What Will the Children Say?

It’s taken me years to get even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Malachi: 

This past week, I have had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with two dear friends of mine and their one-year-old son. One evening, after the baby had gone down for the night, the three of us sat talking and the conversation turned to parenting- and sex.

Malachi GrennellWe were sharing stories of some of our struggles as parents (a role that we have each come into this past year: the two of them with the birth of their son; me through developing a co-parenting relationship to our (Kase and I’s) goddaughter). Our goddaughter (who we affectionately refer to as Kiddo) is 7, and I have had a series of interesting conversations with her that have led me to ponder how we talk about sex in healthy, age-appropriate ways with children.

A few anecdotes to contextualize this situation: when she was four, Kiddo asked for a whip for Christmas. When asked why she wanted a whip, she responded, “I think people would like it if I hit them with it.” In the South, spanking kids is something that is considered normal and encouraged, and her primary parent decided to try to spank her as a consequence for something. Her response to being was to ask for more- which quickly put an end to that as a consequence method. She has also commented that, if the tooth fairy came, she would pee in his or her mouth (her words).

These are the innocent statements made by a seven year old with an active imagination, that’s true… there is nothing inherently or intentionally sexual about them. And yet, all of her parents are kinky and laugh, recognizing that there is a good chance she will grow up to be as well. But it led me to wonder how (and when) to provide information to her about alternative types of sexuality. The obvious answer, of course, is to bring it up when talking to her about masturbation, or perhaps sex in general. Except that conversations about sex only really come up when talking about babies.

gay_family truthrevolt org
truthrevolt.org

She and I have had many conversations about where babies come from. We talk about biology, about bodies with eggs and bodies with sperm and bodies with uteruses (for a really amazing book that deals with conception and pregnancy without ever mentioning gender, check out What Makes a Baby ). She has some understanding that babies are a product of the mingling of an egg and a sperm inside of a uterus. She might even have some understanding that one of the ways sperm enters a body is through sex, but I don’t think she has a firm idea of what sex is.

Which leads me to this point: how to we introduce and talk about sex as a recreational activity (and not just simply a means to an end, e.g. conception)? Forget kink; how do we address the idea that sex is something that we do because it feels good and is a way to be intimate with someone we care about? As parents, we are one of the primary sources of information for our kids- and what they don’t learn from us, they learn from school (such as sex ed) or other peers.

sex ed craziness nytimes com
nytimes.com

I remember the sex education I received from my peers in the guise of dirty jokes and juicy gossip, and it makes me shudder. I would like to inform and equip Kiddo to be better prepared to than that.

In truth, though, I want to raise her in a better informed world. I want to raise her in a world where her body is not criminalized and debated in public arenas. I want to raise her in a world where she doesn’t see her sexuality as a hindrance or a thing to feel shame about, but is excited and equipped to explore her sexuality in safe, responsible ways.

I want to raise her in a world that celebrates all of who she is. And yet, I wonder if I struggle so much to find the entry points for these conversations because we as adults are not accustomed to having these conversations. We have no framework to allow sex to be a part of normal, adult conversation. When we do choose to explicitly reference it, we do so in euphemism (“We’re going to have some alone time” wink wink) or in self-serving ways (“I’m gonna get laid/lucky tonight!”)

lesbian couple with kids familydiv org
familydiv.org

We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children, and that is incredibly important. As a queer person, I know I worry that I will say too much, or push a conversation, and I worry about what’s age-appropriate. Queer parents often feel that sense of scrutiny…we work hard to have families and, once we do, want to make sure that we do it exactly right because we want to prove that we are just as capable as heterosexual parents. Besides, the queer community (particularly gay men and bisexual people) have been accused of being “obsessed with sex,” so there is a certain trepidation about bringing up sex at all.

We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children. But what, I wonder, is the appropriate age to talk about sex as a pleasurable activity (and not just a means to an end)? By the state of United States culture, it seems that many of us haven’t reached it yet! We don’t talk about sex as a part of our lives. We have very little framework to help us create safe space to talk openly about sex and allow it to be a part of our conversations.

If we aren’t doing it, then how can we hope to model that type of behavior? As a child of queer parents, I know that my understanding of sex was severely limited… what I took away from the conversations was not mechanics or concepts of intimacy, but an overwhelming sense of shame. Although my parents never said it, I knew that sex was something to be ashamed of. Once I updated my understanding of the mechanics of sex (I confess, the physics of heterosexual sex made no sense to me until I started watching porn- not the best method of sex education, but a helpful lesson in the technicalities), I started working on my emotional hangups. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I feel even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

Carlos McKnight

Last week, Robin and I talked about the terrifying political climate after the Republican National Convention. Since then, we have seen the Democratic National Convention seek to provide an alternative to the alarming display the previous week. While I think there were many important concepts discussed at the DNC, I am reminded that the next president will nominate judges to the Supreme Court, and I have a seven year old girl looking to (among others) me for guidance.

