Is it too soon to start talking to my kid sister about sex?
Something unexpected happened while I was dropping my 11 year-old sister off at school the other week. As I pulled up, she looked at the other kids out front and immediately ducked her head down and urged me to drop her off at the back of the school. When I asked her why she told me the boy she liked was out there. I smiled warmly as I drove her around back and asked her more questions about what I believe was her first crush.
We exchanged I love you’s and said goodbye. I watched her walk up the school steps with her oversized pink backpack strapped around her shoulders. As she faded from view I leaned back in my seat, hands clasped firmly on 10 and 2, staring blankly at the concrete stairs. My little girl was growing up and it wouldn’t be long before the pressures of being a woman in a man’s world started weighing her down more than her backpack.
My sister is amazing. She’s smart, athletic, beautiful, and funny. But even more than that she’s patient, and kind, and forgiving. She’s the type of person that people gravitate towards. My mom tells me she’s friends with everyone and I believe it. When I hang out with my friends back home, they often invite my sister too despite her being 12 years younger than me. I’m so proud of her.
I trust her and I believe that she knows what is right, I’m just terrified that she doesn’t know what is wrong. Because in her eyes the world is still mostly innocent and people are generally good. And those who are bad are preceded by menacing theme music wherever they go. But anyone reading this knows that some villains don’t have handlebar mustaches and that sometimes the worst evils are committed because of ignorance, not out of foul-intent.
As a loving big brother I want to educate my sister on how to identify the dangers that aren’t marked by yellow tape but I also don’t want to rob her of the innocence every child deserves to enjoy. I’m just worried that if I don’t shatter the veil many other things will.
I remember my first experience with porn. I was ten. I was seated at the kitchen table while my step dad sat on the couch scrolling through the channels just a few feet away. He quickly moved from channel to channel but lingered just a little bit longer on an HBO program called “Real Sex” long enough for me to see a woman with her breasts exposed smiling at the camera. I didn’t know what sex was but I figured anything called “Real Sex” would be able to clarify any questions I had, so I waited until everyone went to bed and tried to find it on tv again.
Recently my step dad took my sister to watch Marvel’s Deadpool, a comic book movie that received a very hard R rating. When I found out I was mortified, then very angry. No little girl has any business watching that movie and while he assured me that she closed her eyes during the sex scenes, you can’t keep a child from hearing the moans of the actors or opening their fingers to get a peek.
The biggest issue with both me and my sister’s exposure to explicit sexual material as children is that it presented a lot of questions with no safe means of getting answers for them. We were both literally left to our own devices, a tv with late night programming for me and an iPad with high-speed internet for my sister. My sister possesses the power to access hardcore pornography right now and all she has to do is Google “naked” to find it.
But even if she didn’t seek to learn more about sex, the world throws sex in her face hundreds of times a day. And I know my parents won’t do much to help her understand any of it. Everywhere she goes, some advertisement uses a woman’s body to sell a product or just to be the product itself. As a growing boy, these ads just made me really excited. But for my sister, I’m afraid she’ll begin to look at these sexualized women from these ads as a standard or something to aspire to. My sister is really smart, but if you see that stuff everyday, there will always be a part of you that believes it. I mean, by now we’ve all bought into the lie. That’s why advertisers still do it.
I remember asking my parents in middle school the meaning of “I ate my girl out”, a phrase I saw on MySpace. My step dad tried to explain it to me as he drove me to the library. “You know what oral sex is?” I nodded yes. I thought it meant talking dirty to someone. “Well there you go,” he said avoiding eye contact with me at all costs. That was the only “sex” talk I received from my parents. Everything else I learned about it was from other prepubescent boys and Cinemax.
So how do I make sure I’m able to support my sister through things like this and, even more pressing in my mind, when? She’s still a kid. Her armpits don’t stink yet and she doesn’t wear a bra. But given my experience, to avoid talking about it with her feels irresponsible and I want to be able to give my sister the tools to process this information.
The thing is I don’t know what it’s like to be a girl. I can’t relate to her when she gets her first period. What age is that supposed to happen anyway? Has it happened already? I don’t know what it’s like to start growing breasts and comparing yourself to other girls based on the attention they receive from other boys. I don’t know what it’s like to have the majority of people sharing my gender identity on tv be over-sexualized and objectified.
I just know that when I was her age, I would have appreciated having someone to talk to about all of these things instead of trying to figure it out for myself. And I want to be a good role model for my sister and give her the space to talk openly about what she’s feeling or going through. I just don’t want to be the one to shatter the illusion that the world is far from perfect or fair. I don’t want to be the one to tell her that because she’s a girl, life is going to be a lot tougher on her than it ever was to me.
And here’s where I start to sympathize with my parents for avoiding the tough conversations I probably should’ve had with them as a kid. Just like they let me believe in Santa Clause until I grew out of it, they tried to let me be as carefree as possible for as long as possible. But if I’m being honest, I was a carefree kid but I was far from innocent. Just like everyone else in middle school, I’ve seen internet shock videos like the infamous 2 Girls 1 Cup in which two girls eat their own feces or the BME Pain Olympics where a man castrates himself on camera.
When I was a kid, I had to look up all this stuff on the family computer when nobody was home. My sister can do all of this from her unmonitored and unrestricted smart phone in her bedroom. So I guess the question isn’t when I should talk to my sister about these things, but how.
Perhaps I should just sit down and watch Girl Meets World with her. Cory and Topanga are way better at talking about these issues with their daughter than I am with my sister. Either way, these are conversations that need to happen and sooner rather than later. Any advice on how to go about this would be appreciated, because saying “Well there you go” doesn’t quite feel all that substantial of advice.
Marcus Garrett is the creator of Top Shelf Gaming, an editorial website that seeks to use the power of video games to impact online and local communities. He enjoys playing guitar, taking naps, and eating tacos. His idea of a perfect day is one where he gets to do all three. Follow him on Twitter @marcus_media.