A Straightforward Approach to Teaching My Kids About Sex

I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my kids and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives.

The week before my 13th birthday, my mother, a registered nurse, handed me the small booklet called “A Doctor Talks to 9-to-12-Year-Olds.” That and occasional reminders to “be a good girl” and to “save myself for marriage” were the extent of my sexual education at home.
In seventh grade, after my mother hesitantly agreed to sign a paper allowing me to participate in the public school’s sexual education program, I remember thinking finally some real information might be shared. Mrs. Trent’s classroom was covered with posters of Voyager and Spacelab with planet mobiles made by students hanging from the ceiling. She encouraged questions and went into great detail in her answers.
But the fertilization part was exactly like in the doctor’s book. It wasn’t until the last day of our chapter on sexuality that it looked like we might finally be getting to the truth about exactly what sex is. I don’t recall what was shared and don’t remember asking any questions, but clearly, I still didn’t get it. My journal at the time states in big bold letters: “Today Mrs. Trent told us all about SEXUAL INTERSECTION!”
With my lack of information in mind, I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my own children and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives. The only problem was, with no experience talking as a child or with a child about the subject, I wasn’t confident in my own knowledge. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
So I bought books. Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins’ “Where Did I Come From” and Robie Harris and Michael Emberley’s “It’s So Amazing” had a place on my children’s bookshelf before they could read. Sometimes I’d find them looking at the pictures like any other book. Every once in a while, I’d pick one up and casually read a few pages to them just as I did “Frog and Toad” or “Winnie the Pooh”.
Despite my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt and my lack of role models for valuable communication, I gradually became more relaxed about addressing the basics. I learned things no one ever told me about. The vas deferens and clitoris never made an appearance in Mrs. Trent’s basic diagram. I was using words that I’d never heard spoken out loud and certainly never said myself. Vagina became common vernacular.
From the start, I attempted to be straight-forward and factual with my children about puberty and sex. Even as a little dude, my son knew about menstruation. When he was five and found a tampon on the bathroom counter and questioned whether I smoked cigars, I gave him the basic details about periods.
My description must have included some facts about gestation because, over a year later, when he and his older sister were playing LIFE, they had gone around the board twice and my daughter had two cars full of children. I overheard my son say to his sister, “Hey, you haven’t had a period in five years!”
At first, I was thinking, “The kid is a math whiz!” and then I realized that he was no more than seven and actually grasped the fetal-growth concept I had shared so far back that I barely remembered the conversation. Point is, the kids seemed to be listening, and they seemed to be willing to share and ask questions.
During the summers, when we had some time on our hands and my children were each around 11, I made them sit with me and read through “It’s So Amazing”. My son hated it, but I told him that it was my responsibility as his mother to give him this information. Did he know how much I wanted to be a good mother? Yes? Well then, dude, you have to help me out, here.
When the subject came up in seventh-grade health, he told me he was glad he’d already heard all that information and more, and he wasn’t as uncomfortable as many of his friends clearly were.
Those early talks helped set the stage for the more difficult conversations as my children have moved through their teenage years. We’ve talked about blow jobs and masturbation, reproductive health and orgasms, hook-ups and body image, sexual orientation, identity, and sexual pressure.
We’ve talked about asserting needs, desires and limits, and a girl’s right to pleasure. When a subject gets tricky and I don’t know how to address it, I’ll check out sites like More Than Sex-Ed or Peggy Orenstein’s book “Girls and Sex” for tips.
I’ve had frank conversations with my children about the easy access to pornography and how watching it might shape ideas of what sex is or should be. I’ve shared that, when I was young, about the only access to such images were in the magazines I found at one of the houses where I babysat and how the videos were far less graphic and only available at XXX stores or if friends passed the contraband around.
Music wasn’t as graphic either. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” was scandalous (at least in my house), and the first time I ever saw sex was when I had it myself. Now people can watch it on their phones.
I am not like my mother. I don’t say “Just Say No” without giving explanations. Just as we talk about what alcohol and drugs do to your body and when and why you might not want to make that choice, we also talk about how the images in pornography may stay in your mind and become an expectation of how you or your partners should feel, act, or pretend to act. We talk about how those videos aren’t real life.
I tell them how I hope that, when the time is right, they will have more authentic experiences. We talk about respect, for themselves and others. We talk about the emotions that go into the decision to have intercourse.
I was the first person my daughter told after she had sex for the first time. I would never have told my mother, who tried, awkwardly, when I was 29 to return to the conversation we didn’t have when I was 13, asking if I felt comfortable choosing a white wedding dress as we prepared for my wedding.
I had conversations with my own daughter for several months as she considered whether her long-term boyfriend should be her first lover. Of course, we talked about safe sex. And we talked about protecting the heart.
She still calls me from college and shares anecdotes of her relationships. Sometimes she asks for guidance, and I promise no judgment. All indications are that she is confident in her sexuality. She’s taking care of herself and has healthy attitudes about what she wants and how she should be treated. That is what I was hoping for when we first opened up “Where Did I Come From?” when she was tiny.
My children came from a safe place where they could talk about anything, and still can.

