The other day, as I wrote the post to help parents with using online content to talk to your kids, I made a reference to Isabella Rossellini’s series “Green Porno”. While I was writing, Marcia, Cindy, and I watched probably 20 of the 28 videos together. The girls got a little bored and wandered off after a while. About 15 minutes later, Marcia came back into my room. She sat down on the foot of my bed and asked me,
“Mom, do animals have age of consent laws too?
Seeing that I was still sitting at my computer when she came back in, I paused for a moment and held my gut/initial response back when she asked the age of consent question.
I contemplated showing her the videos about bonobos from the Sex at Dawn website. I think I paused out of shame because the bonobos are pansexual; Children bonobos approach adult bonobos sexually and vice versa. As a parent, I have HUGE issues with pedophilia, hebephilia, etc and I know it would be a crazy moral leap to think that somehow that animal behavior gives permission or any acceptability to that behavior in humans. In that split second when I decided not to show that video I figured it was too soon to talk about that. However, didn’t I just say in the blog “when kids ask is when to talk to them about it”? Ugh, what did I get myself into…
I stalled… “Um, I don’t know. That’s a really good question.” I took a deep breath and did the best I could by saying to her, “Animals don’t have laws the way people have laws. There is, I’m sure, an acceptable code of behavior and, I’m sure, animals know instinctively when other animals are “ready for courtship, mating, and sexual behavior. It may even be that they learn when they play.”
I was a bit shocked at the maturity of her question – she’s 9 years old. I couldn’t honestly recall when she and I would have had that conversation but taking a moment to process I think we started by talking about the ages teenagers and young adults have to be in order to vote, drink alcohol, and have sex. She understood the voting rule. The drinking thing and the sex thing seemed to puzzle her because she understands personal responsibility.
She was dumbfounded by the fact that there’s an age people are “allowed” to have sex. This kid was the one to say to me once not too long ago “Sex is not a privilege; it cannot be taken away from us. I don’t know where Marcia got it – because I never said this before to her – All I could think was “Oh honey. I hope it stays that way.” (She is aware of the efforts of some politicians and religious groups who wish to do just that – she is clear that they are doing this because they think that’s what God wants).
I guess this further reinforces the thought I had – I have always had – that children understand what you tell them. And they will remember LONG after you forgot you talked about it. Make sure you are honest from the beginning because, as evidenced here, it MAY come back to you.