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What we talk about when we talk about sex (with kids)
June 2, 2014 3:35 PM   Subscribe

What if we admitted to children that sex is primarily about pleasure?
I realized why my son was confused. He was thinking “accidentally getting pregnant” was like accidentally burning yourself because you didn’t realize the stove was on. “Sweetie,” I explained, “most of the time that people have sex, they’re not having it to have a baby. They’re having it because it feels good. So you can get accidentally pregnant if you’re having sex for pleasure and you don’t use effective birth control.”
The consequences of talking honestly with children about sex, by Alice Dreger.

Alice Dreger's work previously on metafilter. And if you are distracted by her use of language, see Dreger's explanation of why I refer to my husband, my romantic partner, and my life companion as my mate.
posted by medusa (107 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
I put this on the same level as telling kids that ~the demon weed~ will make them jump off buildings. They try it, it doesn't, and they never believe an adult about drug use again, even when they really should. Same with sex.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:45 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


This was the kid who in preschool answered a teacher’s “Good morning, how are you today?” with “I’m fine, but my mother is menstruating, so her uterine lining is sloughing.”

I call B.S.
posted by zeoslap at 3:46 PM on June 2 [6 favorites]


Link warning: the prime link tried to open a file up from a new ad window on my phone. YMMV.
posted by Neale at 3:47 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


This was also the only kid in preschool who said, “Most boys have penises and scrotums and most girls have clitorises and vaginas.”

This is my favorite parent of all time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:47 PM on June 2 [26 favorites]


Dan Savage said years ago that the way "sex education" is presented in the US is like if "driver's ed" told you how to fix a flat or change the oil on your car. Wish I had the cite. That man's a genius. Alice Dreger has a new fan in me.
posted by janey47 at 3:48 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


It's a special kind of hug that grownups like to give each other in private. Sometimes you see animals doing it too. Sometimes it makes a baby happen.

My kids have known this since they were three.
posted by jfwlucy at 3:48 PM on June 2 [11 favorites]


I don't really feel like "sex is primarily about pleasure" anymore than "eating is primarily about pleasure". Sure, both are usually enjoyable, but that's not really the main driving force behind why we want to do them.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:54 PM on June 2 [6 favorites]


This was the kid who in preschool answered a teacher’s “Good morning, how are you today?” with “I’m fine, but my mother is menstruating, so her uterine lining is sloughing.”

I call B.S.


Seriously? Have you worked with kids this age?
posted by Huck500 at 3:55 PM on June 2 [21 favorites]


Sure it is. I mean, they're pleasurable because people seek out pleasure, but I don't eat to survive, I eat because food is yummy.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:56 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


I don't really feel like "sex is primarily about pleasure" anymore than "eating is primarily about pleasure". Sure, both are usually enjoyable, but that's not really the main driving force behind why we want to do them.

Kind of a chicken and egg (as it were). We have sex because it's pleasurable; it's pleasurable because we need to have sex to survive. At least that's my liberal-arts-major's take on the underlying biology.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:59 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


This was the kid who in preschool answered a teacher’s “Good morning, how are you today?” with “I’m fine, but my mother is menstruating, so her uterine lining is sloughing.”

I call B.S.


What? Little kids literally do not have shame up to a certain age - they do not understand the impulse. Anything at all they learn from you is liable to be repeated immediately and frequently, regardless of who's around.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:00 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Sensible and forthright advice, so there's really no hope of it gaining traction in this country.
(I remember finding the teen pregnancy plague in my neighborhood utterly baffling, until I was teen myself. Then I was thoroughly unnerved.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:03 PM on June 2


I don't really feel like "sex is primarily about pleasure" anymore than "eating is primarily about pleasure".

Are you sure you're doing them right?
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:03 PM on June 2 [128 favorites]


It's a special kind of hug that grownups like to give each other in private. Sometimes you see animals doing it too. Sometimes it makes a baby happen.

My kids have known this since they were three.


That doesn't sound much like "It feels really, really good, and often makes people do really, really stupid things because of that feeling!"
posted by rtha at 4:07 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Maybe i'm a total prick, but this and a lot of the other stuff she's posted seems like some weird intersection between clickbait and brain crack.

Nothing she's saying is wrong, but it's exactly what people on the internet in 2014 want to hear and thinking it's really going to get much further than that is pretty pollyannaish.

It's just a little circlejerky, i don't know. She's preaching to the choir on basically all of her points. There's having good ideas, and there's executing. And i see a lot of idealism and not a lot of how to get the rubber on the road.

I might just have fatigue on these types of points from hearing them so much from people who are probably a bit younger than her, but it always just seems really back-slappy and "totally girl!" ego masturbation.
posted by emptythought at 4:08 PM on June 2 [20 favorites]


I don't really feel like "sex is primarily about pleasure" anymore than "eating is primarily about pleasure". Sure, both are usually enjoyable, but that's not really the main driving force behind why we want to do them.

While the underlying drive for sex might be for reproduction, it's not what most adult sexual activity is for. Most sexual activity is not aiming to make babies; in fact, most couples go to great lengths to avoid that outcome for most sex. Generally, people have sex for pleasure and occasionally for procreation.

