What Dads Can GIVE on Father’s Day

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Two words: sex education.

Yes dads, today is your day. And one of your gifts is that you’re in a unique position to help your kids grow strong and healthy.

They need you to talk about what sex means to you, whether that involves pleasure or values or intimacy or self-expression. They need to know what was confusing or troubling for you about sex when you were their age. A story about how you coped back then may get both of you laughing together—if it doesn’t get you crying together.

They need to know that masturbation is OK. They’re going to do it whether you like it or not; your reassurance can help them do it without guilt or shame, which is a huge advantage in life.

They need to know that there are different kinds of sex. I don’t mean oral vs. anal vs. the Pirate Game. I mean sex for closeness, sex for pleasure, sex for giving a gift, sex for expressing yourself, sex for coping with a difficult day or week. And also sex for manipulating, sex for avoiding a serious relationship talk, sex because you feel that’s all you have to offer the world. When your kid’s old enough, different peers will want to have sex for various reasons. So will your kid. He or she needs to know how to tell which reasons are operating at any given time.

Your kid needs to know that contraception is an integral part of penis-vagina intercourse. This includes kids who identify as gay; the rate of unintended pregnancy among gay teens is way too high. Like using a helmet when biking (which no one did when I was young), learning the connection early helps kids take it for granted.

Kids need to know about consent—that having sex with someone who’s ambivalent or drunk or wanting revenge on an ex-boyfriend is a big mistake, possibly a huge mistake. They need to know that real consent looks like enthusiasm; bland acquiescence, or a drunken, shrugged “whatever” is not consent. Coercion? That’s when you do something with someone’s body that they don’t want you to do. There’s no possible reason that ever makes it OK.

Your kids need to know how you feel about pornography. However, no one wants their first adult-child conversation about sex to be about porn. So if you haven’t begun to talk about sexuality, start this week. And remember, “Porn is crap and if I catch you watching it I’ll kill you” doesn’t qualify as a helpful conversation. All it does is provide the instruction “When you have questions about porn, don’t ask me.”

When it comes to sex, don’t wait until they ask. Did you wait until they asked you to teach them about brushing their teeth or using a seat belt? Of course not. Dad, you have many responsibilities, and one of them is raising the subject of sex with your kids over and over. “The Sex Talk” does not exist. It’s The Ongoing Sexuality Conversation. Because what your kids need to hear (and to ask) about sex changes as they grow and change.

Traditionally, dads protects us. The question is, what does protection actually look like—withholding information, and implying that facts are dangerous, or telling us the truth and equipping us to face life?

There is no part of your kids’ lives where you are needed more than in teaching them about sexuality. And the most important lesson you can teach is that people can talk about sex the way we talk about other things—without euphemisms, baby talk, or embarrassment.

That opportunity is your gift. Enjoy it many times, starting today.

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