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

Teaching My Son About Sex in the Age of Harvey Weinstein

I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future.

It’s an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in coastal Maine, and I’ve brought lunch to our back porch for my eight-year-old son and his spritely female friend whom he has known most of his life. They’ve just come up from the tidal shoreline. The air is salty and thick.
I venture back inside to retrieve drinks and, when I return, I am met with giggling and sheepish grinning between the two old friends. It isn’t hard to imagine what they might have been discussing as I’ve gotten used to observing them unfurl so many of life’s mysteries together.
I have been anticipating a conversation about the mechanics of sex with my son for several years now. I had wanted to follow his lead, hoping to answer any questions he might have and then segueing into the details that I would like for him to know. I have wanted to normalize sex for my son in a way that was never done for me so that he might enjoy this vital connection throughout his life in a healthy way, without the hang-ups of shame and disassociation that so many of us have had to shed.
In my adolescence, my mother – while folding clothing together in our laundry room – spoke vaguely of a man planting a seed in a woman.
My father once made a comment about my holding a penny between my knees at all times and referred to me as a “fallen woman” (in apparent jest) when he found out I was sharing an apartment with my boyfriend after graduating from college.
There was no eye contact between any of us in these off-hand and uncomfortable attempts at providing information about the facts of life. There was no mention of love or connection or protection. There was no follow-up, no books to study. I was entirely unprepared as a young woman – as a human – for what it would mean to enter into my sexuality.
For a boy so deeply curious about the inner workings of all things in nature, culture, and even politics – don’t get him started on Donald Trump – my son has been remarkably indifferent, or perhaps reticent, in his inquiry about how babies are made and what our “private parts” have to do with it all. He’s all about being a boy, jokingly intensifying bodily sounds and functions. But outside of speaking about animals mating, he has shown little interest in learning about the human equivalent.
I’ve been teaching him about sexuality in subtle ways from the start. Our language around the body is anatomically correct, and we have a firm policy about listening to the “no’s” we receive from others. I have established this practice with the understanding that honoring physical boundaries now will translate into respectful treatment of partners’ bodies later in life. I feel a particular responsibility in this regard as a mother of boys and as a woman who recently chimed in, “me too” on my social media account.
When my son falls asleep at night, I sit on the edge of his bed, rubbing his back and neck. Sometimes he will convince me to rub his legs and feet, which can feel a little indulgent at times. He directs me to his sore muscles, so I place extra attention there. In these quiet moments, he tests out what it means to share his inner workings and thoughts while nestled in a bed with a woman at his side who loves him with every cell of her being.
I listen intently to what he has to say and engage in this tenderness of touch so that he may one day experience such healthy intimacy as a mature young man in the embrace of someone he loves. I work hard to preserve his connection with his feelings – to help him decipher them and share them verbally so as not to turn on the switch that perpetuates the male tendency to use sex alone as the sole means for connection and comfort.
Back on the porch, I asked the two friends what made them giggle so. My son indicated that they might have been talking about something inappropriate. They had found a couple of horseshoe crabs stuck together down by the shore, and his friend had said that human beings do a similar thing – stick themselves together – to make a baby.
In the brief pause before I spoke, I took in my son’s face – one part cherub, one part Huck Finn – and noticed how he peered at me squarely in the eyes without shame or hesitation in anticipation of my response. I absorbed how comfortable and confident he felt coming to me with this inquiry.
I told him that she was exactly right, that we humans do put ourselves together in a similar way at times. I assured him that I wanted to share everything he wanted to know on the topic, that families like to provide these details to their own children, and so we would have that conversation very soon and in privacy. But if they had any pressing questions, I would be happy to answer those.
They both looked at me and smiled with ease. No questions.
On Sunday afternoon, the house was quiet, and I peeked my head into where my son was working on a drawing. I asked him if we could pick up our conversation, and he suggested nonchalantly that we talk while he continued working. I agreed. As soon as I began to share my thoughts, he turned away from his drawing and looked at me head-on.
I engaged my son in some guessing about what our various parts are meant to do. It turned out he already knew what went where. I was not surprised, but happy to confirm (in anatomically correct language) what he’d already heard in cruder terms at school.
Then we discussed the things that really matter. We spoke about the love and warmth involved in “human mating.” I assured him that, while he will likely hear all sorts of things suggesting that sex is somehow dirty or bad or something to hide, it is actually a beautiful miracle to be cherished between two people.
I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future. It felt like any other conversation we’ve ever had about the things he needs to know as a human being new to this earth without a map.
I called my sister later that night. We celebrated another hurdle in forging new ground as parents better equipped than our parents were to nurture our children’s emotional and physical well-being. We know that, if they could have, they would have provided us with more information about sex, and we would have learned about the value of our bodies – our rights and responsibilities as women – in less painful ways.
A few days later, my son came home from school and told me about a boy making a joke about breasts using jocular hand gestures. In all earnestness, he said, “ He doesn’t respect women’s bodies.”
I did a little happy dance inside and stifled a smile.
I don’t anticipate that my son will always be so perfectly respectful. I don’t pretend that he will never test out some objectifying behaviors, which are so frequently modeled in our culture. But for now, I feel assured that he is on the path toward learning that sex is something he can discuss openly with me.
I like to imagine that what I’ve shared will live inside him and be available when the time is right. I like to imagine that the prospect of his sexuality causing him or his partners shame or pain will be something he can never understand.

