By Natalie Costanza-Chavez
FORT COLLINS – “Mom, where you a virgin when you got married?”
Welcome to the world of junior high – a time when kids are old enough to talk with each other about
what they see on TV, what they read in magazines, what they hear from older kids. “So were you?” he pushes.
If there’s a pat and obvious thing to say, it eludes me for this moment. I tread lightly when utterances can cause my son to compare his eventual choices to the ones I made. I dig to find out what he’s really wondering about. “Why do you ask?”
He tells me what came up in school that day: the legislator from Colorado Springs who is against a bill that would require state to pay for pregnant women to get an AIDS test. The man thinks it is not the state’s job to “ameliorate the negative consequences of immoral behavior” and though he insists he doesn’t want any baby to be born with AIDS, he thinks perhaps having a child with AIDS would make the mother think harder about her immoral behavior.
My son throws out the bare bones of this issue, then snowballs many more; they rattle off his tongue and fill the car: babies, pregnancy, one-parent families, two parent families, sex before marriage, sex after marriage, marriage itself.
Such is lunch talk in junior high. I start with the easy one first. “Families look different from each other. There’s no right way, or wrong way, to have a family. All families that love and care for each other are good.”
He already knows this and says “I know.” He wants to move on to the good stuff. “But, what about women who have sex a lot?” Then he uses the phrase he learned from hearing about the legislator – promiscuous women.
“Whoa,” I say. I squirm to bite back what I want to say about this legislator, or anyone using words like slut, tramp, harlot, whore, skank, or promiscuous to pass judgment on any aspect of a woman’s life or character or value. People speak of the fire of their commitment.
Fine. The fire of my commitment is hot and burning right now – I lay it before my son: it is no one’s business to discuss, guess at, or judge a woman’s sexual life. People, however, will do so anyway. It’s an age-old sport to guess at the sexual behavior of others – especially women and girls.
People will also play gossip games about men, but less often and with far less nastiness. I warn him that soon kids will start to say things about girls having sex – as if they have the right to comment and judge. Girls will say
these things, and boys will say these things.
“They already do,” my son interjects.
I ask him to remember that any girl’s private sexual life is her business. Then I take a deep breath and tell him that sex can be hard and messy and embarrassing and dangerous. He is, of course, trapped in the front seat of the car – and though he’s learned much of this in health classes and at home, if he had thought of plugging his ears and humming, I’m sure he would have. Next I blab on about what a good thing sex is – how it’s wonderful, a privilege, vital and deeply important.
I tell him what I wish for him: that he be old enough to understand how sex can be all these things at once, and that he be responsible enough, committed enough, and steady-headed enough to talk it out with the person he loves. I tell him I don’t think kids can do this because they aren’t old enough to understand such nuances, and that even many adults stink at it.
Then I tell him about boundaries, mine and his. I tell him there are questions I won’t answer because they are my private adult business. And, finally, I tell him never to judge a woman, or her children, or her family, by the hateful nonsense he will now, and on into adulthood, hear and see all around him. A woman’s sexual choices and mistakes and joys are her own, not the business of others. To believe otherwise is staggeringly disrespectful.
I add “In our family, we don’t disrespect girls. Ever.”
“I know,” he says and smiles. He’s a peach.Back to Top