You Think It’s Hard Talking to Your Kids About Sex? Try Talking to Them About Torture
I endeavor to avoid writing about politics on this blog, except when politics intersect with sex. I avoid politics because I don’t want how I feel about deficit spending, or gun control, or NAFTA or other rancorous issues to become entangled in how people understand my films. So much at I might be tempted to vent, I don’t. Not usually.
Some background. Peggy and I have two children, two daughters, one seven and a half, the other not yet two. Before I became a parent, the guiding star for my work was that I did not want to do anything I would be embarrassed or ashamed to show to my mother. After I became a parent I stopped looking back and started looking forward. My daughter became my new star, and my new guidance was that I did not want to do anything that I would be embarrassed or ashamed to explain, when the time came, to my daughter.
What we tell our older daughter about our work is calibrated to what she knows about sex. She knows about reproduction, and is fascinated by the workings of genetics (I am a recessive blue dark-eyed person, Peggy has fair eyes. There have been many discussions about Mendelian principals.) She knows the proper names of her sex organs so far as she’s asked, which is to say that she knows her vagina is different from her vulva. She knows the name of my sex organs too. She knows that her mother’s body is different from hers, and that when she is older, she will get breasts and pubic hair, and her body will change from being a straight-sided child’s body to a more or less curvy woman’s body. She knows about menstruation. I also know that she knows that people who love each other enjoy being close to each other, and I think she understands that although there are many similarities in the way that she snuggles with me or her mother, there is also something different in the way that Peggy and I snuggle, that it means something different when mommy and daddy snuggle. She knows about eggs and sperm, and how babies grow in their mother’s tummies. She knows that babies emerge from their mothers’ vaginas.
She has yet to ask just how the sperm gets into mommy’s tummy. When that day comes, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell her, except that whatever it is, it is going to be the truth. Against this understanding of her knowledge, we tell her that we make films about the good feeling that it gives people to be close to someone they love, and the good feeling it gives people to hear stories about that good feeling and see people who are in love.
Back to politics. A couple of months ago, on the way to drop my daughter off at school, she asked me about the war in Iraq. I did my best to explain in simple, objective facts, without betraying my own bias. I thought I was doing pretty well until she asked me, “Who started it?”
I felt myself freeze for a moment, then I said, “We did, honey.”
“We did?” bewilderment running across her face. “Why?” We had arrived at school and I was let off the hook.
“If you want, we can talk about this some more after school,” and politics did not come up again, until last night. Last night our daughter asked me why people are saying we torture people. “Why are people saying we torture people?”
How do you answer that question? How do you calibrate your answer against what you think your child knows about stress positions and water-boarding and the Geneva Convention and the blast radius of a suitcase nuke? After a bit of hesitation, I told her, as simply and gently as I could, what I believe to be the truth.
There is a lot of worrying in our country about what happens if children are exposed to sexual ideas or sexual imagery before they are ready to understand it. I think these concerns have merit, but I also think part of my responsibility as a parent is to give my children the knowledge they need to, as best they can, understand and incorporate sexuality as a part of the human experience and as a part of their own experience. To my mind, this is the best prophylactic against their inappropriate exposure to sex, and to mitigate whatever ill effects it might have.
It’s hard to know if you’re doing too much, or not doing enough, but Peggy and I bumble along as best we can. But as ill prepared as I might feel about being my daughter’s guide on her journey from a child’s understanding and experience of sex to that of an adult, I am far far less prepared to be her guide in a world where her own government subjects prisoners to water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” When I was her age, I was indoctrinated in the idea that we simply didn’t do things like this in America, and that’s what made us different and better than our mortal adversary, the Soviet Union. I was taught this difference was something worth making sacrifices for, worth killing for, even worth dying for if need be. I was indoctrinated in these ideals and I still believe in them. I don’t know how to explain torture to my daughter without becoming confused and angry.
Compared to explaining torture, explaining why mommy and daddy make dirty movies seems like a walk in the park. Perhaps some of you think I’m naive, and perhaps you even disagree with me. If so, I hope you will chalk it up to the same idealism that has sustained our efforts to make our films, and excuse this outburst as the ranting of an overwrought parent who only wants the best for his children, and wants them to grow up in a country that is regarded throughout the world as a place that is different and special.
–Submitted by Tony from Comstock Films