It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sex Ed

I am the totally cool mom when it comes to this stuff. My kids get straight information when they ask. Prissiness and prudery are not only not allowed in this household, they are derided as unhealthy dirty-mindedness. I don’t get embarrassed. The only way I’ve ever embarrassed my kids about sex and sexuality is by being enthusiastic about the subject in front of their friends. I’m working on that one…

No subject is taboo, and they know it. My children have never felt they needed to be coy about this aspect of their lives, unlike the 20 year old daughter of a friend of mine who, even though she is on the pill and brings her boyfriend to spend the night, gets indignant when mother says anything to indicate that she believes her daughter is sexually active. How stupid do they think we are, again? My children are entitled to their privacy, of course, but they don’t have to hide things to protect mum’s squeamishness.


I love the column Savage Love, which appears in a free local entertainment paper each week. I let my kids read it. The youngest (just turned 12) isn’t particularly interested yet, finds it either “boring”, “gross”, or responds with “I don’t get it”. That’s okay. She gets the information as she needs it, from a trusted and reputable source. Me. The other two read it.

Why do I let them read something so explicit? Because Dan Savage, for all his in-yer-face, aggressive, tough-talking persona, is very kind to the sexually innocent.

Take this weeks’s column, in which a teen complains that a 17-year-old friend is so obsessed with a character on Yu-Gi-Oh! that she refuses to have anything to do with actual boys her own age. They all fall short. “She constantly complains that none of the real guys ar our high school as are good as [him]. What can I do to help her?”

Savage’s reply (will I get in copyright trouble for this?):

“Your friend’s obsession is juvenile…but I wouldn’t call it pointless. Like a lot of high-school kids, your friend probably feels pressured to be sexually active…Most not quite-ready-for-sex teenagers hide behind Jesus’ skirts when their friends ask why they’re not fucking, but nonreligious kids have to be a bit more creative. Some, like your friend, invent grand/tragic sexual obsessions that prevent them from dating mere mortals. Your friend doesn’t want you to think she’s unhip, or that she isn’t just dying to have sex, or that she isn’t heterosexual, so she’s convinced you (and perhaps herself) that she’s obsessed with [the cartoon character]. And you know what? That’s just fine. Finding fault with all potential real-life boys is a way for her to avoid sexual experiences she’s not ready for. So just back off, okay?”

He’s abrasive, he uses colloquial terms – some would call them vulgar or even profane, but there’s no doubt what he means, which is good. But his bottom line? No one should be pressured to have sex before they’re ready.

This is a good message.

August 26, 2005 - Posted by | sex


  1. I love Dan Savage.

    And his writing about his son is so very poignant and beautiful.

    Comment by misfit | August 26, 2005 | Reply

  2. Yeah. For all his rough tough talk, I think he’s a genuinely nice man. I heard him interviewed on the radio once, and was astonished at how soft-spoken and mild he was, about a subject he feels passionately about, too. And yes, he loves his boy, that’s for sure!

    Comment by Mary P. | August 27, 2005 | Reply

  3. I was unaware that Dan Savage had a son. That’s pretty cool.

    Comment by Haley | August 27, 2005 | Reply

  4. And even better that you are there and willing to discuss it with them! 🙂

    Comment by kris | August 27, 2005 | Reply

  5. Haley: He does! He and his partner of nine years adopted recently. I think (misfit can correct me if I’m wrong) that the baby is less than a year old.

    Kris: Welcome,and thanks for posting!! You’re quite right. It’s critical to be able to talk about this, naturally and easily with them. For everyone’s health and safety, it’s essential. Good thing I love the topic…(Haley up there is my eldest.)

    Comment by Mary P. | August 27, 2005 | Reply

  6. My son is 13 and my daughter 12. They have never come to me about sex. I tried to talk to them a year or so ago, but they weren’t ready to listen. All I could say was-when you’re ready to talk I’m here. I’m not sure that’s the right thing, but I just wanted them to know the door was always open if they had questions. I still feel like my kids have been short changed. Just not sure how to open the lines of communication with this one. My mom put the fear of GOD in me-I didn’t lose my virginity until after I graduated high school.

    Comment by kimmyk | August 28, 2005 | Reply

  7. I’m emailing you on this one, kimmyk: look for a gmail address with “Mary Poppins” in the subject line!

    Comment by Mary P. | August 28, 2005 | Reply

  8. Yu-Gi-Oh? Isn’t that a cartoon?

    “Jesus skirts” was a crass way to put it, so I think I’ll just stay away from that one.

    Is it just me, or is he saying it’s okay for kids to go around having tons of sex?

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | August 29, 2005 | Reply

  9. Yup, it’s a cartoon. I agree the “skirts” comment was crass. He does do that, and it tends to make me wince, too. But no, I don’t think he’s saying promiscuity is okay. Rather, he’s saying that while many are indulging, those who aren’t ready should not be pressured into it.

    Here’s my take on the sex-and-teens issue. I think later is better. No doubt about it. Fourteen is far too early, but nineteen? Most jurisdictions recognize them as adults by then, after all, old enough to drive, old enough to vote, old enough to go to war.

    Two of my kids are in the age bracket for sexual activity. (I will not divulge if one or both are active, as that would be a violation of their privacy.) There is rampant pressure on them to indulge, from society, from peers, from media, from music. How does a parent deal with this?

    If they have a sound sense of self, and an understanding that it’s a choice over which they have the final say (not me, though I certainly have given them input on the topic!, and not any social body), then they are much more likely to wait until they can indulge without damaging themselves.

    As a mother, I want my children to be physically and psychologically safe, happy, and healthy. But by the ages of 16 and 19, I can only hope and pray that the years of training and guidance I’ve given them will help them make the right decisions for themselves. That decision-making power is now in their hands, not mine.

    Well. That was deep and serious. Which will teach me to put up posts like that one. Phew…

    Comment by Mary P. | August 29, 2005 | Reply

  10. When it comes to Dan Savage, you have to remember who he’s writing for. He’s not writing for your average teenager, or your average adult for that matter. He’s writing primarily for homosexuals and people with sexual ideosyncracies.

    If you were a sixteen year old with a kinky sex fantasy, would you go to your high school guidance counsellor for information?

    And if you are that sixteen year old and you live in a community that is very conservative about sex, you probably feel weird and perverted. I think Dan Savage can relate to that experience, and he’s made it his mission to let those folks know that having a predilection for a fringe sexual practice doesn’t make you a worthless human being.

    It doesn’t even make you all that weird, because the sexual fringes are actually rather well populated. That’s one of the lessons we’ve been slowly learning since Dr. Kinsey’s breakthrough studies. Sex is a private act, and we had no idea what people were really up to in their bedrooms until very recently. It’s hard to be dogmatic any more about what’s “deviant”.

    Anyway, I think Mr. Savage performs a legitimate social service, providing factual information to people who otherwise might not be able to get it. Among other subjects, he lets people know when they’re putting their health at risk, and what precautions are advisable for their specific kink, and how to treat their sexual partners with respect, while still trying to fulfil their fantasies.

    If he was as fastidious as a typical high school guidance counsellor, he wouldn’t be able to reach the people who need his message.

    Comment by Q | August 29, 2005 | Reply

  11. I taught sex-ed to middle and high school kids. My consistant piece of advice was – if you can’t talk about sex with your partner then you’re not ready to have it. Simple. And for those parents – get the book, It’s Perfectly Normal. Helps with almost any conversation about the body.

    Comment by Amy | February 23, 2007 | Reply

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