Focusing as you do on the biology is the problem this article is pointing out. If you tell kids sex is for reproduction, they will naturally wonder why people have it all the time if they aren't trying to have children. Hence the "accidentally pregnant" question: how can accidentally get pregnant if you're having sex for reproduction? Isn't that what sex is for?

The answer in terms of adult behavior that will actually help kids understand the world is that sex is something people do for pleasure which can result in a baby if you aren't careful. So if you don't want a baby, be damn careful, but have fun.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:09 PM on June 2 [19 favorites]


While the underlying drive for sex might be for reproduction, it's not what most adult sexual activity is for.

Most especially when we're not talking about straight sex.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:12 PM on June 2 [17 favorites]


Metafilter: Sometimes it makes a baby happen.
posted by michaelh at 4:14 PM on June 2 [11 favorites]


Sure, both are usually enjoyable, but that's not really the main driving force behind why we want to do them.

Speak for yourself, dude.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 PM on June 2 [15 favorites]


Thing is, by the time my friends and I reached puberty, we were pretty darned certain that sex was almost entirely about having fun, and not making babies, even though none of us had done it yet. I think it was all that porn we had access to, even way back then.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:16 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I have to agree, the phrase "primarily about pleasure" hits the eye as wildly incorrect (or at best, profoundly myopic). And I also agree that eating is probably the best analogy. Like eating, only in a relatively slim slice of recent human history has sex been "primarily" about pleasure. (And for many people, to this day, eating remains primarily about survival.) Pleasure itself is a concept far, far younger than sex. Sex was happening way before anything we'd categorize as consciousness, let alone emotive cognition. And humans are only one biological species. Who knows if raccoons get "pleasure" from sex in a way we would understand it, let alone insects, plants, or bacteria. Sex is primarily about reproduction. A more accurate statement would be that "sex is very significantly about pleasure, as far as humans are concerned."
posted by azaner at 4:19 PM on June 2


And this boy's assertion that all he learned about HIV is that it's inherited? Absolutely astounding. What the hell is going on in our schools?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:20 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Hay guys I see you are you having an argument about proximate vs. ultimate causes. Luckily evolutionary biologists have already adopted this idea so you don't have to worry about whether people have sex "because it feels good" or "because it increases the frequency of their genes in the population". It can be both with the help of this useful concept.
posted by agentofselection at 4:22 PM on June 2 [40 favorites]


Human sex is different from animal sex and for many humans in many cultures, it has nothing to do with procreation. I'm surprised this is a controversial statement.
posted by bleep at 4:24 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


emptythought: "how to get the rubber on the road."

I think you're doing it wrong.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:24 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


Dan Savage said years ago that the way "sex education" is presented in the US is like if "driver's ed" told you how to fix a flat or change the oil on your car. Wish I had the cite.

That is, if you have sex ed at all or a class that did anything other than teach you about the basic mechanics, and then skipped straight to DISEASES!

I think the better driver's ed metaphor comes from Ze Frank. Kids are still going to be curious, and if they don't have adequate sex ed they're going to try to learn to ropes from porn. That's like trying to learn how to drive by watching a monster truck rally.
posted by Spiced Out Calvin Coolidge at 4:26 PM on June 2 [20 favorites]


While the underlying drive for sex might be for reproduction, it's not what most adult sexual activity is for. Most sexual activity is not aiming to make babies; in fact, most couples go to great lengths to avoid that outcome for most sex. Generally, people have sex for pleasure and occasionally for procreation.

I don't know if you're being deliberately obtuse or if you just didn't get what I was saying. My original point was that people have sex because they're horny, largely the same way that people eat because they're hungry. Yes both things are pleasurable, but that's not the driving force to do them. Massage is pleasurable, but if you're stuck in a situation where you can't get a massage for a couple weeks you don't start to think about it obsessively and search for videos online of people giving and receiving massages and try to give yourself a massage just to get to the point where you can go ten minutes without being distracted by the thought of getting a massage.

People have sex above any other reason to relieve an overwhelming biological urge, and it just so happens that that tends to usually be pleasurable.

I'm not saying, that people do it for the purpose of procreation, I'm saying it's more like breathing than it is like a good movie or a soak in a hot tub.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:35 PM on June 2 [7 favorites]


I prefer playing the song "Muskrat Love" and initiating a lifelong fear of muskrats and The Captain and Tenille.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:38 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


. Who knows if raccoons get "pleasure" from sex in a way we would understand it, let alone insects, plants, or bacteria.

I am so glad that you clarified that in the context of an article that is about how to talk to human kids about human sex in 2014.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:42 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


It's not like we have to choose between teaching kids about pleasure and procreation.

Ideally, sex-ed programs would emphasize that it's fine to have consensual sex for fun, just like it's fine to have consensual sex for the express purpose of procreation, just like it's fine to not have sex if you don't want to.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:43 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


emptythought: "Maybe i'm a total prick, but this and a lot of the other stuff she's posted seems like some weird intersection between clickbait and brain crack.

Nothing she's saying is wrong, but it's exactly what people on the internet in 2014 want to hear and thinking it's really going to get much further than that is pretty pollyannaish.

