My son is still a child, but time flies when you’re raising kids. I’m already looking ahead to his adolescence and thinking about some of the parenting issues I may face as The Bean starts to mature sexually. According to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the time they’re 19 years old, approximately 71% of teens have engaged in partnered sexual activity. I don’t know if The Bean will be one of that seventy-one percent, but if it turns out he is, it’s highly likely he’ll start having sex with other people while he’s still living with me. One of the many questions I’ve asked myself is what do I think and how might I feel about my teenager having sex in my house?
The truth is, I don’t know how I’ll feel. If I’ve learned anything about parenting, it’s that reality is sometimes drastically different than what I imagine. But sometimes, especially with an issue as potentially fraught as teen sex, I do try to anticipate how I might react emotionally. Examining my feelings often help get me to the core of my beliefs and what’s most important to me as a mother.
As much as I want to see The Bean grow into a healthy, happy adult, I do have an intense and specific attachment to the baby boy I fell madly in love with the moment I held him in my arms. I remember wishing that I could simultaneously skip ahead 25 years so I could see who he’d become, and freeze time so I could keep my sweet baby with me forever. In our culture, partner-sex signals a clear move towards adulthood. Telling my son it’s okay for him to have sex in the house means I’m telling him it’s okay for him to grow up. That is exactly the thing that is supposed to happen, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually feel okay when the time comes. So far, all of my son’s milestones have brought a mixed bag of pride, gratitude, and sadness. Every day he becomes less my baby and more his own person. Sex is great, but if my son starts having it, that’s pretty clear evidence that he’s becoming a grown-up. I can only imagine how bittersweet that will feel.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel some fear. I think I can give The Bean some very compelling reasons as to why practicing safer sex (and if relevant, using contraception) is a good idea. But ultimately, I can’t control anyone’s sexual choices but mine. If I allow future, teenaged Bean to have sex in the house, rather than trying to stop him, I have to give up control and trust him to take care of his own sexual health. Even though I know part of my job as a parent is teaching my son to fend for himself, I find it very scary and so damn difficult sometimes.
Finally, there’s the potential awkwardness factor. A good friend of mine told me that her teenage sons were allowed to have sex at home, on condition that she didn’t have to see or hear the activity. I suspect I’ll feel the same way. I have no problem talking about sex, but when it comes to family members, I don’t want to witness the activity.
Despite the difficult feelings I may experience, in general, I think there are many benefits to letting sexually active teens do their thing at home.
There’s the issue of safety. I touched on sexual safety, but there’s also physical safety to consider. Most teens who want to have partnered sex don’t have many options in terms of private, secure locations that aren’t home. Hotels are expensive. Alternative locations, such as parked cars, bathroom stalls, or behind buildings, are fun for some folks, but it also leaves them vulnerable should they be discovered by someone else. I recently watched a documentary on teen sexuality around the world. In Sweden, parents were generally very permissive when it came to their teens having sex in the house. When the filmmakers explained to one mother that the practice was less common here in North America, her response was, “So...they let their kids have sex in the streets?” Regardless of my feelings, I know I don’t want my kid having sex in the streets. If he his going to do it, at home seems like the safest place for him to be.
I also want him to enjoy sex. Again, I don’t want his enjoyment right up in my grill. I just want my kid to be as happy in this life as he can be, and positive, pleasurable sexual experiences tend to make people happy. For most people being able to relax, being able to focus on your own body and your partner’s body, really enhances sex. You can’t be fully into what you’re doing if you’re in your room, trying to cram in an orgasm before your parents get back from grocery shopping. In fact, I think it’s especially important that teens who are new to partnered-sex not be distracted by the potential of getting caught. There tends to be a lot of new stuff to deal with—both physically and emotionally—when you’re new to partnered experiences. I think letting teens have a stress-free space in the house where they can explore at their own pace can help make sex a good experience.
Finally, I want to come back to safer-sex again. I know I can’t make anyone, including my kid, do it. But if I know sex is happening in my house, I can make sure the place is well stocked with condoms, lube, dental dams, and anything else The Bean or his partner might use. I can make sure the products are stored safely, so that their quality isn’t compromised. I can make sure my son has easy, discreet access to all of it. I can make sure to replenish whatever’s running low. I can’t make my son practice safer sex, but in my own home, I can encourage him by making it as easily accessible as possible.
I still have a few years to think on this, but I can see some definite advantages to letting teens who are ready for a partner have sex at home. Since I’m not at this stage of parenting myself, I’m especially interested in hearing from folks who are raising or have raised teenagers. Have you dealt with this issue? How did you handle it?
And the exploitation of people’s bodies and personal property continues. Lately the celebrity buzz is all about the personal photos of nude celebrities—most notably Jennifer Lawrence—that were stolen and spread across the Internet like wildfire.
And if invading someone’s privacy and violating their consent weren’t icky enough, it seems an L.A.-based <sarcasmfont>artist</sarcasmfont> has decided to use the photos as part of an art exhibit that will supposedly “call attention to the fact that our information should be our own and it’s not.”
There really needs to be a <disgustedfont> as well.
This artist and the levels of not getting it are maddening. Still I’m going to attempt to state my case without my head exploding.
“Art” is not an excuse for shitty behaviour. If you want to make creative commentary on how our information is vulnerable, here’s a thought: DO IT WITH YOUR OWN IMAGES! Because it’s actually really easy to figure out when information is our own. If I take a photo of myself, it's mine. If I don't agree to share it with you, it's not yours. If you take it something that is mine and not yours, that is called stealing.