A Sexual Assault Pun is Not a Halloween Costume

I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

All the #MeToo headlines in recent weeks have definitely caught my attention and sharpened my Sexual Assault-Dar. I thought maybe we if we all contacted Spirit Halloween, they’d take this costume off their shelves next year:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Halloween. I don’t find a lot of things inappropriate. I took my kids to this pumpkin massacre scene earlier in the day, and we all had a good laugh at the one pumpkin lawn-mowing the other pumpkin, whose bloody orange guts were spilling out everywhere. We took selfies and high fived.

But my daughter’s almost 10, and while she’s beginning to notice that girls’ costumes tend to involve short skirts and bathing suits, how the hell am I supposed to explain the rapey gynecologist costume to her? In a couple years, she’ll figure out that her looks are where our culture wants her to put her focus. But we can draw the line at the light riff on sexual assault, can’t we?
It takes a lot to shield her from the headlines about Harvey Weinstein and the other men being exposed in this wave of revelations about past and current abuses. I somehow kept her from knowing about the recent Las Vegas shooting – but the next one may have to be confronted.
We want to preserve the innoncence of our childrens’ experience in this world as long as possible. We are here to be their rocks, to keep their impressionable brains developing on a vector unblemished by the trauma of shootings, natural disasters, and sexual predation.
She’s old enough to process that there is racism in this world. A proud understanding of Rosa Parks’ bravery could inspire her to be strong and stand up for what’s just, to treat her neighbors with sensitivity and respect.
She’s old enough to know that hurricanes are a reality, that people on islands which bore the brunt of the storm need our help. She understands that the oceans are warming and that scientists think our environmental impact is a part of the problem. She knows we had a hurricane here in New York when she was little, and we know we can always find ways to be safe if another one comes.
Somehow explaining that Dr. Howie Feltersnatch (how he felt her snatch) is a joke about a doctor who touches women’s private parts with a creepy grin feels like a conversation we don’t have to have.
Spirit Halloween, your seasonal pop-up shops with overpriced pink hairspray and employee only bathrooms bring us much joy. But you can do better than this.
Get this crap off your shelves!
Tell Spirit Halloween what you think via Twitter or email customer service here.

The Surprising Science of Dads in Pregnancy and Postpartum

Science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

What comes to mind when you think about pregnancy, prenatal care, birth, and newborns?
It’s a blur of frequent checkups, peeing in a cup, peeing a lot in general, nausea, heartburn, crazy hormones, baby care, I’m so tired, and wow, why are diapers so expensive?
Most of these thoughts are centered on mom and baby. Rightfully so, as women are the actual vessels housing the little energy-sucking bundles of ever-loving joy and sacrificing body, brain, boobs, and bubbly drinks to grow them and care for them.
But where is dad in all this? His role goes way beyond being just a sperm donor and side spectator throughout the process.
Although we may recognize the importance of a father’s presence in raising kids, we often isolate the pregnancy and newborn time period as mom’s job. But science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

Before pregnancy

Age

It’s no secret: Today’s women are waiting longer to start families, due to factors like personal and career goals and advancements in reproductive medicine. So it would make sense that dads are getting older, too. Indeed, the typical man with a newborn is 3.5 years older than his counterpart four decades ago. The rate of new dads over 40 in particular has more than doubled.
Along with increasing age comes unexpected impacts on the family. It can take longer to get pregnant, and the risk of miscarriage is higher. There is also a higher chance of birth defects, genetic disorders, and psychological conditions in offspring. But there are big benefits, too, like financial stability and emotional preparedness, plus the possibility of producing smarter kids and the extended effect of increased lifespan for future generations.