It's just a little circlejerky, i don't know. She's preaching to the choir on basically all of her points. There's having good ideas, and there's executing. And i see a lot of idealism and not a lot of how to get the rubber on the road.

I might just have fatigue on these types of points from hearing them so much from people who are probably a bit younger than her, but it always just seems really back-slappy and "totally girl!" ego masturbation.
"

I think you're projecting a lot of your experiences with other outlets onto this piece. Dr. Dreger is Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern. She's extensively experienced in disseminating information about biomedicine to a broad variety of audiences. She's writing in Pacific Standard, which is the house journal of the Miller-McCune Centre for Research, Media, and Public Policy. In other words, just because you heard about it through MetaFilter doesn't mean the audience she's preaching to is your choir.
posted by gingerest at 4:46 PM on June 2 [28 favorites]


Umm, as far as biologists mostly can tell, many other species than humans engage in sexual play for pleasure, including behaviors preliminary to or unlikely to cause procreation.

Look up bonobos and dolphins, or watch your dog hump your leg.

One need not have a cultural concept of "pleasure" to experience it.
posted by spitbull at 4:50 PM on June 2 [14 favorites]


I feel like my parents explained this -- or something on this order -- around the time that I learned what sex was, as opposed to what pregnancy was. I knew from my earliest memories that babies are made by mothers getting pregnant and giving birth. I didn't understand how the baby got in there, precisely, though I knew it had something to do with being married and deciding that you wanted to have a baby. That is probably the point where I would have been confused about accidental pregnancy. But, you know, I was like four. Shit's confusing when you're four.

When I was six I got the full, "when a man and a woman love each other very much... blah blah... it feels very good... yadda yadda" full on Talk, and I don't remember being confused about why someone would accidentally get pregnant after that. I mean, I thought the idea of a man putting part of his body inside another part of a woman's body and then shooting something into her sounded disgusting, and didn't understand why this would be a good thing until many years later. But intellectually I was aware that this was a thing grownups did because it felt good.

I'm pretty sure I was dimly aware of premarital sex in a latent way prior to The Official Sex Talk because of TV.
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on June 2


People have sex above any other reason to relieve an overwhelming biological urge, and it just so happens that that tends to usually be pleasurable.

I could be fooling myself, but I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of times I've had sex in my life -- including masturbation -- it's been for pleasure rather than because I was feeling some overwhelming biological urge.
posted by Etrigan at 4:54 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Like eating, only in a relatively slim slice of recent human history has sex been "primarily" about pleasure.

What, so cavemen and cavewomen were fucking primarily in the aim and knowledge that it would result in procreation? Nah.
posted by Jimbob at 4:54 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


My view us that there is a continuum of reasons why people have sex and this runs from horny to drunk and horny.
posted by biffa at 4:54 PM on June 2 [19 favorites]


As a kid I knew sex was for pleasure and making babies. But I was unclear on the mechanics. Two brothers, no sister. I had no idea what went on between a female's legs. Plus I lived in a city, so no animals humping each other experience. I can clearly remember riding my bike in an alley, and finding a torn page from some wank-mag. First time I ever saw a vulva, and with pubic hair no less! (this was probably 1979). I was TRANSFIXED.

Went on to learn that the same hole the penis goes in was the one where the baby came out. I guess I thought there were three holes down there.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:55 PM on June 2


Nature made it pleasurable to fool smart people into having kids.
posted by Brian B. at 4:56 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Going to use this as an excuse to plug Matt Fraction's Sex Criminals. It's a brilliant comic that makes you think, laugh, smile, cry, and turn red all at the same time. For those interested in an interesting take on growing up and sexuality. Check it out.

In a nutshell: It’s the story of a young woman named Suzie, whose awkward sexual encounters come with a unique twist: she stops time whenever she climaxes.
posted by Fizz at 4:58 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


This was the kid who in preschool answered a teacher’s “Good morning, how are you today?” with “I’m fine, but my mother is menstruating, so her uterine lining is sloughing.”

When my older daughter was 5, I started to tell her where babies come from. I said they are conceived and start to grow in their mother's womb. She stopped me and said, "No, fetuses grow in a very special place called the uterus." I'm sure this is what they told her in pre-school in exactly that language. She said it as though she were talking to someone who was slightly delayed, but educable. Still cracks me up when I think about it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:59 PM on June 2 [30 favorites]


I remember in middle school "the meaning of life" came up (the concept not the film) and I said, parroting my mother, "to reproduce." My precocious friend replied, "that's a very male thing to say"
posted by gorbweaver at 5:01 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


This was also the only kid in preschool who said, “Most boys have penises and scrotums and most girls have clitorises and vaginas.”

This is exactly how we've done it with our kids. It was very helpful when our youngest turned out to be the kind of boy who is born with a vulva and vagina. The older two took it in stride, except that our middle son was sad not to have a sister anymore.