This election is not just about us, but about the world we shape for the generations that follow. I want to live in a world that is well-informed, and I want to shape the next generation to be thoughtful contributors. I want people in Kiddo’s generation to be able to push beyond what we are fighting for now. I want us, as adults, to know how to have these conversations with one another so that we are able to impart these lessons to the next generation. I want us to be comfortable enough with ourselves that we are able to answer questions without imparting a sense of shame. But most of all, I want us to actively be a part of creating a better world for those who follow after us.

Robin:

“Kids say the darndest things!” Those of a certain generation (mine) will remember how Art Linkletter mined that truth to make money with a book of the same name, as well as part of his “House Party” radio program. In 1998, Bill Cosby found the same rewarding path for several years on television.

revrobin2-023What these venues featured were kids saying “cute” things, definitely not using “bad” language or, e.g., sexual or excretory terms.  However, my experience with children features some differences. My daughter Emily, while enrolled in Cambridge, MA public schools in 1984, came home to ask me, “Daddy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?” (a word neither her mother nor I ever used). She was in First Grade, age 6. Of course, she did this at the playground in front of her younger sisters, and waited, as they did, for an answer.

Bear in mind I had already had to try to explain to her, and to them, what “being gay” meant—I had responded by talking about  “liking men and the company of men,” and then stumbled about when she asked in response if I would still want to spend time with her and her sisters!

Frankly, I do not remember what I said in response to the playground query, except I am sure I strongly suggested she did not use the word again (which probably only heightened interest).

Art Linkletter Kids say the darndest things barnesandnoble com
barnesandnoble.com

Fast forward to this year, last week in fact. Our five-year-old granddaughter (who shall remain nameless), realizing her mother was getting frustrated with her two-year-old sister’s slow response to a request to find her diaper, said, “Susie (name changed to protect the innocent), where’s your fuckin’ diaper?”

What a difference 32 years can make. And yet, have things really changed in any important way?

Things have changed in terms of conversations about sex. In some respects, there is more openness. But note that our granddaughter’s sentence, correct in terms of everyday usage, continues the pattern of negative value being connected to sexual “street language.” (See our blog, “What’s Your Body Language?”) And just because she can use the word in a grammatically correct way doesn’t mean she has any more idea what the term means than did her aunt before.

national enquirer nationalenquirer com
nationalenquirer.com

Sexual scandals are reported more easily and fully these days—there always seems to be some celebrity and/or politician embroiled in compromising photo-sharing or sightings on a nude beach or having a sex video flying around cyberspace. Sex certainly still sells—that has not changed—still brings readers and customers.

But what about actual conversations among adults?  Surely, many use “fucking” and other exclamatory and negative terms. But do we talk about sex, really talk about it, even in private spaces?

The other day, when Malachi and were trying to find a time for our weekly editorial conference, he proposed an evening time. I texted back that I would not be available because Jonathan and I had carved out time for us, and we would, I hoped, be having sex at the time mentioned. After I wrote the text, I thought “You can’t say that,” and then I thought, “Oh yes you can, this is Malachi, and he not only knows you and Jonathan have sex, you know he and his husband (and others) have sex, and you sometimes talk about it in preparation for writing this blog. You both even write about it!”

Then I thought one more thing: “Wouldn’t it be great if I felt comfortable saying things like that to other loved ones, not just the co-editor of a blog about sexuality and spirituality and my very dear friend?”

Of course, six months ago, when Malachi were friends but were not yet colleagues on this blog, I would not have texted, or certainly said, anything about Jonathan and me having sex.

friends talk sex periods poop pinterest com
pinterest.com

Relationships matter. In truth, I have only two other relationship (besides with Jonathan) in which I might make that statement (two gay male friends of mine with whom I have discussed some of my sexual function issues).  I want to change that. I want my sex talk with others to reflect not only troubles but also the sheer joy and celebration of sex with my husband. And I want it to be more commonplace. I have written an honest and open (what others might label “explicit” or NSFW) poem about recent sex with Jonathan, and I am trying to decide where to publish it (Jonathan likes it).

I don’t want to use language I have heard some use, things like (as someone, usually a man, heads out on a date), “I hope I get lucky tonight” (wink, wink). I not only want to use the word “sex,” but also I want it, at least in my case, to be about mutuality and shared pleasure (and if about masturbation, my own).

