Consenting to Questions
It starts simply enough. These conversations do. We pull onto I-91, skirt Northampton afternoon traffic to the edge of town to get my allergy shots.
Mama, why do they throw away the needles? Why don’t they use them again?
My practice is to answer my child’s questions when he asks. The trick is answering only the question he has asked. Questions beget questions.
I explain about contamination, how my blood is on the needle and could share germs with somebody else if the allergy nurse used it again. I can’t recall now whether he asked what germs or whether I volunteered information, but within a quarter mile I was explaining HIV. How scientists haven’t figured out how to fix the disease from those germs so the best thing is to not get it.
How do you get it? Of course he asks.
Not through sneezes or spit like colds, but from blood and …. take a deep breath as silently as possible so he doesn’t notice the pause before I answer honestly… from the liquids from your penis or vagina. (Yes, I know, not from pee. But I was improvising at 65 mph!)
Which of course begs the question how those liquids get shared. And suddenly I‘m talking about sex with my first grader. Again.
We review, referencing the book It’s Not the Stork, which saved me when he was four. I remind him about the rubber socks for penises that stop germs and sperm, aka baby seeds.
And now were talking about making – or not making – babies.
Why would you do that if you didn’t want to make a baby grow?
And now I’m talking about sex for pleasure with my first grader.
Because it feels good.
And here’s where I smile at the thought process of my sensitive, sweet boy. This question:
Does it feel good for the girl too?
For once, I had a good answer in good time. Yes, when it’s done right.
His next question comes, of course, on the sidewalk approaching the allergy clinic. I imagine the conversation continuing as we walk inside: the loud-is-normal kiddo voice, the smirks or scowls in the waiting room. But his train of thought needs a station.
What if the woman wants a baby growing in her belly but there isn’t one so the man surprises her and does that thing and then the next year for Christmas she gets a baby?
As we walk up the ramp, I add a new term to my first grader’s growing vocabulary: consent.
Both people need to agree to use their bodies. Even if the woman wants a baby, it’s never ok to surprise somebody with sex.
Opening the clinic door, I realize we’ve reached a pivotal point in the conversation. He must sense it too. Uncharacteristically, he drops the inquiry and plays magnet tiles until my shots are complete. He asks nothing more. I tell nothing more.
Some questions don’t have answers I want to share with my son. Our dialogue teetered at the edge of a place I haven’t been willing to go: sometimes sex hurts people. Sometimes people use sex to hurt. I’m at a loss over how to answer the ubiquitous question I know will follow:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ginny is a pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner, offering classes and support to busy moms carrying the pain of too much stress and too little exercise, rest, and self-care time. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com