Lifestyle

We’ve also focused responsibility for smoking and drinking during pregnancy solely on the woman, but a man’s lifestyle habits have a surprising impact as well.
A study in International Journal of Epidemiology showed that children with a father who smoked earlier in life (but had quit prior to conception) had a more than three times higher chance of early-onset asthma than children whose father had never smoked.
A review by National Drug Research Institute found that men who drank 10 or more alcoholic drinks per week during preconception carried a two to five times increased risk of miscarriage. Additionally, paternal alcohol consumption was associated with a greater risk of negative outcomes for infants, including ventricle malformation, low birth weight, low gestational age, and even acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at high-level use.

During pregnancy

Symptoms and hormones and emotions, oh my!

Women may be the ones doing all the “hard work” but aren’t the only ones who suffer through a pregnancy.
Ever heard of sympathy pregnancy symptoms? Yeah, this is a real thing. It’s called couvade syndrome, defined as a phenomenon in which a male experiences symptoms of pregnancy during the time his partner or another woman he is particularly close to is pregnant. They may have weight gain, nausea, mood swings, fatigue, sleep loss, and other telltale symptoms.
Many men also have real hormonal changes during this time with a drop in testosterone and estradiol levels, as evidenced by a study published in American Journal of Human Biology.
So women aren’t the only hormonal hippos in the house! (Not sure if this is good or bad?)
Add to that all the pressure and stress associated with a new baby, and you have a recipe for a male version of prenatal depression. A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported that new depression in fathers was linked to a 38 percent increased risk of very preterm birth. That’s quite a significant number and indicates that a father’s health is important because it has spillover effects on the rest of the family.

After pregnancy

Dad depression

The underlying changes dads go through don’t end when the baby is born. The postpartum period, although supposedly a joyful new chapter in life, brings new challenges and stressors for both parents.
Postpartum depression is a hot topic these days, with an estimated one in seven new moms affected. Increased awareness is a good thing, as more moms are getting the help they need. But most don’t realize dads can feel the baby blues, too. Up to 10 percent of new fathers experience symptoms of depression, according to researchers at the University of Southern California.
An interesting study published in Hormones and Behavior revealed a link between a drop in testosterone and increased risk of paternal depression. On the other hand, men with high testosterone weren’t affected by depressive symptoms, but there was still an important family implication: Their mama partners were more likely to be depressed and reported more aggressive behavior coming from their man.
Clearly, dad’s hormones and emotional state affect mom and the family’s overall well-being. This is all very eye-opening in light of our current social views of pregnancy and medical care protocols focusing solely on mother and baby.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy,” said Darby Saxbe, lead researcher. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms.”

Remember the father factor

It’s clear that fathers have a huge impact biologically and emotionally through conception, pregnancy, and the postpartum period, but they are unfortunately very underserved in the medical community. Shouldn’t paternal education and care be part of the process?
We often expect men to just support their partners, but they may not have adequate support themselves even while suffering from hormonal imbalances. That is certainly something to think about!
The real question is, would the supposed-to-be-strong, nothing’s-wrong-with-me, manly man admit that he might need help?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Don't Talk to Your Sons About Sex – Talk About This Instead

If you’re wondering about the right time to talk to your son about sex, then recent research has some recommendations for you: don’t.

If you’re wondering about the right time to talk to your son about sex, then recent research has some recommendations for you: don’t. Don’t talk to your son about sex. Instead, talk to him about relationships. Talk to him about romance. Talk to him about those funny feelings in the pit of his stomach and how that certain person turns his brain to mush. Talk to him about what a healthy relationship looks like, talk to him about mutual respect, and, oh please, talk to him about consent. Talking to him about sex? It doesn’t appear to be working. So, y’know, don’t.

I said, “Hey, What’s going on?”

The majority of sexual education in schools is based around contraception, pregnancy, and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. The problem is that these programs aren’t answering the kinds of questions school kids have about sex and relationships. The programs assume girls are the gatekeepers of sex and pitch lessons towards them. They underestimate the emotional capacity and interest of boys and, tellingly, these programs just aren’t working.

In America, 66 percent of 12- to 25-year-olds report regretting their first sexual experience. However in the Netherlands (proud owners of a relationship-based sexual education program that begins at age four), the same age bracket reported “wanted and fun” first experiences. Interestingly, states that run abstinence-only programs have the highest rate of teen pregnancies.