Last year, at the TransHealth conference I attended a workshop put on by two sexuality educators. They did it by presenting a sample lesson. They were specifically talking about trans-inclusive sex ed, so there was a lot of "people who have penisis will experience this, and people who have a vulva and vagina will experience this..." But the thing that was really striking to me was that when talking about anatomy, they would include things like, "this area has a lot of nerve endings, and many people find it pleasurable to be touched there." The pleasure piece was presented matter-of-factly and was integrated with the anatomy and mechanisms of pregnancy stuff. Different sexual and gender identity stuff was also fully integrated instead of being presented in a separate unit. I thought it was pretty cool, and it's shaped some of how I talk to my kids when the topic comes up.
posted by not that girl at 5:06 PM on June 2 [32 favorites]


If you have older siblings like I do, you can gain the same knowledge while avoiding the awkward "Sometimes when a Mommy and Daddy love each other very much..." conversation with your parents. Instead you can have your siblings torture you by explaining that the reason you are so much younger than either of them and why your parents are so much older than any of your friends parents is because of a birth control mishap during a weekend getaway at a ski lodge.
posted by The Gooch at 5:08 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


When my older daughter was 5, I started to tell her where babies come from. I said they are conceived and start to grow in their mother's womb. She stopped me and said, "No, fetuses grow in a very special place called the uterus."

When my adopted child was maybe 4, we were talking about his birthmother. I explained that he had grown in her womb, and then after he was born, he had become our baby. Later, it got back to me that he had found this information very interesting and had told an adult friend all about the "special room" that his birthmother had for him before he came to live with us.
posted by not that girl at 5:09 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


People have sex above any other reason to relieve an overwhelming biological urge, and it just so happens that that tends to usually be pleasurable.

As to the first, I don't know what you mean when you say 'overwhelming', but based on my experience, it's not the same thing as I mean by 'overwhelming', although clearly different folks have different sexual appetites, just as some folks think they cannot live without steak, and others aren't bothered.

As to the second, whether or not it is usually pleasurable of course depends on one's personal situation -- and to a great deal on one's culture, not to mention gender/sex. (What percent of American women still report never having had an orgasm, I wonder?)

That doesn't stop any of us from being motivated to have sex by the pursuit of pleasure.
posted by allthinky at 5:15 PM on June 2


Sometimes sex is just a bizarre and messy thing that grownups do because they think it will somehow valide their social rank, their ability to love, or simply their substantiality as selves.
posted by mbrock at 5:16 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


emptythought, it took me a while to figure out what you were doing, but once I did, I was highly amused.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:16 PM on June 2


I would give a lot to be around more people like Alice, and to have had sex education as frank and as shame-free as her son has had. I think I'd take a lot better care of myself when it comes to relationships if I had access to more sex-positive people. I wouldn't be at home stressing over my last date like I am right now, for one.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:18 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Hay guys I see you are you having an argument about proximate vs. ultimate causes. Luckily evolutionary biologists have already adopted this idea so you don't have to worry about whether people have sex "because it feels good" or "because it increases the frequency of their genes in the population". It can be both with the help of this useful concept.

Is it true because evolutionary biologists have adopted this view, or have evolutionary biologists adopted this view because it's true?
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:21 PM on June 2 [15 favorites]


I was told early that people have sex because it feels good but that "10 minutes of feeling good ain't worth 18 years struggling to raise a kid 'cause you were stupid!" I don't know what other folks were telling their kids on my block, because an awful lot of girls around my way ended up pregnant at 13, 14, 15.

I got the mechanics from that David Reuben book, and seeing various stray dogs at it in the alleyways near our flat and hearing the boys hooting about it. Yeah, being poor! Poor kids aren't shielded from much. At least I wasn't. Not sure if that's good or bad, but it would have been nice to not have heard these types of lessons from the perspective of rue and regret. It gave me the idea that no man would ever care about me as a person, but only if I could get him off. It would then scare me when I found myself attracted to boys at school, because then I was worried that if I told them, they'd leverage it to get laid and then never speak to me again - AND I could get knocked up, too, despite birth control? The hell with it, then. Took a long time to learn differently. I don't think that's quite the lesson that should be imparted, either. One has to be careful what they say to kids, and in that sense, good on this lady for being honest without being treacly or brutal.
posted by droplet at 5:34 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


It would be fair to say that my genes are barking up the wrong damn tree if they think they're getting transmitted anytime soon, pleasure notwithstanding.
posted by sonascope at 5:38 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I think it's more of a "Hey, you got pleasure in my reproduction!" "no, you got reproduction in my pleasure!" sort of situations. The two things can go hand in hand, as it were.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I don't get arguing the point about biological factors and sex drive. To those of you who think that you are having sex because it is pleasurable are most likely the same ones who think that fuzzy feeling below your stomach when you smell that special someone is 'love'. Oxytocin, and other chemicals responsible for sex drive are also involved in social memory and attachment, aggression, trust and bonding, learning anxiety, feeding and pain suppression. Hormonal dysfunction can destroy sex drive is pretty obvious.

Let me put it this way. Try rubbing that shit when you have oxytocin dysfunction and see how pleasurable it is.

Also the article about proximate vs ultimate causes probably nails it a different way - although I didn't read that.
posted by sfts2 at 5:45 PM on June 2


Like eating, only in a relatively slim slice of recent human history has sex been "primarily" about pleasure.

