Recently I delivered “the talk” to my 11-year-old son. Like most dads, this was a moment I looked forward to, and dreaded. How would I begin to raise the issue, gauge my son’s reaction, give him enough information but not too much? My wife was not too sure this was the right time to explain the “birds and the bees” to her “baby.” But I knew he was hearing things in school and Boy Scout campouts, and I wanted to be the first to pass on the facts about this great human mystery of love, sex and reproduction.
The moment came and I was pretty pleased with myself that all seemed to go well. I talked about God’s design for creation and mankind, placed the physical sexual act within the larger context of love and marriage, and ended by saying what a joyful miracle it was to see the birth of my first son – the boy I was now talking to. He shrugged a lot as I spoke, nodded his head, smiled and frowned, said at one point (I forget when) “Are you sure about that?” – and seemed satisfied to get on with his life of sports, books, food, videos and teasing his little brother.
Yet uneasiness crept over me as I realized that I would need to have a second talk. At some point I would have to tell him about what science has thrust upon us. We had just had the “sex talk” but soon I would need to give the “asexual talk” about other reproduction methods and why they are wrong. Suddenly the brave new world was besieging my Catholic castle. It had leapt the moat and crashed the walls of our family life, and I felt betrayed. Every sentence of my carefully thought out and deeply felt talk with my son about the sacred nature of sex and the miracle of life was contradicted by the technology and culture of our day.
How do I tell my son that sex is not just fluids to be mixed in test tubes or measured out in milliliters by pipettes and beakers? How can I explain that sex is not science, and that the Catholic Church is the last institution on earth defending sex as joyful, wild, crazy and unpredictable against the prudish stare of nihilists who would make it sterile and inconsequential? How do I say that the sexual liberators and porn purveyors are the ones who are terrified of sex and the fullness of its pleasures? They shrink from the most natural effects of sex, fearful that it may unite them by irrational bands to a beloved and engender another living, breathing, soul-enfleshed being who will change them and the world forever – a child. How can I say that sex is sacred, and worth more than a click of a mouse on some dancing digital image?
This will be the more difficult dialogue with my son because it involves the conflict of eros and agape that goes on in every heart. Our culture has made eros to appear as all there is. I must find a way to let in agape, in my own heart and in my own marriage, and maybe then my son will see in me the true love that lies in his own heart.