Friday, October 3, 2014

World War II and Mormon Sex Ed

The night seemed like any other; we had just finished family scripture study, our nightly tradition of reading a chapter from the Book of Mormon before bed.  We had read about a man named Alma who was counseling/castigating his son Corianton for going after "the harlot Isabel."  Both the Bible and Book of Mormon are replete with stories like these, and we didn't take a second thought to the matter. But as my brother Trevor and I started putting away our scriptures, my father looked up and cheerfully asked, "Do you guys know what a harlot is?"

Thus began The Talk.  Trevor and I were instantly alert.  We didn't know what a harlot was, exactly, but neither of us felt this line of conversation was leading anywhere good--children are so perceptive. My father, initially filled with enthusiasm at the perceived parental teaching opportunity, was quickly deflated. Whenever the conversation butted up against specific, clinical terms, he would stutter, stammer and wipe his forehead. Mom tried her best to step in and offer clear explanation.  Her best efforts notwithstanding, Trevor and I eventually shuffled out of the room quietly, feeling wildly uncomfortable and more confused about that stuff than we had been an hour before.

The Talk.  It's among the few shared terrors of human existence.  No matter how anyone found all of that stuff out, it's a fair bet, they were dealt a traumatic experience in the process.  And most humans have to endure it at least twice: once when we're kids (Trev and I were 9 and 11, respectively), and then again when we have wide-eyed, horrified kids of our own doing all in their power to avoid eye contact.  It's the grim duty of every parent.

My youngest brother Nate is seven years Trevor's junior.  My parents, therefore, bore the burden knowledge that their parental duty to give The Talk had not yet passed.

So they put it off like champs.

I was 21 when I came home from my two year mission in Washington State.  I was an Adult, was old enough to drink, (I never did and never will, but knowing I could meant a lot.) and I pretty much had a handle on life.  To my wise, aged eyes, my parents seemed like two fellow adults who had somehow lost their bearing when it came to life decisions.  It was my responsibility to help them find their way again.  I was happy to lend a hand.

One day in passing right after Nate had turned 12, I overheard my mother remind my father they needed to think about giving Nate The Talk.

"You haven't given Nate The Talk yet?!"  I was incredulous.  At 12 years old, I was certain Nate had pieced together mechanics of you-know-what through bits and pieces he had overheard in the seedier corners of the recess playground.  As an Adult, I knew this led to nothing good for my little brother.  My mind's eye saw Nate and his future wife living in separate beds a la Ricky and Lucy, saw him permanently scarred when he learned about you-know-what from a particularly skeezy episode of  "Monk."  My worst fears took the form of a particularly unhappy shotgun wedding.  I wouldn't let this happen to a member of my family.

On duty, I hounded and harangued my parents to tell him.  For months.  Finally, my mother fired back in exasperation, "Stu, fine!  If you think it's so important and easy, maybe you should tell him, yourself!"

"I will if you guys won't!"

Fine!  Let me get him!"  Mom called Nate and sat him down on the couch.  The atmosphere in the room was  suddenly tense.  I'd felt that somewhere before.  Where was it?

"Nate, your brother has something he needs to Talk to you about, and it's really important, alright?"

Mom turned, arms folded and the smuggest smirk I have ever experienced gracing her face.  "Alright, Stu.  Go ahead."

Stuttering and stammering, I wiped my forehead.  "Ok, um, Nate, buddy, uh, I need to Talk to you.  Um, do you know where babies come from?"

My little brother's eyes grew wide and panicked.  He immediately glanced around, searching desperately for an exit.  He didn't answer my question.  This was already going poorly.  I remembered how traumatized I had been when my parents had dumped all the crass details into our laps so unceremoniously, so awkwardly. I wanted to be more deft than that., needed to find an analogy that would introduce the concepts without scarring him.

And then it struck me.

"Nate, you remember about World War II and D-Day?"  Nate nodded silently, still looking mildly frantic.  Mom's smirk had molded itself into a furrowed look of concern.

"Imagine you had a little Higgins boat like they had--you know those landing boats full of soldiers?  You know, like little sea men?  Well, what happened was they were in these boats that went up onto the shore. The boat released its soldiers and all the soldiers stormed the beach.  A lot of the soldiers didn't make it, but they all wanted to be the first one to get to Normandy."

Nate now wore an expression of mingled horror, bewilderment, and disgust.  I subconsciously realized I never knew how much he and Mom really looked alike; at least, one was doing a pretty uncanny impression of the other at that moment.

I continued, "And when the first soldier gets to Normandy, Normandy turns into a zygote."

Mom gasped, Nate cocked his head in alarmed confusion, covered his ears with his hands, shut his eyes, and hummed.  This was going poorly.  I felt flushed, mildly embarrassed and solidly out of my depth.  I mumbled something like, "I guess you don't know what a zygote is, huh?"

Mom cut me off, stepped in, and started to run damage control.  She started explaining to Nate in direct, scientific language without analogy.  She received points for clarity, but I felt my symbolic description was much more expressive and creative.  Whatever.  Nate got the talk from my mom, which is what I wanted in the first place.

Mission successful.  Though I found the experience more than a little uncomfortable, I'm actually grateful I had it.  I gained a few bits of wisdom that will serve me well when I eventually have to Talk to my own children.  They are as follows:

  • Kids need to hear the details in the most straightforward, clear way possible.
  • The use of D-Day as a historical analogy will forever sully June 6, and will introduce a number of unwelcome euphemisms into your life.
  • It's good to speak clearly without stutter or hesitation.  Aspire to be as good as the greats, like Jeff Goldblum, or Bob Newhart. (Also, never, during The Talk should the term, "Life, uh, finds a way" ever be used.)
  • Don't outsource the job to your barely-not-a-teenager son.  He'll foul it up, bigtime.
I would love to hear any other tips or cautionary tales.  I figure if I start preparing now, I'll be ready to tell my kids.  If I ever decide to have them.  How does that happen, anyway?


  1. That's funny that you compared sex to D-Day. :D I feel that the move towards sex-positive parenting is really great (check out the Huffington Post articles about it)! My sister and her husband have tried really hard to be open about sex even though it's sometimes been uncomfortable. I didn't get that and I wish I had. I am glad that my mom at least had a straightforward children's book that she read to us from pretty young (I think around 5?). I saw this YouTube video with 10 tips about "The Talk" recently and thought that I should remember it for the future. Maybe it will help you:

  2. Nate was most certainly younger than twelve. Other than that, guilty as charged. It's amazing ya'll haven't turned into serial killers or something equally dark. That said, I just can't wait to sit on the sidelines and watch you have a go at this parenting stuff. Muhahahahaha!!!!!