Monday, September 25, 2006

Sex is a two-letter word

WAITING in line at the bank, I felt what seemed like feathers brushing against my fanny.

I froze. Hold-ups are staged in banks but harassment? I remembered, just before I slipped behind the last person in the queue, a barrel-chested fellow in a tight white shirt was behind me.

I, however, am a pushover at confrontations. Though squirming inside, I just moved surreptitiously forward, putting space between me and what must have been Mr. Muscles’ six-foot-long feather duster.

But when those fiendish feathers grabbed and squeezed a plump handful of my by-now-scarlet-with-embarrassment appendage, I already whirled around in fury.

And caught my attacker in the act. While Mr. Muscles and I looked down, a tot, whose Prince Valiant haircut was still brushing against that offended part of me, watched the National Geographic program playing on the bank’s overhead TV.

Noticing us, the kid chortled companionably before going back to watching some cold-blooded species mate on the mute screen.

Mortified, I dipped my head slightly in the direction of the falsely accused white shirt. I made silent amends to Muscles’ invisible feather duster.

And as embarrassment is best swallowed by pretending distraction, I joined the tot in his intense study of lust among the insects.

Twenty seconds later, I was reeling with wonder. Had I stumbled on possibly the best solution to every parent’s problem: how do you talk about sex to your children?

The answer was simply hovering above Prince Valiant’s head: get young people to watch naturalist TV.

Unlike shampoo commercials that show in situ evidence how human males are immobilized by a few flicks of a predatory female’s mane, your teenager is not bound to pick up any dangerous urges after watching scorpions fool around with their stingers or fire ants do the come-hither with what seems like a swollen, transparent bubble dangling from their otherwise twig-like behinds.

Unlike in reality shows, the naturalist TV hostess making a erudite commentary on the peepfest is never a long-limbed goddess in a micro mini. It is a field biologist, usually swathed in the bland and dusty asexuality of khaki, which also obscures its gender, discernible only because of the existence of a moustache.

The reader fortunate enough not to be a seriously disturbed parent must be confused by all these crossed-up signals. How do you educate young people about sex by refusing to talk about sex?

There lies the unraveling of the whole entangled knot: alarmed that 20 percent of young adults engage in premarital sex, we remain tight-lipped about their bodies and their choices, including safe sex. We only expound to the young that unsanctified sex is “awful preparation” for marriage.

Sex is anything but awful, as our present population of teeming millions tells us.

Do we care that young people tune out when we deign to talk to them about sex? I care more that abortion cases jumped by 56 percent since 2001. It worries me that a young girl who meticulously plans her wardrobe might not even know enough to avoid pregnancy if she decides to go for that “awful” business.

It’s all about being in control of your life, I glumly told my rapt partner while we watched small slimy frogs kick up a mountain of bubbles in a National Geographic moment of ardor.

Prince Valiant chortled when the bubbles toppled over and covered up the amorous amphibians. His father moved away from the teller. The tot let go of my numb behind.

I said goodbye, thinking: I learned about the birds and the bees by watching our dogs. Will you have it easier because of cable TV?

Prince Valiant looked back and blew me a bubble.

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