Oh, the conversations that happen within the walls of our home…
Much to the potential dismay and horror of my daughter, I’m going to share a recent conversation. One morning before school, out of the blue, she asked me what a virgin meant. My immediate response was to ask if she was SURE she wanted to hear my answer. At which point I dove into the complexities of what a virgin means historically and currently.
Here’s the general breakdown of our conversation.
The definition of a virgin has multiple layers. Historically, and in many cultures still, virginity represents purity, wholeness, Godly. Virginity for a young female holds the most valued collateral allowing her family to barter her for the highest price. A girl’s purity hinges upon an entire family’s honor and social standing. Leaving it her responsibility to not get molested and raped which are events that could end in her death due to “honor killings”.
Then there is the medical definition measuring virginity based off of vaginal penetration in which the hymen is ruptured. Or, if you’re like me, rupture it falling onto a top tube of a 10 speed at the age of twelve. (Cause I HAD to have a boy style bike even though my parents warned me.) Guess I lost all my purity privilege that day.
The value of a female, universally, is centered on her body and genitalia in ways that are frequently diametrically opposed. Throughout my adolescence I was told by my mother, aunt and grandmother that “boys would like you better if you lost ten or fifteen pounds”. This cemented a dysfunctional relationship with my body and femininity that I still struggle against. At thirteen, about the same age as my daughter, I was put on a liquid diet. This simultaneously instilled messages that my duty was to attract a boy by using and manipulating my body. I never formed a sense of self-worth that wasn’t woven into the need to be approved of by others. Be a skinny, pretty virgin that boys want to date but DON’T HAVE SEX with them.
We sexualize femininity while at the same time tell young girls their virginity is sacred. Teenagers are told to not act on natural sexual urges but conform to your gender expression in an overtly sexualized society.
Pardon my digression but what a mind-fuck.
And then there are the communities that are proponents of abstinence only education. (I use the term education lightly.) Youth who have been taught abstinence will find ways to act on natural urges and tendencies. Because of developmental design our hormones will inspire young bodies to explore one another. Spurring some youth in this demographic to believe that anal and oral sex maintain one’s virginity.
To which my daughter asks, “What is anal sex???”
After clearing up my vernacular and witnessing her horror, she said, “Straight people DO THAT???” To which I responded by asking how she thought some gay men and penis bodied people have sex? Her audible, “OOOOOOOOHHHHHAAAAA!!” was precious.
I further reiterated that sex is predominately used for pleasure in a human’s lifetime. It’s a powerful form of communication and exploration that is sometimes based in love and sometimes just for the sake of enjoyment. “Wait…did you say oral sex, too? Ahhhh, what’s that??”
I’ll pause for my cisgender friends raising cisgender kids. I know these might be topics you never expected and maybe prayed to avoid having with your children. I hear ya. All of our kids are at risk for sexual abuse and assault. If this is you it is time to cozy up and get comfortable to being uncomfortable.
Some of you may be picking your jaws up off the floor that I would even have a conversation like this with my preteen child. Here’s why I do it…
1 in 6 children are sexual abused and assaulted in the United States. It is actually 1 of 4 girls and 1 in 6 for boys.
And the risk for LGBTQ youth doubles (according to some it even triples) from their cisgender straight peers.
When we consider safety preparedness for our children it isn’t inclusive of being able to understand and report sexual abuse. Our society dangerously perpetuates the lie stranger danger. Sexual violence caused by strangers is the lowest percentage of all perpetrators. The statistics are this high because of avoidance and misguidedly wanting to protect the innocence of children until it’s too late.
It is not a matter of IF my trans daughter will be sexually assaulted it’s a matter of when and how severe. Without accurate information and terminology she will not know who to and how to report abuse. What type of parent would I be if I didn’t fully prepare her to navigate statistics like these? It’s reckless not to.
Here some reasons why comprehensive transgender sexual health and education is better for everyone. All bases will be covered including gender identity, sexual identity, violence prevention, sexual health, consent, disclosure for starters. Information is power. It lowers potential risk factors. It also leads to better and healthier relationships. My experience is many parents raising cisgender kids skim the surface of sexual development education by offering the least amount of information to end everyone’s discomfort. I mostly know this from the horrified expressions from people as I recount the types of discussions I have with my trans daughter. I would bet money that these lovely people would rather run away screaming than contemplate having similar conversations with their cis kids. What’s that discomfort going to cost?
I was raised by a labor and delivery nurse while coming into puberty in the 80’s. The broken record phrase in our house was, “DON’T get pregnant.” There is an important distinction in that statement. It presumed that I was most likely going to engage and/or experiment with sex. Our society has determined expectations that are counter to our epigenetics. Societal morality no longer approves of child brides. Laws have been passed making it illegal. Culturally it is plain creepy now. Childbearing ages have risen due to the evolution of modern social norms. Yet, the biological nature puberty brings hasn’t changed. The crashing, unpredictable waves of hormonal spikes are the same. We are designed to mate.
What is utterly baffling is the unwillingness to acknowledge that children eventually become grown-ups who do grown-up things like have sex. The internal eye roll cramps I’ve hidden whenever a mother gasps at the idea of her son (or daughter) masturbating. Take a breath…masturbation happens whether you want to acknowledge it or not. What our society has not figured out is how to prepare our children for a healthy, life long relationship and understanding of sex.
The easy access to graphic pornography is also something we are ignoring. According to sex educator Jo Langford the average age a child sees porn is ten years old. If you aren’t willing to educate your child they will go to the internet for answers. The frightening issue here is that a young person’s comprehension of intimacy and sex will be defined by the porn industry. Scared yet? I suggest you check the search history of every device your child has access to. Go now, I’ll wait.
We have got to get real about the necessity of sex education and the complexities of sexual health. The stakes are too high for our kids not to. Part of the challenge is untangling our own relationship with sex and sexuality. Many of us will also have to navigate this subject in tandem with our experiences of sexual violence. We teach our babies to not run into traffic, not run with scissors, and touch a hot stove to protect them from possible harm. Why wouldn’t we do the same for their sexual health and well-being, too?