I recently had a chance to discuss sex with my nine-year old son, Aaron, and it was possibly the most satisfying parenting experience I’ve had in a long time.
After being cooped up with the kids for an entire week of Winter Break, where first one, and then the other, came down with the flu, Holly and I went out Saturday evening. When we got back home, the babysitter, a twelve-year old from across the street, was out on the front porch to greet us, and he looked excited.
Never a good sign.
As I got out of the car, he started talking about having an evening that was a babysitter’s worst nightmare. “Oh, my,” I thought. My mind raced with possible worst case scenarios, but I tried to present a calm front.
“Yes?” I encouraged.
He stuttered nervously and looked at his feet. “You know the computer in Kennedy’s room?” he said. My daughter Kennedy is a budding writer. I had just set her up with an old laptop to write stories on, so she wouldn’t have to bug Holly for time on her laptop. “They were looking at something they probably shouldn’t be looking at.” He said this last part with so much gravity it was hard not to laugh.
“Really?” I said.
The poor kid was so shook up he couldn’t even tell us what he had seen. He was reduced entirely to euphemism to explain the night’s problems. All we knew was that it was Bad Stuff and The Real Deal. We calmed him down, paid him, and sent him home.
I’m pretty computer savvy, so I was surprised. My oldest son had used that laptop when he was stationed out here to post updates to MySpace. He lived with a bunch of twenty-something-year-old enlisted men, so porn on the computer wasn’t that surprising. But I had cleaned out the browser cache and deleted everything in the My Documents folder and generally poked around and hadn’t found any evidence of naughtiness. Holly and I logged on and together we checked out the parental control settings and browser history. We couldn’t find anything.
There was a mystery in the house. I did what most fathers in my position would have done: I slept in Sunday morning.
When I finally got up, I heard Holly and Kennedy talking in the dining room. Holly was waiting for me to wake up so that Kennedy could show me what was on the computer. The babysitter had convinced Kennedy that she had broken many laws. She felt certain she was headed for prison. As I sipped my coffee, Holly surreptitiously advised me to mostly listen, so that the whole thing didn’t get blown to even more epic proportions. Aaron had refused to engage in any of this discussion and had spent the morning sulking in his room. He was only now making his way back into the dining room.
Being the computer geek in the family, I investigated with Kennedy in tow. Windows Media Player was the culprit: In its most recently played list, there was a link to a video of a couple going at it. As the video started to play, Kennedy erupted into a fit of nervous giggles.
“Are they exercising?” Kennedy asked.
I typically let my wife handle all these type questions. Why? Because she is much better on her feet than I am. And because she is so determined to be a good parent. I am merely interested in doing better than my parents did, which is a decidedly lower bar. But then Aaron asked what they were doing and I could tell by his tone that he really did want to know. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he had pointedly refused to talk about any of this with Holly so far.
“It’s just sex,” I said.
I was trying to sound casual, as I deleted the link and closed the laptop. Aaron nodded his head in acknowledgement. I felt a little relieved the conversation didn’t go any further. It wasn’t even 9 A.M. and I hadn’t finished my first cup of coffee.
But as the day wore on, I thought about this little exchange. Had I given my son the idea that something as powerful and wonderful as sex was equivalent to this tawdry little clip from a porn site? Holly told me about his reluctance to discuss the previous night’s mischief with her that morning. That didn’t surprise me. Aaron still hides his face during romantic movie scenes. But he seemed to want information, and he wanted it only from me. Scary!
That night Holly and Kennedy went to the grocery store, leaving Aaron and me home alone. It may sound like this was planned, but it wasn’t. I was trying to flame someone on a message board I frequent, and Aaron was peeking over my shoulder. I felt mildly annoyed. Looking away from the computer screen, I could see him fingering the power buttons on my computers. I was about to grumble when I realized this was the perfect opportunity for a man-to-man.
“I made a little mistake this morning,” I said.
Aaron raised his eyebrow.
“You know that video?” I asked. “That’s not really sex. That’s what we call pornography. Pornography is when people take pictures of sex and put it on the Internet.”
I briefly explained about consequences for looking at pornography. But then I moved the conversation to how girls were going to become really interesting, if they weren’t already starting to appear interesting. I had his complete attention. He wanted to know what sex was. I felt some mild apprehension about telling him that sex was for making babies, as if I were passing on some fundamentalist rhetoric to my child. But then I realized we could have more than one conversation about this. For now, I needed to keep it simple!
He started to pose questions about logistics. He mentioned having heard something from his friends about the girls’ bloodstream. Was he asking about AIDS? I decided to ignore STDs for the moment and just explain the basics. He’s nine, for crying out loud.
As I finished up a fertilizer analogy (proud of myself for using words like “penis” “vagina” and “sperm” without snickering), his mom and Kennedy came home. Holly whisked Kennedy into the other room to give us some privacy.
“So that’s sex,” I said as a way of summing things up. I waited to see if there were any more questions. Aaron just nodded his head and stood quietly for a bit. Finally he spoke.
“My teacher had sex,” Aaron said.
“Really?” I had to work to suppress my smile. But then I became alarmed. Why does my nine-year-old son know his teacher has had sex?
“Yep, she has three heartbeats. Two here.” He pointed to his stomach. “And one up here.” He pointed higher.
I smiled. My little man had it all figured out.