Last week, we wrote against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention. This week, the Democrats have completed their gathering.

And what a difference! They gave openly lesbian and gay speakers, and a Transgender speaker, prime times to speak (I don’t know if they provided that to an openly bisexual person).  Many of the non-LGBT speakers spoke positively about LGBT people. And there are no platform planks about bogus methods to “cure” same-sex attraction nor linking sex only to reproduction or repealing a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Also, a search on the internet revealed no reports about a boom in business for male sex workers, as at the GOP event in Cleveland. Maybe that’s because there were many more out, self-affirming gay men already at the convention?

bill-hillary-chelsea wnd com
wnd.com

But one thing remains the same at both conventions. Nobody talked openly about sex. Former President Clinton had an opportunity to lament the effect on his presidency and his family from his affairs (especially the one with an intern) but nary a word from him, or Chelsea or Hillary either. We all know that when people talk about Hillary’s toughness, it refers not only to negotiating with dictators but also to hanging “tough” with her husband. But it is not discussed except in hushed and judgmental side conversations.

Think how much more healthy it would be for them , and us, if we could get it out in the open—we don’t need to judge him, or her, but we can understand the situation as human. It could be a time of education for many.

We could be more real about the power and divine roots of sex, and its centrality in our lives.

love makes family familydiv org
familydiv.org

Maybe then we could talk more openly with our children about it, too, not only to tell them about reproduction, how the parts work, but even to talk about pleasure and joy it can bring (as well as the potential for pain possible with such a great power). We could talk openly with them about masturbation, no longer giving messages about its dangers as they discover its pleasure (leaving people confused).

When Emily posed that question in 1984, I was only 18 months or so out of the closet, recently divorced, and still dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia. There is no way I had the conceptual understanding or language I have today to speak affirmatively about sex.

its not the storkWould I have had a different conversation with my daughter then? Perhaps (I really don’t remember what I said). I do know I would have had different conversations with her and her sisters as they grew up.

It is not my place to speak with my granddaughters about sex (unless they ask), but I can share my thoughts with their parents. And that I will do, knowing how much they love their daughters and how I trust them to do the very best they can to insure bright futures full of love and joy for each girl—futures that include the kinds of sex that bring them joy and fulfillment God intends for them.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How do you feel about talking with children and youth about sex? Have you done it? How did it go? Can you share from your experience things the rest of us might need to know? Or are you troubled and uncertain?  Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

New Educational Adventure!

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com

Please plan to join us on the third Thursday of each month at 3:00 pm ET for a one-hour online educational and discussion session with Malachi and Robin! First session: August 18, 2016! Stay tuned for further details (Note: available for CEU credits for MCC Clergy).

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: The Real Story?

So, if Jesus had a penis (see prior post here), then Mary had a vagina, right? Well, of course. And Joseph had a penis, too.

Jesus may have been the result of immaculate conception, but surely his birth was like every other human birth–Mary carrying him for nine months to term (remember her visit to Elizabeth?), then her water breaking, and the contractions beginning, and her having to push and push and push. Apparently, he was her first child, so it was a lot of work (births after the first one are often far easier for the mother).

Mary, Jesus. and Joseph, in modern incarnation jesusisnotalone blogspot com
jesusisnotalone.blogspot.com

I don’t know the custom of that time, but I hope Joseph was there (while doubting it was permitted), encouraging her. Three of the absolutely most precious and wondrous times in my life were being present with my wife, Judy, at the births of our three daughters, holding her hand, giving her encouragement, hearing the first squalls from the newborn, and being able to wipe Judy’s sweaty brow and give her a kiss of the deepest gratitude and joy. I hope Joseph did not miss that.

Actually, I hope he did not miss the impregnation either. I know, I know. It was the Holy Spirit. But I have my doubts. In fact, I don’t believe he did miss it. I think Jesus was conceived in the usual way.

St. Paul's Brookline stpaulsbrookline org
stpaulsbrookline.org

I remember when, as a first-year seminarian in 1981 working in my field education parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, MA, the rector assigned me to meet with the weekly Women’s Bible Study. I began in Advent. As we finished what was my first meeting with them, I announced that the following week we would study Luke 1:26-38 (click here to read the text).

“Oh no,” said Elizabeth, a an older woman from England, “We don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, do we?” All eyes turned to me, the new guy (and the only man in the room), and as I took a deep breath, I said, “No you don’t. There are no litmus tests here.”