What a ridiculous statement. Where on earth would you get such an idea?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:48 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


If it really where an overwhelming, involuntary biological urge, then people wouldn't be successful at voluntary celibacy. And we also wouldn't have any asexual people. Yet we have both people who are celibate and asexual.

As for "people don't do it because it's pleasurable, they do it because they're horny" - what the hey do you think makes people horny?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Or to put it another way...

In May 2011 I was hit on my motorcycle, by a fairly attractive young lady. As I lay there in the street bleeding from the head, with a couple broken ribs, I could not help to reflect upon how cute she looked in her mini-dress and heels.

Shits hard-wired.
posted by sfts2 at 5:50 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Or to put it another way...

In May 2011 I was hit on my motorcycle, by a fairly attractive young lady. As I lay there in the street bleeding from the head, with a couple broken ribs, I could not help to reflect upon how cute she looked in her mini-dress dress and heels.

Shits hard-wired.


And reader, I married her.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:52 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


To those of you who think that you are having sex because it is pleasurable are most likely the same ones who think that fuzzy feeling below your stomach when you smell that special someone is 'love'.

Where do you get "not influenced by biology nor chemistry" out of "pleasurable"?
posted by Etrigan at 5:54 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


"Welcome to your genitals. It's where you get punched."

Metafilter: (etc.)
posted by .holmes at 5:59 PM on June 2


And besides, the binary isn't "pleasure vs. hormonal urge", the binary is "pleasure vs. PROCREATION ALONE." Biology may prompt us to have sex enough times for procreation, but pleasure is what drives us to do it extra times just 'cos.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Human sex is different from animal sex and for many humans in many cultures, it has nothing to do with procreation.

ALL animals have sex for pleasure. We're just the only ones smart enough to be able to stop getting pregnant.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:00 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


"Pleasure" is such a stupid word. Can we say it in French or something, so it sounds a little bit complex?
posted by mbrock at 6:03 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


One of Ms.' early stories for free children dealt with where babies come from; it was made clear that not all couples want kids but still enjoy making love.The author of a response claimed that the vagina and the birth canal were two separate things. >
posted by brujita at 6:04 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


The notion of causation is so complex as to be philosophically nearly inexplicable; it's also only part of what we mean when we ask "Why does person X do act Y?" ... Reasons and motivations and causes are terribly difficult to untangle, in the case of the human agent.

Also, the most obvious reason why we have sex is because all the other kids are doing it.
posted by allthinky at 6:06 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Where did you get that I did? I didn't remember writing that phrase at all...then I went back and checked, and I hadn't. I don't think that when I had ED related to the medication that they put me on for complications, that I had forgotten how great it felt to get laid. There is relentless biological urge, where pleasure is the mechanism by which nature has chosen to incent us - yay nature! Fish dash themselves against rocks swimming ceaselessly upstream to fulfill this urge. Its not because they wanna see Seattle. You can think about pleasure however you like, but if other chemicals are introduced that block the arousal chemistry, you will derive no pleasure from sex, and will not even think about it. Given that I believe this from personal experience, if this is the case, then its very hard to argue that pleasure seeking is a more fundamental cause than evolutionary biology.

One interesting addendum. Cuddling is still awesome.
posted by sfts2 at 6:08 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


There is relentless biological urge

I know a fairly significant percentage of straight people who do not engage in penis-in-vagina sex -- but do like other sexual activities -- because it just doesn't interest them. If there was indeed some "relentless" biological urge for procreative sex, then these folks shouldn't exist. And that's not even getting into gay and lesbian sex, as someone already said above, which happens despite the lack of some magical lizard brain need for babies.

Like, I'm no scientist, but just saying that humans just want to procreate THE END strikes me as being really reductionist.
posted by jess at 6:40 PM on June 2 [10 favorites]


Google "concealed ovulation."

Really, do it. Humans are very special apes, but we are apes.
posted by spitbull at 6:44 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Or another way I once heard it framed: "genes are the ultimate parasite."
posted by spitbull at 6:45 PM on June 2


The relentless urge need not be distributed evenly amongst all individuals. In fact it's a feature and probably condition of our social structures (not to mention a property of natural selection as such) that it is not evenly distributed, or that it can be overridden by some form of "choice" (even if that is by necessity).

Sorry for three comments in a row...
posted by spitbull at 6:48 PM on June 2


Spitbull, I think you may be misunderstanding the basic premise of the article. Biology plays a big part of it, yeah, but the article isn't about "hormones vs. not-hormones," it's discussing "pleasure vs. procreation".

The urge to mate is indeed biologic - but humans have figured out a way to take the mating part out of it and engage in sex just for the pleasure of it. That's what the article is getting at - that we have sex for those pleasurable fringe benefits alone, most of the time. We're basically cheating our own hormones a lot of the time.

We're following programming, but we've figured out how how to put a patch on one particular outcome of that programming so as to prevent that result. That is what was meant by "doing it for pleasure".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


agentofselection: "Hay guys I see you are you having an argument about proximate vs. ultimate causes. Luckily evolutionary biologists have already adopted this idea so you don't have to worry about whether people have sex "because it feels good" or "because it increases the frequency of their genes in the population". It can be both with the help of this useful concept."