By focusing on the facts surrounding sex, we’re missing the relationships component and our kids know it. Teenagers are confused about relationships and sex, and they aren’t finding the answers in the classroom. This is where parents can step in, but don’t have “the talk.” Have lots of talks, and have them early and often. Because all the things we know about boys and sex? None of them are true.

Boys only care about one thing

Is it romance? Or is it boobs? Research says it’s connection. We are all aware of the culturally sanctioned stereotype of the sex-obsessed teenager: the boy who places his friends at the center of his world and uses and discards sexual partners like takeaway coffee cups. This notion of toxic masculinity does teenage boys a disservice. While some may focus on living up to this unfortunate standard, research suggests that teenage boys need and want information about relationships much more then they want tips on picking up.

A study conducted on 105 10th grade boys found that the vast majority preferred and were seeking out meaningful relationships rather than sexual activity. This research appears to be consistent across the life span, with a comprehensive study on adults finding that the most commonly wanted sexual behavior was romance and affection. These most-wanted behaviors included things like kissing, cuddling, and saying sweet things to each other.

The assumption that boys only care about sex renders them invisible in discussions regarding the emotional components of relationships. As it turns out, this is information they sorely want and definitely need. Which leads us to: where are they actually getting their information?

They’ll find out from their friends

Boys already know all about sex, right? They learn from their friends (who know everything right?), and general society, and sometimes even from pornography. The problem with their current sources of information is that their friends are relatively clueless, society lacks the depth needed to navigate the murky waters of positive sexuality, and pornography rarely portrays healthy sexual relationships. All of these sources of information are inadequate and can reinforce the negative stereotypes regarding teenage boys.

People who are working with adolescent boys report the same finding over and over – they want to know what to do about emotions. Professional mentors and youth workers have found boys need permission to talk about feelings, otherwise they won’t. They follow the expectations of their gender and don’t talk about how they feel. This leaves boys with fewer outlets for emotional development and impacts their chances of healthy romantic relationships.

However, when they’re given the expectation that emotions are valid and anticipated, then they’re all over it. The things boys were interested in? How to ask someone out, what to do if they liked someone, how to let someone know they liked them, and what to do if someone likes them. Relationships were the basis of their concern.

What about, *gulp,* pornography?

Pornography is a poor teacher about relationships. Even if boys are using sexualised language, this doesn’t mean they understand sexuality or that they have the tools to cope with it. Polly Haste, a researcher on sexuality and relationships, found that even 12-year-old boys (who had already seen pornography), were concerned about the availability of porn and the view of sexuality it offered. They were also highly aware that adults often thought of them as “experienced,” so they were hesitant to reveal the extent of their inexperience or insecurity regarding sexuality.

When boys don’t anticipate being taken seriously by adults, they don’t talk to them even though their concerns regarding sex were still there. Teenage boys know that they’re not getting the information they want; what they need is a mentor or parent to fill this role. Parents and mentors need to talk to their boys, and adolescence is too far along for boys to learn about healthy relationships and sexuality. This conversation must start early, with the expectation that boys are capable of having rich emotional lives and making good choices. This doesn’t mean talking to a four-year-old about sex, but instead about love and relationships.

“When two people love each other very much…”

It becomes easier to talk about sexuality when you think of love as the basis of it. Talking about how we show each other love every day can be a great conversation starter. Asking your kids questions like, “What makes you feel loved?” and “How can you be a good friend?” can help them make good relationship decisions later on in life.

Problem solving and decision-making skills are imminently transferable. By learning these skills early in life, children are already on the road to making healthy romantic and sexual decisions. Talk about what kinds of intimacy make you feel safe and what kinds don’t. Talk about having feelings and how fantastic it is to be a man and be emotional. Talk about what consent means and how they can practice. Model consent with your children. When playing wrestling or tickling games make sure you have your child’s full “Yes!” rather then a lack of “No.”

Parents can also model great relationships, and model respect for other people’s bodies and emotions. By gaining an awareness of their own boundaries and the kinds of friendships they value, boys can use those decision-making skills when they start entering the world of romantic relationships.

Teenage boys are inherently capable of having rich and mutually fulfilling relationships. They want to know about love, they want to know how to show love, and how to be loved in healthy ways. When boys are told it’s okay to talk about their feelings, they talk!

They are also very aware that their current sources of information are failing them. This is where parents and caregivers can step up. Talking to boys about sex rarely involves talking to boys about sex. Instead, talk to your sons about love, that’s what they’re actually looking for.

Study Say U.S. Dads Are Getting Older, Does It Matter?

Apparently American fathers are taking a few more years to perfect their best dad jokes.

Over the past few decades, women have been waiting longer to have babies. It’s no surprise considering reproductive advancements (like egg freezing), and the fact that more women are pursuing higher education and career goals, leading to a delay in baby-making plans.

