It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting on the couch with my two of my favorite people. My son Jamin is in seventh grade and his middle sister, Maya, is a fifth grader beginning her sexuality education soon. We are watching a recent episode of The Office in which Michael Scott calls Oscar, the gay employee, into his office.
Michael Scott: I’m going in for a procedure today.
Oscar: Is everything OK?
Michael Scott: Yeah. It’s routine. I’m just a little bit scared.
Oscar: I’m sure everything will be fine. What’s the procedure, if you don’t mind my asking?
Michael Scott: It is a colonoscopy.
Michael Scott: In your experience, what should I be expecting, in terms of sensation? Or, emotions. [pause] Is there anything I can do to make it more pleasurable for me or for Dr. Shandri? My main concern is should I have a safe word?
Oscar: Yeah. [walks out of the office]
“Uh, mom?” Maya asks during the requisite 25-second internet commercial, “Why does he want to know about pleasure during that colos–”
“Colonscopy,” I finish. She’s never been the type of kid that lets things pass so I should’ve known she’d pick up on this one.
Wise Jamin cocks his eyebrow and flashes me an I’ll-take-this-one look.
“In this show Oscar plays a gay character, right?” he asks Maya.
“And gay men have anal sex which means they put their penis in the anus and the anus–”
“I know what the anus is, Jamin,” she says.
“OK. So Michael is being stupid like he almost always is and somehow thinks that his colonoscopy where the doctor will put something up his butt is going to feel good.”
Maya rolls her eyes and shakes her head, “I get it.”
“Do you even need me around anymore?” I ask them, making as if to leave. Maya grabs my arm and says, “Stay. We do need you. You make good oatmeal cookies.”
I flash back to when Jamin first learned of anal sex. I was reading an assignment for his first sexuality class with him two years ago. “Chapter 19: A Kind of Sharing.” It sounded innocent enough.
“Sexual intercourse, or as it is often called, ‘making love’ is a kind of sharing between two people. . . ” I read. Yada, yada, yada.
“After a bit, the female’s vagina becomes moist and slippery, her clitoris becomes hard, and the male’s penis becomes erect, stiff, and larger.” Still doing just fine, blah, blah, blah. . .
“There are other ways people make love and have sex. When a person puts his or her mouth on a female’s vulva or on a male’s penis, this is called ‘oral sex’ or ‘oral intercourse.’ When a male’s penis goes inside another person’s anus, this is called ‘anal sex’ or ‘anal intercourse.'”
“Oh my God!” Jamin interrupted me, “That is disgusting — who would put their mouths on other people’s private parts?”
“Well,” I gulped. I knew I was red. I knew I was bright, scarlet red. The facilitators told us about this. We didn’t need to disclose, we could just say ‘I’ve heard.’ I cleared my throat. “I’ve heard. . . people say it’s pleasurable and maybe when you are older and sexually active, maybe you’ll choose to — or not.”
“And gay man have sex where the poop comes out?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, not at the same time,” I said.
After finishing the section, we had a little more awkward small talk and I kissed him good night. He made an “ugh” sound one final time before I turned out the light.
While sharing the story with two friends the next day, I got conflicting reactions. The first one was elated to hear that his program was clearly defining oral sex as a type of sex. She shared that her 15-year-old daughter’s friend had gone to a party and given a blow job to a guy and then was horrified when everyone called her a slut. In her mind she was still a virgin.
“Maybe if she’d known it was a kind of sex and she could still be infected, she wouldn’t have done that,” my friend said, “I wish all kids could have that class and those books.”
The second friend recoiled. “How is that appropriate? Why would you even introduce information like that to a pre-teen?”
“The idea behind it is that you talk with kids about it long before they have to make decisions for themselves. You give them information before their friends do by sharing clear facts as they clarify their own values,” I explained.
“I still think you are asking for trouble sharing information like that so early. What good could possibly come of it?”
I didn’t have a good answer for her in the moment. Sometimes the appropriate comeback isn’t available to me until an hour later or when I’m in the shower the following morning.
Unfortunately, this time a reply didn’t come to me until two years later while I was watching slides of oral and anal sex.
I was at the three-hour mandatory parent meeting for an introduction to the Our Whole Lives middle school curriculum that we were told that we would be watching “The Slides” after lunch. “The Slides” were very graphic. We had to sign permission forms to allow our children to see “The Slides.” I felt like a middle schooler myself, suddenly intrigued by the unknown.
As the lights went down and “The Slides” began, we were crammed in a small room at the back of our UU church. The sketch sequences were tastefully done vignettes that started with an embrace and depicted scenes of sex through climax and back to a loving embrace. It was like M.C. Escher’s take on soft porn. They illustrated old people having sex and differently-abled people having sex and mixed-race couples having sex and male partners and female partners. At one point I became self-conscious when I realized I was tilting my head slightly to the left to figure out how the actual position between two men was working. Had I ever seen such graphic depictions of homosexual intercourse? I don’t think so. Movies like Brokeback Mountain and Milk were probably the extent of my education. I also wrote down “dental dam” with a question mark.
At the end of the narrated slide show, we were asked to reflect on “The Slides.”
One parent shared, “It’s one thing to watch that myself and it’s another thing to imagine how my daughter will react to those images.”
How will Jamin react to “The Slides,” I wonder. Ultimately he’ll have more information than I’d ever received. I hope it will help him make his decisions about sex from an educated standpoint. What good could possibly come of it? my friend had asked me.
If I’d waited to talk about “Kinds of Sharing” until I thought Jamin was ready, I may have been too late. As it stands, we have open, honest and factual conversations about sex in our home. Not to mention that my children would’ve missed the opportunity to comprehend yet another offensive turn by the incompetent Michael Scott as he bit the big one. That’s what she said.