99% of the disagreements in this thread can be resolved by this concept.
posted by tybeet at 6:59 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


This woman is doing so much that's awesome.

She's also impossibly smug about it. Her kid's massively precocious in a lot of ways, and I'm just sure that's due to her amazing, open parenting style. The people around her are shocked, shocked! when she speaks the truth to a child, because they're small-minded compared to her.

Doesn't make her less right, but it does make her hard to listen to.
posted by gurple at 7:43 PM on June 2 [25 favorites]


The urge to mate is indeed biologic - but humans have figured out a way to take the mating part out of it and engage in sex just for the pleasure of it.

I think there's evidence that sex serves in part as a social tool for our species, but we have too much cultural baggage to make that a serious part of the public conversation. Even in this article we're talking about how much we struggle to admit that sex is about pleasure to children - think about how heavy and deep the baggage has to go to feel the need to lie about such a thing when sex is as regular as eating or breathing.

Either way when talking about sex (and all aspects of life) I think we all struggle with conceptualizing it outside of a framework that comes from an ultra-competitive take on Darwinian principles - that is, that every single action a being takes is an attempt increase its reproductive fitness, by definition.
posted by MillMan at 8:03 PM on June 2


I don't remember ever having The Talk. Except that sex and even kissing and touching by boys or anyone was bad wrong shameful not good and all my fault if it ever happened and it was quite clear I should never ever ever mention anything about anything to anyone. Because it was Bad.

I do remember having very conflicting and confusing feelings around "wait...sex is bad...but that woman is pregnant and everyone is happy for her and her husband...so everyone knows they had sex but they aren't getting in trouble".

This lead me to believe for a very long time that there was something wrong with me and I wasn't someone who would get praised for being pregnant or having sex, that it was just how it was, and I could do nothing to fix or change that. I was Bad.

Kids' minds work in very strange ways. Pretty sure I still have some hangups today even tho I know that line of reasoning is all bs.
posted by sio42 at 9:33 PM on June 2


Love is the answer.

(Love is always the answer...)
posted by Segundus at 10:39 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Obviously she's saying and doing things with regard to being honest and straightforward about sex and sexuality with children, and defusing the culture of paedo-panicked culture of silence around sex in the US to the extent possible. OTOH, I do understand what some upthread are saying about the smugness and brain-cracky-ness. What sent it hurtling off the Cliffs of Dubiousness for me was the insistence that someone who spends a lot of time talking with children about genitalia and sexuality would be gobsmacked - just utterly at a loss, confused and asea - at the idea that a bunch of little boys would get all giggly over the word "testicles."

Seriously?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:45 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Yes, because her experience is with her own kid, who has had it all explained to him and is clearly at least a little ahead of the curve, cognition-wise. She had not expected that a medical term for a body part would cause pandemonium because all of these other kids had only ever had adults refer to them with long pauses and vague, awkward work-around or cutesy nicknames.
posted by Scattercat at 11:06 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I think the underlying theme is boasting about how smart and scientific her kid is compared to most people's, hence giggling about testicles = awful.

Actually I think the Mom of "punch in the nuts" guy should be proudest. His answer avoided a narrowly reductive analysis, acknowledging that instinctive drives, including some negative ones, social structures and interpersonal relations are significant factors. He certainly improved on pleasure/reproduction, which is threadbare and could not rate better than a C. He could have usefully brought in afference and self-actualisation, but to give him credit he was a model of pithy relevance, since if that school is anything like mine that's going to be the prime significance of testicles for many years to come.
posted by Segundus at 11:14 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


sex is as regular as eating or breathing

Good lord, that sounds exhausting.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:49 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Empress , I understand the article fine. My point is that there is no biological basis for saying pleasure or procreation are conceptually distinct aspects of the human sexual drive. Basically I'm saying the opposition being debated is biologically naive.

Thanks though.
posted by spitbull at 3:23 AM on June 3


Heck, it's *anthropologically* naive!

I don't actually understand what "not hormones" would be as a "side" in an argument. I'm saying that the proclivity to have sex for pleasure serves an evolutionary end, and that individual differences in sexual drive or desire or success constitute a pattern of variation that makes natural selection work.
posted by spitbull at 3:31 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


You can put your reactions into just one single comment, you know.

I don't actually understand what "not hormones" would be as a "side" in an argument. I'm saying that the proclivity to have sex for pleasure serves an evolutionary end, and that individual differences in sexual drive or desire or success constitute a pattern of variation that makes natural selection work.

By "hormones vs. not hormones", what I mean that no one is saying that biology isn't a cause. That's a given. The article is only talking about "procreation vs. pleasure", and is correctly pointing out that most people aren't thinking "hooray, perhaps we shall now conceive" each and every time they have sex.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 AM on June 3


Sfts2: Fish dash themselves against rocks swimming ceaselessly upstream to fulfill this urge. Its not because they wanna see Seattle.