You could probably guess that the average age of men becoming fathers has risen too. A study published in Human Reproduction analyzed statistics from 168,867,480 live births from 1972 to 2015, as recorded by the National Vital Statistics System. The data showed that the mean age of men in the U.S. with newborns has risen from 27.4 to 30.9. That’s an increase of 3.5 years.

Now this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it does show a clear upward trend notable across all ethnic groups. Additionally, it was noted that the rate of dads over 40 with newborns has more than doubled in that time period, from 4.1 to 8.9 percent. Further, the rate of fathers over 50 nearly doubled as well. (Hello, George Clooney with new twins at age 56!)

What does it mean?

We know that there are increased risks for women becoming pregnant at an advanced maternal age (over 35), but what effect does an older father have?

“There is data that a man’s fertility declines with age. In addition, there are some potential risks to children,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, lead researcher in the study. “Our findings substantiate the need for further research on the health and social implications of older fathers.”

Advanced paternal age carries some risks for families

  • Delayed conception

A large study published in Human Reproduction revealed the older a man is, the longer it takes for a couple to conceive. Men over age 40 were 30 percent less likely to make a baby within 12 months as compared to those under 30 years old. This could be due to changes in sperm quality, hormone levels, and overall reproductive function. Rate of miscarriage also seems to increase with paternal age.

  • Birth defects and genetic disorders

As a man gets older, sperm DNA damage and gene mutations occur at a higher rate, which can be passed on to offspring. A study published in Epidemiology reported that increasing paternal age is associated with a higher risk of cleft palate in babies. An earlier study found a correlation between advanced paternal age and conditions like achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that causes dwarfism.

  • Psychiatric concerns

JAMA Psychiatry reports a correlation between older fathers and increased risk of disorders like autism, psychosis, and bipolar disorder in their children. More research has also shown a higher likelihood of developing schizophrenia.

So is younger better?

It’s important to note that the risks are still low overall. We’re talking total chance of up to two percent in most cases, so the odds of kids being affected is still minimal. What’s more impactful is the age and health of the mother carrying the baby, in combination with fatherly factors.

There are also benefits associated with older fathers

  • Emotional and financial stability

“Age brings with it emotional stability, psychological strength, and financial security,” says Pasquale Patrizio, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine.

With age comes wisdom, experience, and a more secure sense of self. An older person has been around the block and is less likely to have time or room for unnecessary drama and immaturity. They’ve also had more time to further their education, pursue career goals, and achieve financial success. This all creates a more stable environment overall for kids.

  • Smarter kids

Older dads may raise smarter, “geekier” kids. (Yes, researchers actually formulated a “geek index” to use in a study published in Translational Psychiatry.) Kids were evaluated for factors that indicate higher IQ, stronger focus abilities, and less concern with fitting in with peers. Scores tended to be higher in kids whose fathers were over 35 at the time of conception. Boys with dads who were over 50 at the time of conception were 32 percent more likely to score very high on STEM subject exams than those born to dads under age 25. Looks like these kids’ academic and job futures are bright!

  • Children (and even grandchildren) may live longer

By now you know that undesired changes in sperm occur as men get older, but there’s one beneficial adjustment. Telomeres (components of chromosomes that protect against aging) become longer. Longer telomeres indicate longer life span. More research reveals that this trait is passed on to offspring, meaning that future generations could naturally be set up to live longer.

All things considered, if you want science to tell you the perfect age to have children, you probably won’t get a clear answer. Apparently American fathers are taking a few more years to perfect their best dad jokes, and that’s okay!

Do you think parents should have kids later in life? Share your thoughts below.

No, Dads of Daughters Don't Need Shotguns

You’ve heard it a billion times in reference to our girls. “Oh, better get the shotgun ready!” It’s time to think about what we’re actually saying.

