Mother's Day is a wonderful opportunity for me to remember to thank all the women in my life for the joy they bring. It's a happy time being spring with flowers blooming -- the lilacs are doing especially well in my yard -- and also reminds me of the birds and the bees. Um, those birds and bees.
The most important women in my life span three generations. I am a father of a soon-to-be 15-year-old, the husband of a 53-year-old, and the son of an 86-year-old. [Ages are displayed here with consent!] I am a part of the sexual and reproductive health decision-making of them all.
National Women's Health Week is an excellent time for me to make a pitch to all men to take a more active role in the health of the women they love. The hardest part about having discussions about human sexuality is just getting started. Use the week to have one conversation. I promise that it gets easier.
In my own neighborhood I am often "that guy" who advocates that parents have more frequent discussions about sex with their children. They balk because they view their children as unprepared for the conversation; perhaps bringing it up would plant ideas that should remain in the wind. I counter with research that shows the children of parents who have more frequent and positive conversations about sex are more likely to delay sex.
Counterintuitive, right? Sure, but perhaps what's going on is that the topic is being demystified. It doesn't become taboo. Because there's no reason to "feel weird," I believe my daughter will make better decisions. If she can talk to me then she's more likely to communicate her needs with her partner and others. Teens consistently say that they want to hear from their parents on these issues and that it is parents that most influence their decisions about relationships and sex. Why stay silent? When we do, all of the "education" is delivered by peers and media unless your child is lucky enough to have a good medical provider in their life.
So, we talk about what birth control she'll use when she's ready, avoiding STIs, and how her body works. I also point her to fun resources she can use to learn about healthy relationships. Nothing is taboo. The result is that she is not embarrassed about any of these topics and she can talk about them with her provider and, someday, with her partner. Maybe my relationship is special, but I think not. It's only special because we have these conversations.
My relationship with my mother is a totally different story. She never had "the talk" with me, but here I am at nearly 50 years old having it with her. My father passed away in 1996 and now, many years later, my mother has found herself in a relationship. The woman who didn't dare get on a plane in the first 30-plus years of my life was going to the Bahamas!
Sexually transmitted infection is a huge issue in the aging community. Seniors' sex lives are more active--and so is the rate of STIs. I have to admit that my first conversation with my mother wasn't easy--and she resisted--but a little bit of humor goes a long way. I used some kind of silly "dad joke," as my daughter would say, to break the ice. It wasn't a long conversation, but I could tell that the effect was felt. I just reminded her of a few tips. It is now easier for us to talk about this and other things. A nice unintended consequence!
I related all of this to my wife, who chuckled. She has been through all of this too--both with her family and with me.
I have to admit that our own sexual health conversations have gotten easier. No more birth control! But as we both transition from our younger selves to something older it is ever more important not to ignore our sexuality.
National Women's Health Week is a fine time to initiate a conversation if you have been putting it off. I've been married for 25 years. It's easy to make assumptions and fall into routines--especially with the demands of work and family more intense than ever--but good conversation has made this a period of better sex. Apparently, I'm not the only one for whom sex in the 50s is better than the 20s! I welcome a trigger, an excuse, to talk about what we need from each other sexually.
Talking with my wife also makes the other conversations easier. Practice with the woman with whom you are closest and see if it helps you with the other women in your life. They need you to participate to be their healthiest.
It only takes one conversation to start.