I imagine one lonely salmon muttering in a Hans Moleman voice "I want to see Seattle".
posted by dr_dank at 4:53 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I don't really feel like "sex is primarily about pleasure" anymore than "eating is primarily about pleasure". Sure, both are usually enjoyable, but that's not really the main driving force behind why we want to do them.

It's certainly the driving force behind why I have sex, being gay and all.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:10 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Azener, yes, such that we understand it, lots of animals are enjoying it and 'pleasure' matters for conception enough that farmers sexually stimulate animals they are artificially inseminating. This is precisely the sort of perception "sex is about pleasure" is trying to address.

Furthermore a lot of animals engage in non-procreative sexual behaviour, from dogs humping to giraffe homosexuality. Bats, for example, are very fond of genital licking. Other primates *certainly* are doing it for fun.
posted by Phalene at 5:13 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I feel like the most important part of sex ed should be consent. The most important thing that kids need to know about sex is that is that it should only be done if people want it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:40 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


This woman is doing so much that's awesome.

She's also impossibly smug about it. Her kid's massively precocious in a lot of ways, and I'm just sure that's due to her amazing, open parenting style. The people around her are shocked, shocked! when she speaks the truth to a child, because they're small-minded compared to her.

Doesn't make her less right, but it does make her hard to listen to.
Yeah, I'm mixed on this. Is the kid precocious or a dumb-repeater ? I mean that in a good and a snarky way. It really seems like she missed the "age appropriate" memo - give kids enough to understand something for the age they are at. I really doubt that "mommy's shedding her uterine lining" is something a 4 year old really understands. Implies the kid is just parroting it back, which means the kid doesn't really grok it. Which makes mom sound insufferable.

(note: age appropriate doesn't mean make shit up or hide the truth or fuzzy bunnies..)
posted by k5.user at 7:03 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of the "It's not just 'pleasure'" crowd is forgetting that this article is about how we talk to kids about sex. As in, not just "Here's the biology and chemistry and physics of it" but also "Here's the philosophy and ethics and emotions of it."
posted by Etrigan at 7:07 AM on June 3


I think tylerkaraszewski's observation about the feelings of urgency often associated with sex is a useful one, particularly in explaining sex to older, peripubescent children. Acknowledging the drive associated with sex is important in conveying the importance of mutual respect and consent, and in helping children to understand and navigate the complex emotions surrounding their sexuality. Sexual pleasure is often experienced differently from other pleasures, and the power of its attraction can be unpleasant and startling to young people. A bit of biology can be reassuring here.
posted by Svejk at 7:59 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Which makes mom sound insufferable.

There's a lot here that makes the mom sound insufferable. And if she was legitimately confused as to why a room full of third-grade boys burst out in laughter at the term "testicles" - she's dimmer than her own kid.

As to the central question of the article - why don't we tell kids sex is pleasurable? Perhaps because you're then telling them: It's awesome, but you need to wait.

But wait. WHY should I, as a kid, wait? If this is so awesome and that's why people do it, why can't I get in on some of that? Because pregnancy? That can be countered. Because "I'm not ready for it?" Screw that. Who's not ready for some pleasure?

How do you tell a 12-year-old kid that something is damn awesome and not expect that 12-year-old kid to want in on that? This amounts to taunting, basically. Like me sitting there with a cold beer saying: Boy, this is good. Really, this is really making my day. But you can't have any.
posted by kgasmart at 8:23 AM on June 3


I don't know, when I found out about sex (circa first grade), it sounded weird and gross to me even though adults told me it was pleasurable and all the evidence I saw around me implied that was the case. Same with alcohol, actually -- I was aware that there was some reason grownups liked to drink this terrible stinkjuice, even though to me it seemed obviously like a bad idea.

I think not telling your young child that sex feels good because you're afraid they'll go out and start having sex is an incredibly silly reason to lie to your kid.
posted by Sara C. at 9:38 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


How do you tell a 12-year-old kid that something is damn awesome and not expect that 12-year-old kid to want in on that? This amounts to taunting, basically. Like me sitting there with a cold beer saying: Boy, this is good. Really, this is really making my day. But you can't have any.

Well, first you start by telling them the truth, and talking with them, and most importantly, listening to them. We have stacks of evidence that lying to kids via abstinence-only "education" doesn't keep them from having PIV sex, but it sure keeps them from using birth control safely and consistently.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on June 3


Like me sitting there with a cold beer saying: Boy, this is good. Really, this is really making my day. But you can't have any.

We don't lie to kids and tell them we're drinking beer because it fulfills our caloric needs. We tell them it is special grownup juice for grownups. What's so bad about telling kids that sex is a special thing adults do, but kids' bodies aren't ready for yet? That would have the added benefit of letting them know that if an adult touches them sexually, it's not normal or ok.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:58 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


kgasmart: "How do you tell a 12-year-old kid that something is damn awesome and not expect that 12-year-old kid to want in on that? This amounts to taunting, basically. Like me sitting there with a cold beer saying: Boy, this is good. Really, this is really making my day. But you can't have any."