There was an announcement on a friends’ group text recently. “We’re having a baby girl!!” gushed the mom-to-be.
What followed was a flurry of congratulatory messages.
“We’re so happy for you.”
“Can’t wait to meet your bundle of joy.”
“Get that baby registry going! I looove shopping for baby girls.”
Then came one that made me stop in my tracks: “Time for your husband to buy a shotgun.”
Sure, I’ve heard it a billion times. I’m sure I’ve said it myself, casually, like it was expected of me to perpetuate the idea of the overprotective father needing to shelter his helpless daughter from her bevy of suitors.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea of dads wanting to protect their kids. But there is something wrong with the idea that only girls need protecting, and that they need protection from boys who are going to be wooing them.
The gender stereotyping behind the statement didn’t really strike me until recently. Somehow, through repetition over the years, the comment has gained a certain credibility, as though it can’t be questioned.
But we should question things. Especially when it disenfranchises our young women.
First off, shouldn’t we be empowering girls to protect themselves? Maybe their weapon of choice won’t be a shotgun (at least, I hope not!).
Instead we should be inspiring our young women with weapons of self-confidence – knowing their own worth so they don’t settle, never being apologetic for saying no, developing the grit to pursue their goals and the resolve to set their own indisputable boundaries.
Instead, we’re inadvertently sending them the message that, when it comes to relationships, they fall squarely in the hapless category.
We’re sending an archaic message to our young men, too: You’re the one going to be winning her over. And you’re going to be met with resistance in the process.
We’re telling the next generation of young men that it’s somehow cool to be the bad boy chasing down the girl, circumventing the hovering dad looming large on the front porch. Just maybe it’s okay to entertain the idea that a young man is capable of winning the dad (and mom) over, too, with his politeness and hard work and commitment to their daughter.
Or, maybe, it’s the young lady who will be ringing his doorbell.
Then there’s the other line we dash off when we see a handsome little fella. Truth be told, I’ve typed out the cliché on Facebook more often than I’d like to acknowledge: “He’s going to be a real heartbreaker.”
I don’t know how that line has become a compliment. Like, really? We want someone’s kid to grow up and break hearts? And that’s going to happen because he’s good looking?
I don’t think we’re giving the next generation enough credit. Yes, young men will break hearts. So will young women. Hopefully, it won’t be because they’re eye candy, but because they’re in a loving relationship that happened to end.
Both these cultural clichés, one tailored to little girls and the other to little boys, have long outlived their “cuteness.” It’s time to build up our kids, whatever their gender, for things that truly count: their kind heartedness, not their ability to break hearts; their confidence, not their propensity to cower in the shadows.
The next time I’m tempted to recommend that a new dad purchase a shotgun, I’m going to hold that thought and dig a little deeper. I’m going to replace clichés with a genuine compliment about making the world a brighter, lovelier place with their new unique addition.

Please Withhold Your Husband Logic From This Wife's Irrational Whim. (On Second Thought…)

You’ve got to admit that nothing douses a spontaneity high like someone questioning your motives.

For me, the ultimate freedom is not having to explain myself to others. I love not needing to supply reasons for things. I relish the weightlessness of “it just feels right.” You’ve got to admit that nothing douses a spontaneity high like someone questioning your motives.
Growing up, there was a saying in my family perpetuated by my dad and his father before him, which they inevitably directed at their wives: “That’s your mother, children!” Dad would say this whenever Mom did something amusing or daft or inexplicable. I can picture my grandfather saying it whenever Grandmother did something eccentric or unapologetically forthright.
Another family saying, also mostly said by the fathers of the mothers: “Always positive. Always wrong.” In other words, so stubbornly resolute were these women in their perspectives at times that they refused to listen to reason. (This stubbornness could just as often apply to the fathers, of course, but the mothers seemed less inclined to drive their wins home with a verbal victory lap.)
While these expressions in writing may seem condescending, my impression as a child was that they were said with levity, in a spirit of reconciliation – to gently tease or deflate mounting tension. The words had a way of magically shifting conflict or discomfort into something we could all laugh about.
What I realize now is that these comments were often upside-down terms of endearment. In the silence afterwards, you could almost feel my father’s affection for my mom, as if in parentheses: “That’s your mother, children! (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.)”
These swatches of verbal history suggest that the husbands in my extended family have often been the grounded, pragmatic, sensible sorts, while the wives have been the playful, unpredictable, often impulsive sorts. Surprise, surprise…this apple has not fallen far from that woman tree.
Sometimes I wonder if my ambivalence to my partner’s measured sensibilities might ultimately drive him crazy. Other times, I am convinced he is lucky that I’m saving him from a life of predictability and boredom. Type A I am not. And neither is he, but he is by far the steady hand on the rudder of this spousal ship. There are times – oh so many times – when I’d be sunk without him.
Like the time he basically finished building our half-built house after our labor budget went up in (unbelievably inefficient general contractor) smoke. And the time he saved us a heap of money by contesting an erroneous property assessment. And all the times he deals with our car issues and our leaky plumbing issues and our dog-meets-porcupine issues, not to mention the never-ending trash and recycling.
There are times, however, when what’s needed is not logic or efficiency or even an unflappable work ethic. Sometimes you need to flat-out get crazy. Sometimes you need to shoot the moon. You need to head out into the downpour of your life without a jacket or shoes. You need to stay up all night writing (this) or read a couple more pages of “Moby Dick” with your nine-year-old even though it’s way past bedtime, because holy shit! “Moby Dick”!?
Sometimes you need to do things because they strike your flipping fancy and that is all there is to say about it. You might find yourself regressing to adolescence and answering every question with “up yer butt!” or “that’s what she said!” just to underscore the astonishing absurdity of everything.
You might even need to bust out into an air guitar solo in the kitchen at a totally inopportune moment because there is simply no other segue to the thing that’s just been said. Other than an awesome air guitar solo.
It’s about balancing the stark realities of life with the soft desirables – with laughter and music and get-aways and good friends. It’s about keeping each other guessing and yearning and being okay with a certain amount of chaos. Sometimes it’s about sitting with the discomfort before you can figure out how to pass through it. Maybe you don’t pass through it. Maybe it’s a part of you, and maybe that’s okay.
When things feel dark, we need to know a few tricks for finding the light. When the burden feels heavy, it helps to have a knack for lightness. I come up with cockamamie ideas that will never pan out because it’s fun to imagine the impossible panning out. If you get all serious talking to me about why it doesn’t make sense to go south to see a friend if, later, we have to go north for an appointment, how about a quick trip to Antarctica before lunch?
The thing is, though, I take after my dad as well. Scratch that. I try to take after my dad, not always successfully. I crave order and reason. I long to block out distractions, the temptations, the dizzying alternatives. I would trade a limb for the ability to make a sound decision and stick to it with no regrets. I would kill to be able to hold my shit together in situations when the holding together of shit eradicates, or at least dissipates, confusion, hurt, and misunderstanding.
I long for the absolutes, the clean lines of a “no, thank you,” the well-framed arguments that hold themselves together like bomb-proof scaffolding. And yes, I hang onto the steady hand of a partner who says with utmost certainty, “It’s going to be alright. We got this.”
Provided I can freely wail on my air guitar in the kitchen because, well, “That’s your mother, children!”

