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Issue In Focus: The Conversations We Don’t Have

A woman in a white sleeveless tee shirt.

A long, long time ago, in a room far, far away, I remember playing at being a mythological hero I cannot name for fear of mass hysteria. My childhood friend was wife to my hero. As I, hero, stepped toward the edge of the room, on my way to the forest to hunt (!?) and forage, she, wife, called me back to tell me our baby was hungry. I remember that feeling of bewilderment I experienced then, very clearly. Why should a baby enter this hunting story? I didn’t know we had one! Feed it then, I told her, feeling very irritated. But how, asked she, I have to give the baby milk. She stared at my face with great expectation of mighty deeds. I went blank with confusion and uck-ness. I had no clue what to do. This was forbidden conversation. It made me uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was return to the hunt. This feeding baby milk business doesn’t happen in tales of brave adventure. Up until now I had loved this friend of mine but after this incident I don’t recall playing with her again, ever. I think I may have run home. My love ended where gender clashed! We were both two little girls about six years old. One wanted to play wife and mother, the other, a bachelor, hunter, prince!

Quite often babies become an entry point to discussing love and sexuality with children within a family. This is what we tell them: When two people love each other, they get married and have babies. Or we tell them some version of this that may include a stork. It is the same thing we were told and then go on to tell ourselves slightly more embellished versions of. Love and sexuality, the primer, and so many of us live with this version from the age of six, to sixteen to twenty six, and more. It’s time to revise the primer. For the older lot at least. After that we can decide what to tell the children.

Speaking of six-year-olds, 15 Real Stories about Kids Exploring Sex is a must visit! Here’s a sample:

I think there was a great deal of love and an acceptance of sexuality in some of those families, such as in the story you can read in the image, where siblings, love, sexuality, stuffed animals, relatives and a mother add up to a potboiler!

There are many different kinds of love and many different forms of sexuality and sexual expression, and if we overlaid these, we would be closer to the truth.

So back to babies. A child is born. Depending on socio-cultural norms, family history and the particular circumstances around this birth, there will be joy, celebration or an absence of these. Joy if the mother and child are fine, joy if the parents are married (to each other) and joy if there is a family making cooing sounds around them.

A child is born. Nobody knows the father. It isn’t immaculate conception. Sex has been had. What about Love? The minor girl who exchanges pictures of her naked self with an online admirer ‘old enough to be her father’ may be in love. With him. Who may also be in love with her. He then meets her and they proceed to explore their love in sexually intimate ways and through acts of sex. She may be one month short of 18 or a few years short of 18, but if 18 is the legal age of sexual consent in her country she and her partner are in serious trouble.Oh dear. We were so busy clapping at the perfect, acceptable love followed by marriage and babies, that this slipped past us.

There are many back stories, possible and existing in the real world, playing out in the time it takes to read this blog, stories where love in all its avatars and sexuality in all its avatars are entwined. Brother and sister separated by cousinhood fall in love and the story progresses from there whether you approve or not. Different people have different perspectives on this. Brother and sister not separated by anything meet years after a childhood spent apart and unknowing of their siblinghood proceed to sexually progress their story of love. There is an actual term for this: genetic sexual attraction (GSA), it’s called. Alix Kirsta says, “Because of the revulsion aroused by incest, and the stigma attached to anyone who admits experiencing GSA – let alone those who embark on sexual relations with a parent or sibling – the condition remains obscured by myth, tainted by smutty innuendo, under-reported by sufferers and, worse, virtually ignored in academic circles. Although, occasionally, a story involving GSA is given predictably lurid tabloid coverage, ignorance prevails. Why GSA occurs only in some reunions, whether certain people are more predisposed to GSA than others, or whether it manifests itself differently between parents and children or siblings, is simply unknown. Above all, GSA raises serious questions about what factors influence sexual attraction…”

There is no awareness of the role of sexuality beyond the romantic partner relationship, in other relationships of love or family ties. Because there is no awareness, there is sometimes no concept of boundaries because after all, why would such boundaries be needed in this space? John Caffaro, in an interesting piece on siblings, says, “Sibling sexual abuse is the most closely kept secret in the field of family violence.” The piece of writing I have quoted from has been sparked off by a book written by actor, writer, director, producer Lena Dunham, who has caused great upheaval by describing her relationship with her sister that included sexual exploration. Perspective enters this conversation because she calls exploration what some others have called abuse. I don’t know what her sister calls it. This is a relevant debate across countries and cultures.

At the very least, this expands the boundaries of love and sexuality. It means that there is more to our human stories, and there are people who have lived these experiences. Let me confess to you that in writing and researching these things I feel as if I have transgressed. The moral, ethical impositions of the two-people-fall-in-love-get-married-and-have-a-baby story are super strong. Yet, if one thought that the only people who can be in the closet are the ones with the rainbow flags, well, hey, there are other closets. The human experience of love and sexuality does not restrict itself to law and ‘morality’.

We need to fight the fear of speaking of these things. We don’t know what to do with love and sexuality if it isn’t acceptable romantic love between two acceptable romantic partners whom we can allow the expression of their sexuality in that relationship and in ways we accept. Anything else is ‘umm’. ‘Umm’ is dangerous. In not speaking of the forbidden, in stigmatising ourselves, we often reject who we are. This doesn’t change anything about us really. It doesn’t mean we have dealt with who we are. What it does mean is that we often don’t know who we are until something hits us over the head. We are dis-enfranchised, we no longer belong. This happens often. I think there are more outsiders amongst us than we think.

In ‘umm’, there is no awareness, no working your way through the right and the wrong, the pros, cons, yes, no, why, of any of it. There’s more to this conversation than ‘umm’.

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