This guest post from the wonderful Anne Semans at the Moms in Babeland blog is part of our month-long fundraising effort for Scarleteen. Thanks, Anne!
One day about 20 years ago I was walking down Haight Street with my 6-year-old niece. This was long before I had kids, but well after I started selling sex toys for a living. It was San Francisco in the early Nineties, and Salt n’ Pepa’s song “Let’s Talk About Sex” was blasting out onto the city streets. My niece looked up at me and asked what the song was about.
My moment had arrived! It was my big opportunity to be the “cool aunt” and to seize on a teachable moment to explain the biology without any moralizing or stereotyping.
I nervously launched into a monologue about sex being an intimate act between two adults that brings them pleasure, and how sometimes but not always it can result in a baby being conceived, and that it can be between two women, two men, or one of each.
Finally I paused and asked her if that answered her question, to which she replied, “Oh, I thought they were singing ‘Let’s Talk About Six’, which is my age, so I thought the song was about me.”
Can you just hear the sound of my sex-positive-cool-aunt’s ego deflating? I’m not sure what she actually learned, but for me it was a great lesson in taking a moment to decipher what kids really want to know when they ask a sex question.
She was too embarrassed or confused to stop me, and I was so intent on getting my message across that I didn’t pause long enough to check in with her to see if I was overwhelming her with information! The other thing it taught me is that even though we think we might be over-informing kids at any given moment, they only process what they can handle. She had no recollection of this conversation when we talked about sex again some years later. I have also had this experience often with my own kids—you can explain some fascinating aspect of sex to their satisfaction one day, and then 6 months later they’ll ask the same question. Big lesson, especially with the young ‘uns: keep it simple, be repetitive, check-in, get back to them if you don’t have the answer, and above all, applaud their curiosity!
The other important thing I remember about this time, however, was how great it was that this song, “Let’s Talk About Sex” was a pop culture phenomenon. Here were women rappers advocating safe sex to a generation of young men and women in a way that made it seem hip, fun, and expected, which was in stark contrast to the sex=death message we were all getting in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.
In the years since then, a beautiful thing blossomed–the Internet–which young people flocked to for information that they might not otherwise have had access to (what, no cool aunt?). One of the websites that evolved, is what I now consider the “virtual” successor of that Salt n’ Pepa song: Scarleteen. This site offers sex information and advice for young people in a way that acknowledges and celebrates their sexual curiosity, and affirms their right to know. It advocates sexual responsibility in a way that young people can relate to, and my guess is, has saved countless teenagers from making big mistakes.
This post is part of Scarleteen’s Blog Carnival, an event designed to raise awareness around the importance of sex education and to help raise funds for the site. Please, particularly if you have any kids in your live, take a look at what makes this Scarleteen so special, pony up some money for them, and send the link to your favorite young adult.