Older Dads May Raise Smarter, Geekier Kids

A recent study shows there may be some clear benefits to having an older father that positively impact a kid’s education and career.

Men who are living the bachelor life longer may be onto something. More men, especially college educated ones, are waiting longer to have kids, and these older men are raising smarter, more successful kids overall.
According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics, only 14 percent of men with a bachelor’s degree or more had their first child before they were 25. In addition, from 1980 to 2014, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of men age 35 and older having a baby. This trend is leading to a whole generation of children with older fathers. Although there may be some concerns about fathering children at an older age, a new study from New King’s College London published in Translational Psychiatry suggests that sons of older fathers are smarter, more focused on their interests, and less concerned about fitting in with their peers.
Researchers from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States collected behavioral and cognitive data from 15,000 male twins in the United Kingdom who were part of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). When the twins were 12 years old, they took online tests that measured ‘geek-like’ traits such as non-verbal IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest, and levels of social detachment. Parents were also asked whether their child cares about how they are perceived by their peers and if they have any interests that take up a large amount of their time.
 
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Using all of that information, the researchers computed a ‘geek index’ for every child in the study. Overall, higher geek index scores were reported in the sons of older fathers. This pattern even showed up after controlling for the parent’s social and economic status, qualifications, and employment. In addition, they found that ‘geekier’ children do better in school exams, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
The study shows how there may be some clear benefits to having an older father that positively impact a child’s education and career. One likely reason for this correlation, according to the experts involved in the study, is that older fathers are more likely to be established in their careers and have higher socioeconomic status than younger fathers just starting out in their career. Therefore, the children with older fathers could be raised in a more enriched environment with a stronger focus on academics and career building. These children would also tend to have access to better schools with extensive resources and opportunities.
But what about the risks of fathering a child later in life? Since men do not go through menopause, they can have a child until they are using a cane. Just look at Mick Jagger, who had his eighth child at the age of 73. According to Men’s Health, in most cases age is not really a problem for men. The majority of older dads do not have fertility problems and are able to father babies without serious physical or developmental problems.
However, there are some risks involved with being an older daddy. As men age, there is a greater chance of producing sperm with mutations, which can pass along health problems to the child or make it harder to conceive. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with partners age 35 and older were 27 percent more likely to have a miscarriage than those with partners 25 or younger. Previous research also has shown that children of older fathers are at a higher risk of autism and schizophrenia.
So, what does this mean for women, since our biological clocks are ticking and we do not want to wait too long to have kids? On one hand, it may not be a good idea to pressure our significant others to have kids right away. Let them turn a little gray before taking on the huge role of fatherhood. On the other hand, there are some possible health risks with waiting too long to have kids. Or maybe women should just try and look for older men to be the father of their children? There is no right or wrong path to take, and you certainly can’t plan love. But it’s always interesting to have this knowledge in our back pocket to see if it really works.