Direct quote from my mother when I was 11 or 12: "Sex is fun. You'll like it." She also taught me about conception and reproduction and that the people at Planned Parenthood were wonderful resources. Also, "You can have an awful lot of fun hugging and kissing before you move on to sex" and "A girl's best friend is her hand." Dad said similar things* (they were divorced, so each of them addressed it with me individually rather than counting on the other one to do it).

I was 21 when I chose to have sex for the first time.

Being truthful and sex-positive is more likely to have good outcomes than shading the truth or withholding information, IMO.

* I do remember Dad once getting off in the weeds of some extended metaphor about how when you're climbing a mountain you can get so focused on the peak you're going towards that you don't take the time to notice how beautiful it is on the mountain all around you and it can be a good thing to climb slowly enough that you can appreciate your surroundings and… "So basically you're saying, don't be in too much of a rush to have full-on sex?" Yes, he agreed, that was basically what he was saying.
posted by Lexica at 10:05 AM on June 3 [9 favorites]


I do remember Dad once getting off in the weeds

Just have to say, you scared me with this, until I read a little further.

Seemed like "wow, a little TOO truthful and sex-positive there."
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:10 AM on June 3 [6 favorites]


I think the underlying theme is boasting . . .

Bingo. Even the use of the word "mate" (yes, I RHF explanation) is a boast. Insufferable. Unreadable. Even to members of the "choir," of which I am probably one.
posted by The Bellman at 11:29 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm mixed on this. Is the kid precocious or a dumb-repeater ? I mean that in a good and a snarky way. It really seems like she missed the "age appropriate" memo - give kids enough to understand something for the age they are at. I really doubt that "mommy's shedding her uterine lining" is something a 4 year old really understands. Implies the kid is just parroting it back, which means the kid doesn't really grok it. Which makes mom sound insufferable.

Yea, i was thinking this but didn't really want to be the one to say it.

I think this is what the "i call bs" that got stomped on early in the thread was getting at. How much do you really believe the kid understands? How much is this some kind of bizarre, reverse Münchausen by proxy thing where she's determined to show everyone how smart her kid is even if a lot of it is just parroting and fakery?

There's some parallels between this and like, child beauty pageant stuff if you wanna be a dong.
posted by emptythought at 2:59 PM on June 3


How much do you really believe the kid understands?

Kids parroting their parents' beliefs become adults who sincerely hold those beliefs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:15 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


Kids parroting their parents' beliefs sometimes become adults who sincerely hold those beliefs. Maybe even often become adults who sincerely hold those beliefs. But if the kid doesn't even understand the words, he's not even parroting beliefs, he's just delivering lines.
posted by Etrigan at 3:30 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with that. They parrot back the alphabet before they know what it is. You tell curious little kids who want to know everything things they don't understand it primes their brain for dealing with interesting stuff they don't understand and makes it easier to understand later. Little human brains just want to know all the things. As long as it's not stuff about how shitty the world is and you don't do it in a way that makes them feel stupid.
posted by bleep at 5:23 PM on June 3


The issue isn't really whether the kid understands it or not for the benefit of the kid, it's that the mom is misrepresenting what the kid does and doesnt understand in a really disingenuous way so she can smugly go "aren't i awesome?"
posted by emptythought at 6:34 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


emptythought: "The issue isn't really whether the kid understands it or not for the benefit of the kid, it's that the mom is misrepresenting what the kid does and doesnt understand in a really disingenuous way so she can smugly go "aren't i awesome?""

Unless anybody commenting here has actually met the kid in question and had a conversation with him, the most that can be said is that some people are asserting that she's misrepresenting what he does and doesn't understand.

I acknowledge that I don't have kids and so don't spend much time around them, but when I think back to being a kid, I don't have much trouble imagining that a kid might be as well-informed and clearly-spoken about these things as she reports her kid being. All kids? No. A small number of them, one of whom has a mom who's a writer? Yeah, seems reasonably likely.
posted by Lexica at 6:47 PM on June 3


I do have kids and spend a lot of time around children, including working in a preschool and spending time with kids on the autism spectrum, and I'm a writer, and the dialogue is completely unbelievable to me. And so is the rest of the piece: she and her mate and their son are so perfect and they're surrounded by incompetents who look to them gratefully for guidance. The nervous, sputtering teachers who've never had a student ask where babies come from; the friend who asks her to explain sex for her. Yet she and her mate are psychic, thinking the same thing, or sighing, simultaneously.

It's a pity her writing style is so grating. She has interesting points to make. And if her son really does talk like that, that's fascinating and I'd like to know more.

As it is: phooey.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:27 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


I liked the sex talk but are we just gonna ignore the abomination that is putting peanut butter on a bagel
posted by Greg Nog at 2:10 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


dude what peanut butter is right up there with cream cheese and hummus in the top 3, tier 1 things you can put on a bagel.

it's also one of the few things you can put on a cold bagel and stuff have it be satisfyingly decent.

now if we're gonna talk about people who put peanut butter and jam on bagels, then yea, those people are mutants.
posted by emptythought at 2:27 PM on June 5


Cream cheese is in the top 1 things you can put on a bagel. There is NO number 2.

NO NOT EVEN BUTTER.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:53 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Good post. Thanks, medusa.
posted by homunculus at 1:40 AM on June 8


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