Cepeda column: It will be cringeworthy, but you need to talk to your kids about sex
Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO — The #MeToo movement — specifically the recent conversations about consent sparked by one woman’s description of her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad date with writer and comedian Aziz Ansari — has sure increased the amount of sex talk at my dinner table lately.
My poor son — just 16 years old, quiet, shy and yet to meet his first girlfriend — has been part of some extremely frank discussions about sexual respect and propriety.
But our first slightly uncomfortable chats pre-date the now-infamous Babe.net tell-all about Ansari, as well as many of the daily accusations against powerful men in this post-Harvey Weinstein era.
In fact, I can tell you exactly when these conversations became regular staples of mealtime talk at our house: It was on Oct. 22, 2017.
On that morning, I was reading an article about mothers who were “willing to do everything and anything” to defend their sons against accusations of sexual assault. I ran across a comment in the article from a self-described lifelong Democrat and feminist who believed her husband and two sons were “super respectful” of women: “We don’t really need to teach our sons not to rape.”
That hit me like a freight train.
Sure, on its face it seems reasonable — you raise sons and instill your values of respect and empathy for all. You teach them how to talk to the women in their lives, how to be a nice guy.
But is this enough?
My husband, son and I were out to breakfast at our local coffee shop when I turned to our boy and said to him, in all seriousness: “Don’t rape women.”
“Thanks mom, I know that,” he responded dryly.
It was the opening of a dialogue that had been previously touched upon but, from that moment, revisited frequently.
Because we’re such fans of Ansari’s stand-up routines and his show “Master of None,” the comedian’s saga has hit close to home. Over dinner the other night, my family chatted about the now-outdated notions of “no means no” and the new standard of affirmative consent — essentially, “Only yes means yes.” As far back as 2014, this stricter standard was starting to take hold on some college campuses.
As it turns out, our tax dollars have been hard at work. Through his school’s health education efforts, my son was already familiar with the basic tenets of “yes means yes” — mainly, that both parties should express affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.
In 2001, when I was pregnant with this baby, never in my wildest imaginings did I think that a typical, boring Monday night meal would include a mini-lesson on avoiding making anyone feel sexually victimized. But, that’s where we’re at.
Or, at least, where parents of both young men and women should be — having frank and empowering discussions about vitally important matters of health and dignity.
And there’s reason to believe such conversations are effective. According to an MTV survey of how the #MeToo movement has affected young people, one in three young men say, “I’m worried something I’ve done could be perceived as sexual harassment.”
Forty percent of young men said, “The #MeToo movement has changed the way I interact in potential romantic relationships,” and 85 percent of the 1,800 young people polled responded that the recent avalanche of sexual harassment accusations have “started an important conversation.”
These are important conversations. But, obviously, they’re really difficult.
You could spend years discussing body parts and processes in a matter-of-fact tone. You could talk about sex and sexuality as normal and healthy aspects of regular life. You can have frank discussions about relationships you observe on TV, in movies or in real life. But when it comes right down to it, these conversations will never be easy.
There will be cringing — it’s unavoidable. So just do it.
Seriously, take it from me, explicitly telling your sons not to rape will probably make you sort of feel like a total monster. But think of it as a verbal equivalent of administering a painful but potentially lifesaving flu shot. Taking care of your kids often entails doing things you wish you didn’t have to.
Much like telling your children that they can’t have extra dessert every day, can’t stay up late to play video games on a school night, or skip their daily shower, you’ll eventually realize that talk about respectful sex is just another necessary aspect of being a parent in 2018.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com.