What if we admitted to kids that most sex is for pleasure?

Alice Dreger works with intersex kids, and takes an admirably frank approach to talking about sex with her own kid. She's noticed lots of differences between her approach and that of other parents, but the biggest one is that she tells her son that people have sex for pleasure. Her piece about this, precipitated by her kid bringing home a notice that the class would be talking about sex and HIV/AIDS, is a kind of model of rational, sex-positive parenting that made me want to clip it out and stick it on the fridge for future reference.

He looked shocked. Apparently I had forgotten to mention that sex was not just for making babies.

“Think about evolution,” I added (because he has also been raised a child of Darwin). “If the only motivation for sex was having a baby, we wouldn’t have very much sex, and our genes wouldn’t be passed on very much. But if sex feels good to people or to other animals….”

“Then they’ll have a lot of sex and the genes will get passed down!” he said, finishing the puzzle. I nodded. He went on, “Do you and dad ever do it for that reason?”

“Most of the time we’ve done it or do it, it’s for pleasure, honey.” He looked a combination of fascinated and chagrined. “You know you were no accident. Before that, I went off birth control to get pregnant, and we were so happy when you came into our lives.” He smiled because he could see me tearing up at how much I love him. (Aunty Mame cries a lot of love.)

What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure? [Alice Dreger/Pacific Standard]

(Image: Blackpool Pleasure Beach 105, Jeremy Thompson, CC-BY)

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  1. For parents to talk frankly to their kids about sex, they would have to first be able to talk frankly about sex to one another, and that's not the case. There's a real hang-up that talking about sex makes you a pervert and it's something you should keep to yourself. Worse, parents who are like this end up passing the attitude on to their children, perpetuating the cycle.

  2. C11 says:

    I was unaware that 'adults have sex for pleasure' was generally kept a secret from kids. It was common knowledge when I grew up. But then perhaps having grown up in a Southern Baptist community the idea of temptation of Earthly pleasures was discussed more frequently and at a younger age than in agnostic households. We Southern Baptists were warned as kids that we'd be tempted to indulge in fornication but that we should abstain from it, lest it lead to dancing! smile

  3. Also somewhere between pleasure and reproduction is another purpose, bonding, which maybe deserves more credit. Dreger's explanation that pleasure in sex encourages animals to have more offspring is a fair start, but makes it seem like it's only an evolutionary mistake there can be pleasure in non-reproductive forms or when nobody is ovulating. It's probably not.

  4. A couple of years ago a Catholic told me, as one of his many arguments for why gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry, that God intended sex and marriage to be for making children and having families. There are apparently a lot of people who still actually believe this.

    I somehow managed to refrain from asking about the details of his divorce.

  5. There is at least one exception to religions talking about sex in a mostly negative way: The Our Whole Lives curriculum, which is developed jointly by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

    Our Whole Lives is a series of sexuality education curricula for six age groups: grades K-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, young adults (ages 18-35), and adults.

    Our Whole Lives helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Grounded in a holistic view of sexuality, Our Whole Lives not only provides facts about anatomy and human development, but also helps participants clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.

    I had a pretty informative sex ed class in public school, but it was peanuts compared to OWL, which I've taken as a teen and as a young adult. The core sexuality curriculum is very inclusive and sex-positive, while the spiritual values are framed in (liberally-interpreted) Biblical teachings for UCC, and humanist philosophy for UU. Happy Mutants will probably prefer the latter, and churches are usually open to non-members taking OWL classes.

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