All during the week, I felt anxious about our next meeting. I chose not to tell the rector, feeling a bit like Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to avoid trouble from Herod. That made me nervous, too.

giving birth pushing-lying-down  evidencebasedbirth com
evidencebasedbirth.com

During the actual discussion, these women, many of whom had given birth and all of whom were either married or engaged to men, were remarkably open in their story-telling and their hope that Jesus was conceived in the usual way. Frankly, I had never dared speak of my doubts until that night, and I kept much of it to myself–my job being to facilitate their exploration–but I felt sure they were right.

Over the years since, I have become convinced that the virgin birth was invented by the story-tellers and gospel writers of long ago. I don’t doubt it could have happened, and still could happen in another situation–all things are possible with God–but I have three reasons for thinking it did not in this case.

First, the God I know, from the biblical record, as well as my own life, chooses ordinary human beings and ordinary human situations through which to manifest the divine desire for wholeness in the world. I believe Joseph and Mary were, in this instance, the ordinary human vehicles God chose.

young_couple_having_passionate_sex_3-4_tmb anybunny com
anybunny.com

Second, I think they had sexual intercourse that led to the birth of Jesus before they were married. It is entirely in keeping with the biblical record that God would select the child born out of wedlock to carry the mantle of Messiah.  In fact, to do otherwise really runs counter to that record. But the disciples, and probably Mary and Joseph, and others, worried that the wider world would be scandalized by an illegitimate child being the Messiah. So they changed the story (biblical texts are filled with these “edits” by scribes and others).

Third, I surely believe Jesus was the son of God, but then I think each of us is a child of God. Jesus did not have to be born through impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit to become the Messiah–he did have to choose to use the gifts God gave him to be so but then God gives us similar gifts, too. The thing is, Jesus made the choice, and did not change his mind.

Children of God bobjones org
bobjones.org

There is a bit of the divine in each human being, and that holiness is passed on from God through our parents. Conception, the mating of a female egg and male sperm, is a moment of divinity in the body of the mother–a moment that is the continuation of the holy union of penis and vagina, followed by continued lovemaking, ejaculation by the male, and receiving of the semen by the female (as well as her own natural lubrication).

Now, I can hear abortion opponents saying, “See, abortion is the murder of one of God’s children.” I do not share that view. There are times when this union is not holy, certainly in the case of rape and incest. But even in the absence of those horrors, God gives us free will to choose how we will live with the gifts of God. Many women, for all sorts of reasons, choose to refuse the gift.

magnificat elobservadorenlinea com
elobservadorenlinea.com

Mary chose to keep this gift and nurture Jesus. Indeed, what we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) could be her response to the birth of Jesus even though the writer of Luke has placed it with her meeting with Elizabeth (and it is a wonderful hymn of gratitude for the gift, wherever it is placed in the story).

The view of Jesus’ conception espoused here has not only biblical resonance in terms of so much else in the record (just think of all the unlikely people God chooses to work through), but also undermines the sex negativity inherent in the texts we have received.

The church and indeed most of us as Christians have been influenced more by Platonisn–with its severe split between body and spirit–than by the earthiness of the Bible, the union of body and spirit that happens over and over again. This influence was enhanced by the account of Jesus’ conception.

shame-on-you cherispeak wordpress com
cherispeak.wordpress.com

Jesus and sex are kept a safe distance apart from conception to death–no sex between his parents leading to his birth, no hint of sex by him during his life, and a chaste cloth to cover his genitals on the cross. Nobody ever said this to me, but I imagine some priests or parents, or both, have told pubescent boys, “You mustn’t masturbate, Jesus didn’t, you know. He doesn’t want you doing it either.You must be pure like him.” Of course, that would involve those adults admitting (at least to themselves) that Jesus had “one of those things.”

jesus-feet-walking  umcholiness wordpress com
umcholiness.wordpress.com

Of course, this is my opinion. Biblical literalists will throw every text they can at me from the Gospels to prove me wrong. Many of them will even most likely tell me I am not a Christian (the good news is that not many such people read my writing).

But I know I love, and I do my best to follow, Jesus–the flesh and blood, fully embodied, incarnate, Jesus who walked the earth, taught, healed, loved, ate, peed and defecated, sweated, cried, wiped and maybe even picked his nose, and, I believe, had sex (as did his parents).

My Messiah was a real man, and his mother and father were real human beings, too.

Praise God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Overcome Our Fear of Really Talking about Sex (and Some Body Parts)?

Why are so many of us so afraid to talk about sex? Or even about some parts of our bodies?

sexualityanthro316.blogspot.com
sexualityanthro316.blogspot.com

Whatever creates this fear often seems to have something to do with religion, at least the monotheistic ones, and certainly my own faith, Christianity. Conservative Christians still generally exhibit the most sex-negative attitudes (although there are I am sure exceptions). For some, attitudes and behaviors that were common when I was a teen–in the 60s–still apply. But for many others, things have changed a lot.

