What is sex?
In our last issue of the Buzz, we talked about how one might answer the question “Where do babies come from?” One challenge that adults often have when faced with this question is that their minds go immediately to sex and how to explain it to a young person. In that issue, we talked about how that may not be the question they are asking at all! You can read more about that here. All of that said, this may have left some people with a lingering concern: even if it wasn’t the question young people were asking at the time, it is certainly a question that could - and likely will! - come up. So let’s dive in.
As always, there are two important considerations when addressing this question: the first is the age of the young person asking, and the second is the context in which the question is coming up for them. With younger kids, start simple, and be prepared for follow up questions as they get older. For older children, it may be more of a conversation than a simple answer. In both cases, it can certainly be helpful to consider in advance how you might want to respond - and by reading this newsletter, you’re well on your way!
Getting more context can help to steer your answer. This can sound different depending on what feels natural for you at the time; some examples include, “What makes you ask?” or “What do you think about that?” One of our educators often tells the story of getting this question from her young son - who was asking about how to fill out a form where it asked for name, age, and sex. The answer to that question is very different from the answer to a question about the activity or other sexual behavior!
Consider what are some facts that you know about sex. This can sometimes feel tricky to parse from opinion. Some possible facts might be: sex can mean different things to different people; sex is something that some people do and others don’t; sex is something that people do with their bodies for different reasons, like to feel good or to try to make a baby; sex is something people do together with their bodies to feel good. Some other definitions include:
- “Sex is something people can do to feel good in their bodies, and also to feel close to another person.” (Cory Silverberg, Sex is a Funny Word)
- Consensual sex with partners is about everyone involved freely and willingly engaging in close contact with each other, often (but not always) including genital contact, usually with the shared aim of experiencing pleasure or expressing or exploring sexuality.” (Heather Corinna, S.E.X.)
- “Much of the time, having sex is used to describe sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is what happens when people want their bodies to be close to each other emotionally and physically … People of any gender with any genitals can have sex together.... The only type of sex that can form a baby, though, is with a penis (and sperm) and a vagina (and an egg).” (Rachel E. Simon, The Every Body Book)
You can tweak these - or offer something completely different! - depending again on what feels natural and appropriate for you.
When thinking about what values to share, consider how you feel looking over some of those facts. Maybe you read “sex is something people do together…” and it feels important to you to share that you think only adults should have sex - that’s a value! You can share that in a way that feels natural for you, and one example of how someone might share that is to say, “I believe it’s something only grownups should do together.” The values section might also be a good place to share your thoughts about consent: “Consent is an essential part of any sexual interaction.” You can also think about what you hope your child understands about sex, and tell them that!
As always, let us know what you think. Have you already heard these questions? How did it go? What do you wish you had known, or what do you wish someone else could tell you now?