I know some people are of the opinion that maybe J.Law and the other women who were violated shouldn't be so het up over all of this. After all, taking a naked picture is a vulnerable act and a phone is a vulnerable device. Not to mention that sexual images of celebrities are big business. I don’t know how often A-listers dabble in statistics, but presumably they knew the chances of their photos being found were more than zero. They knew taking those photos was risky, so they can't be too upset now that the worst has happened, right?
But here’s the thing. Taking a risk doesn’t mean you deserve what happens when the odds don’t fall in your favour. At least that's usually the attitude...except when it comes to sex.
Most of us are aware that driving is risky. There are lots of variables beyond our control—the weather, mechanical issues, other drivers—yet many of us still choose to drive, even when there are other less risky transportation options available. We take a risk. Hopefully all goes well, but sometimes people are unlucky and wind up in an accident. And when accidents do happen, we usually respond with a great deal of sympathy. And if the accident was caused by another driver, that sympathy typically comes with a big side helping of outrage towards the driver at fault. I don’t think I have ever heard someone say, “Yes, it does suck that you got rear-ended, but you chose to a have car and you chose to drive it...you knew the risks when got on the road.”
But when people take sexual risks, the response is often very different. Whether it’s stigma around sexually transmitted illness, or slut-shaming, or suggesting public exposure is the inevitable consequence for snapping a sexual photo, we often have an alarming lack of sympathy when something harmful happens to someone because of sex. I think it's partly because deep down in the roots of our society there’s still this idea that sex is inherently bad and dangerous. Driving a car isn’t wrong. But enjoying your own body, having fun with your sexual image, taking explicit photos of yourself? We sometimes treat that as though it's not allowed, therefore people just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences.
Except it actually is allowed. People are allowed to take whatever pictures of themselves they want. They are allowed to choose who may or may not see them. They are allowed to cry foul when that choice is taken away from them. We all take risks. In doing so, we all have moments of vulnerability. Being vulnerable isn’t wrong—taking deliberate advantage of that vulnerability is. What that hacker did with these photos is wrong. Now someone else is capitalizing on that violation and calling it an art show. It’s gross.
As for the victims of this crime, I’m just sorry. These people took pictures with their phones. It’s something lots of us do. Yes these were naked pictures, but I don’t think it gives anyone less of the same right to privacy and agency we expect when it comes to photos of our children, our vacations, or any other part of lives. Whether this outcome was predictable or not, these women have my unqualified sympathy.
Speaking of sex, find out (almost) everything you want to know about multiple orgasm, and the yays and nays of having sex when you're menstruating.
(*Above photo is a facsimilie. Actual son is much, much cuter.)
I didn’t take a first-day-of-school photo of my son this year.
The Bean was so excited about starting a new grade, in a new city, at a new school. He got himself dressed in his favourite new shirt and brushed his freshly cut hair without any nagging from his dad or I. We left the house and the sun was casting a beautiful golden light over the neighbourhood. The Bean’s little red backpack and eager eyes were so adorable, I couldn’t wait to Instagram the whole thing.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t because when I asked The Bean if I could take his picture, he said “no.”
Usually my son is all about being in pictures, hamming it up for my iPhone at virtually every opportunity. I was surprised when he refused a photo. I guessed that perhaps he was bit more self-conscious and preoccupied than he normally would be, what with all the change. After a moment to confirm the rumoured niceness of his teacher, he took off to meet people and explore the yard. By the time the line-up bell rang he already seemed pretty comfortable. Thinking he might be up for it now, I asked again if I could take a picture. Again he said no.
I’m not an especially sentimental person, but I’vetaken a first-day photo every year of The Bean’s school life. I love taking note of the changes that have come about in the year since the previous picture. I have this mom fantasy of a future photobook with fourteen first-day-of-school Beanses, aged 4 to 18, all smiling at me. Now there’s a gap in the record I’ve been keeping. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you how much it bums me out (a LOT!) or how tempted I was to snap a stealth shot (VERY!)
I wanted to beg, to cajole, to press for an explanation and so I could try to talk him out of his reasons. Luckily the second bell rang, robbing me of my chance to do any of that. That’s good because in retrospect, I think all of those would have been bad moves on my part.
As a sex educator, I believe that consent and choice are essential for good sex, But as a parent, teaching my own child that no means no, is more complex, because I have the power and at times the responsibility to make choices for him. My son is still a child. Which means I get to decide where he lives, what food and clothing is available to him, where he can go, what he can do with his times. In a parent-child dynamic sometimes no means “I know you hate needles, but red M&Ms actually don’t cure smallpox, so roll up that sleeve because this is happening.” Despite my son’s frequent assertions to the contrary, for now my partner and I pretty much are the boss of him.
But it’s a temporary charge. He will grow up and make his own decisions but even now I know that no matter how much I love him, no matter how sincerely I have his best interests at heart, ultimately my child doesn’t belong to me. And for me that knowledge is fundamental truth of consent. We each belong to ourselves. Because of my son’s age and ability, he needs someone to make certain decisions for him in order to survive. But he is capable of deciding and expressing whether he wants his picture taken or not. And despite how it makes me feel, believe he’s entitled to make that choice for himself. As hard as it is, I feel that it is also my responsibility as a parent to gradually relinquish my power and over time, give my son control over his own life. I feel it is my responsibility as an educator to live what I teach - that we each get to choose what feels right for our bodies. We get to say “yes” to sex we want; “no” to the sex we don’t and we are never entitled to take away another person’s right to make those same choices for themselves.
Someday, I hope I can look at the blank space in my future photo book and smile. Because more than 14 smiling pictures, I want my son to grow into a young man who knows not only how to make his own choices but to respect the choices that others make for themselves. If a missed photo opportunity helps that to happen, I’ll gladly accept the trade off.