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The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in…
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The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in the Real World (Kindle Single)

by Alice Dreger

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Dreger hilariously and depressingly livetweeted an abstinence-focused sex ed class at her kid’s public school, https://storify.com/metkat_meanie/livetweeting-abstinance-sex-ed, and then wrote this Kindle Single as a followup. Dreger’s research is about the history of responses to intersexed and other non-sexually normative people, and she comes at it from that perspective. She believes that there are, on average, biologically based differences between the interests of people born with XX chromosomes and people born with XY, but there’s also a lot of variation, within as well as across since sex isn’t actually binary. Her emphasis is on giving children information and helping them understand that variation is normal, so that they can make choices that are pleasurable and consensual as well as say no to things that aren’t pleasurable and consensual.

Dreger also gives a lot of weight to culture, citing studies showing that adults reinforce gendered behavior. When adults are given “cross-dressed” babies, they “become more impatient with ‘boys’ who are crying and try to engage the ‘girl’ babies with ‘girl’ toys.” But still, she perceives gender as a source of pleasure for many people, so she wants to make that pleasure available without oppression. (I’m not sure it’s possible to have one’s cake and eat it too in this way.)

Because boys with traditionally “feminine” interests are more likely to grow up gay than boys with traditionally “masculine” interests, while there’s no real association between gender-normative behavior and sexuality for girls, she warns against concluding too quickly that a boy who likes to dress as/play as a girl is “actually” a girl. She considers that giving in too quickly to the two-gender system, which may represent discomfort with the full gender spectrum or even unconscious homophobia. Only if a boy’s identification as female persists until age 11 or 12 is there reason to consider intervention, in her view, because at that point it can be useful to use drugs to prevent some of the pubertal changes that the child will perceive as wrong for her. (She doesn’t have as much to say about trans boys; her research has mostly been about trans women. She does say that a toddler daughter who says she’s a boy should be reassured that her interests are fine no matter what they are, but shouldn’t be encouraged to think she’ll have a penis when she grows up.)

The writing is cute: “Babies’ genitals often look kind of funny to adults because they are immature. I mean the baby’s genitals are immature …” But it’s also hard to imagine people reading this who aren’t already really committed to being informative most of the time, rather than teaching their kids shame about sexual desire.

One of the most interesting points for me is that she says that the adolescents she talks to were often prepared to prevent disease and pregnancy, but weren’t prepared for the emotional consequences and difficulties of sex, especially how they often felt differently about sexual encounters than their partners did. She concludes that it’s worth telling kids why lots of sex between adults occurs in long-term relationships, even if you think—as she does—that there’s nothing wrong with consensual sex in any form. ( )
  rivkat | May 25, 2016 |
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