I am amazed at how much has changed in the past 40-50 years of social history.

  • Living together among heterosexual couples before marriage used to be severely condemned.
  • Sex before marriage was a serious sin.
  • Interracial marriage was a definite no-no (illegal until 1967, and definitely frowned on even after that).
  • Homosexuality used to be a secret whose “ugliness” occasionally leaked out into notice
  • Nobody even knew bisexuality existed (most people still don’t appear to really believe it does)
  • Nudists, or naturists as they are now calling themselves, were dirty or sex-crazed (many people still feel this way)

Of course, there are people who still claim those beliefs, or have retained vestiges of them. But so many others do not. So there remains much contradiction in how we deal with sex.

unchartedparent.com
unchartedparent.com

But there is one thing that remains pretty constant. For most people, it remains hard to talk about in an open and honest way, and generally even more difficult to talk about sex in a positive (or even neutral), non- exploitative, way.

Clergy generally are afraid to preach about it, or if they do, to use any specific language, even the most clinical. When was the last time you heard a sermon with the word “penis” or “vagina” in it? I grant that I can’t think of the homiletic situation right now in which either would be necessary, but what I know with even more certainty is that any preacher who did so in almost any Christian church would be well advised to start looking for a new gig. Why should this be?

Is there something bad about a penis or a vagina? Are they evil? Are they dirty?

studyblue.com
studyblue.com

My spiritual director uses guided meditation in our work together. When we do this, she invites me to breathe, to relax and focus on various parts of my body, beginning with my toes and feet and ankles, calves, thighs, stomach, chest, hands, arms, neck, mouth, nose, eyes, and the top of my head. Did you notice something missing, when we went from thighs to stomach? I have noticed many times in situations of naming body parts how this sacred center–the groin, private parts, genitals, also known as the root, or Muladhara, chakra in some Indian religions–is glossed over as if it does not exist.

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We don’t talk about that in polite company. But we do, at least sort of. Every time you hear a man or woman say they are trying to have children, they don’t mean they are saving up to buy a child (although for those who must, or choose to, adopt this is a reality). They mean they are deliberately engaging in sexual intercourse, using those two unnameable bodily parts to bring sperm and egg together to produce a child.

keepcalmandposters.com
keepcalmandposters.com

One hopes they are enjoying the adventure, excited about receiving the blessing of a pregnancy, as well as being determined to produce offspring . But it often sounds more like work–because to talk about sexual pleasure is pretty much a no-no, unless it is done in a suggestive, wink-wink, kind of way. Sexual jokes and innuendo are okay within certain limits, but to actually talk about the joy of sex, the reality of sex, somehow seems sacrilegious.

Yet, did God not create all of us, all parts of us? Do we not affirm, with our Jewish ancestors in faith, that God created it all, and that it was and is all good? Is there an asterisk somewhere in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 that says, “exceptions include penis, vagina, uterus, breasts, anus,” etc.?

message.snopes.com
message.snopes.com I do not remember this at my alma mater, but the message is not inconsistent with what I was taught

Do we think God is so old and crabby that He/She (but probably He in this case) intended our sexual organs to be used only a few times to produce children, and otherwise they are just ugly and unholy? Is masturbation the real original sin of Adam and Eve? Based on what I was told in my youth, it sure seemed that way.

All this is very sad. At least that is how I see it.

Sex, sexual pleasure, sexual activity, is beautiful and life-affirming (except when it is not, and then it is, by my definition, not sex but rather something that someone may define as sex but is physical and/or emotional violation and abuse using one or more bodily organs and limbs, etc.).

http://sunyatasatchitananda.com/
http://sunyatasatchitananda.com/

But I will go further, and say it is holy, it is sacred, it is divine, it is godly. And like eating and hydrating, and resting and processing the nutrients and eliminating the excess of what we take into our bodies, I believe sex and sexual pleasure and activity are vital for healthy living. They are a gift from God to help us be the whole people we are intended to be.

So we need to celebrate the gift, to say thank you by really using it and not hiding it, devaluing it, or encasing it in rigid often unstated rules about not talking about it.

The purpose of this blog is to contribute to opening conversation about sex and bodies most of us, including me, need to have–out loud, holistically, respectfully, truthfully, lovingly . . . and most of all spiritually. We can learn from sex and bodies, and we will learn the most when we are open to them and participating in dialogue with them and each other.

Stay tuned–more to come, much more.

And feel free, indeed encouraged, to join the conversation right here with your own comments.