someday people will realize that being sexually abused is no more shameful than having your legs broken, and it will become commonplace to rush these innocent victims off to some kind of an ‘emergency room’ where they can begin the healing process immediately.
2. You can never assume that anyone you know was not abused. It could have happened to your friends, or your girlfriends, or anyone.
3. Anyone that has been abused will probably not behave in a completely healthy way, especially in things to do with touching and sex. They might not know what they really want and don’t want, they may be afraid of things you don’t realize, any bundle of things. If someone behaves in an unhealthy way, this could well be why.
4. It is really important, in a special or intimate relationship, to know your girlfriend/partner. Things that are deep down will affect your relationship, and these things only come to the surface with gentle attention and honesty and trust.
There are lots and lots of other things to say about sex, but I think that will do for now. I don’t think you are planning on having sex any time soon, but if you are ever considering it, whether it is today, or in 10years, or when you are married, PLEASE talk to someone about it! It is a BIG decision, and it is never a good idea to make a big decision without consulting other people who you trust. And, (like all big decisions you will make in your life), in the end it is totally up to YOU (and, in the case of sex, your partner.)
Another embarrassing topic is masturbation. I hope they talk about this in ‘sex education’ too, as well as “the birds and the bees”, but if they don’t, feel free to look it up in the ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ book. Masturbating is when someone gives himself (or herself) an orgasm, a sexual climax. Hopefully if they did talk about it at school, they said it was completely fine and normal to masturbate. If they said anything else, forget whatever they said. Some people think it is evil or harmful to masturbate, and I imagine that many BA grown-ups would say this, sadly enough. It is very healthy and normal, and actually, almost everyone does it. It is more normal for guys to figure-out masturbating than it is for girls, which is kind of too bad for girls, because I think it really is an important part of growing up. So, if you masturbate, great- and if you don’t masturbate, I hope you will learn to enjoy doing that someday.
Still more embarrassing topics! Next one, pornography. (= images of naked people, and people having sex, in case you don’t know.) It seems like these days, kids are more and more exposed to porn because of the internet. I don’t know if you have gotten those junk emails/links to porn, but if you haven’t yet, I’m sure you will. Also it is pretty typical for kids your age to find a magazine and pass it around, etc. Anyway, I don’t know if you have been exposed to this or not, but if you haven’t yet, you will soon enough. I am going to guess that nearly all BA grown-ups would say that porn is evil, and like I do about most things, I strongly disagree with them. I think the main problem with porn is that people feel so terrible and guilty and ashamed about it, and that some people become addicted to it. I first saw a ‘girly’ magazine (the most famous one is called “Playboy” and there are thousands of others) when I was about your age and I thought it was really disgusting, I hated it. At some point, though, you might think it is interesting, or exciting, or informative, or boring. Whatever you think and however you feel, all of it is okay. To me, porn is like pictures or movies of the Grand Canyon, it might be cool but it is nothing like going there and experiencing it in person. When people think pictures of the Grand Canyon are better than being there in person, that’s too bad. But that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with pictures of the Grand Canyon, they can be inspiring or interesting or educational or enjoyable too. But don’t confuse it with the real thing.
Another one – homosexuality. Another thing you will hear from BA adults is that being gay is evil. And, you guessed it, I strongly disagree. I think it is wrong to hurt other people, and other than that, there is no such thing as “evil.” (I even don’t think hurting other people is “evil”, but you get my point.) Anyway, I have lots of gay friends and it makes me really sad that most religious people think these wonderful people are bad. (Did you know that Michele and Rebecca are gay? In fact they are engaged!) It is hard to be gay in our culture because it is so unaccepted, but about 10% of people are simply attracted to people of the same sex as themselves. It is totally normal. I also get mad when people use “gay” as an insult, as if being ‘gay’ is bad. Also, I think lots of people aren’t really just ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ (opposite of gay), I think lots of people could go either way, depending on who they are attracted to at the time. Being in love is just as individual and unique as people are. This seems so obvious to me, but for some reason it is not obvious to most religious people. Anyway, there is lots to say about this, but the main thing is, I hope you will always be respectful of all people. Also, who knows, your sisters, or best friends, or even you – anyone could realize they are gay at any time. And so I hope you will keep that in mind, and be someone who people feel safe with and accepted by, no matter who they are or who they love.
Well, I think that is enough embarrassing topics for now. You survived! It is so much fun for me to see you hitting puberty, growing into a young man, and beginning to think about and try out more ‘adult’ topics and experiences. This is just what you are supposed to do! And you are really doing a fabulous job growing up and I am COMPLETELY and totally PROUD OF YOU!
By the way, you may have figured out that Dad and I disagree about most of these issues, so you will have to talk to him to get his opinions. Since you are going to a New Church high school, I am sure you will be exposed to his way of thinking plenty. But you probably won’t meet many people like me while you are in BA, so I thought a thorough letter from your crazy mother was in order. If you want to write back to me, that’s great, but you don’t have to. And of course, if you ever want to write or ask me about ANYTHING, you know that I love it! Also, if your friends ever want to talk to me about anything, that’s cool too. Sometimes people want to hear a different point of view. Although my point of view is totally normal in the “outside” world, it is extremely rare in Bryn Athyn. BA certainly has its good points, but in my opinion there are a lot of goofy things floating around as well. I hope you will be able to navigate through it all, and come up with your own beliefs and opinions, and that you will always feel welcome and free to be exactly who you really are.
Anyway, Happy Graduation!
And I love you!
xox, Me (your mother)
Amy Childs | Happiness Consultant