What’s the Difference between Sex and Attraction?

The last two week’s blogs were The X’s and Y’s of Sex (chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity) and What’s the Deal with Gender? (gender identity) This week is all about sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation 

Sad child on black background. Portrait depression girlGender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. Your gender is what you are and how you see yourself. Your sexual orientation is who you are attracted to.

Again, the kindergarten version was somewhat simplified. Sexual orientation is more of a range, with people who are completely heterosexual at one end and people who are completely homosexual at the other. In the middle are the rest. About one in ten to one in fourteen people will define themselves as homosexual. That percentage crosses boundaries of race, religion, and background. It is the same no matter how children are parented. Homosexual behavior is even present in most other species. It is biology. It is not a choice.

If you decide to believe it is a choice, you are indulging in weakness and delusion, and you run the risk of destroying your children. Get over it.

Sexual orientation is firmly established by middle school. We don’t see it until adolescence only because that is when sexual behavior rears its terrifying head. Sending your teenager for religious or psychiatric counseling will not change their orientation. They cannot “pray themselves straight.” Why would you want them to? Remember that unconditional love and acceptance you promised when you saw their newborn cuteness? Pay up. Your children will need your acceptance; there are a multitude of ignorant bullies out there just waiting for someone to pick on.

It will be hard. All those dreams you had for your children will be a effected by this revelation. He or she wanted to be a teacher? There will be difficulties. You hoped for grandchildren? Possible still, but not as simple. They will be harassed, labeled, and assaulted. Their self-esteem will be challenged. The rates of depression are higher in homosexuals, as are the rates of suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Kids who are dealing with being homosexual miss an average of two weeks more school per year than heterosexuals–with a resultant cost in learning–because we are insecure and afraid, and we tolerate bullying.

The most frequent argument against homosexuality is that it is against the Bible. Yep, it is. The Old Testament–the new one has no comment–written around eight thousand years ago, before we had any understanding of biology or chromosomes or inheritance, said that it is a sin. Then it contradicted itself and said that David and Jonathan’s love for each other was beautiful and eternal. It also said that slavery is fine, that it was all right to sell our daughters, that we need to put to death anyone found working on a Sunday, and that a thief should have his hand cut off. It said marriage was a contract between one man and as many wives as he could afford.

We can use the Bible to uphold almost any opinion: the stories are there to support anything from slavery to murder. We have chosen in recent times not to follow many of the ancient traditions from biblical times. I, for instance, may have thought about selling my daughter a time or two, but I never actually did it. I quite enjoy bacon, and I wear fabric blends on a regular basis. It seems more about human nature than the strict desire to follow the Bible literally that we choose the one text that allows us to feel superior and to judge, while discarding other tracts that are also obviously outdated.

Would it not be better to assume that a higher being would not want us to judge and hate his creations? Particularly when that creation is our own child?

Cultures pick out minorities to bully in order to unite their group and feel superior. We like to feel like we are better than the othersThose people are not welcome in our group.

Why not simply be better instead? Judge not? Not throw that first stone? Concentrate on improving ourselves so that we won’t have to put others down to feel that we have value? Then, if our children have questions, they will not be afraid to come to us for answers.

Let’s give our kids a safe, nurturing environment in which they can thrive. If we are secure in our own selves, we do not need to throw our insular craziness into our children’s lives. If your immediate impulse is to judge and hate, look into yourself for the cure. Ignorance and stupidity are not fertile ground for love and acceptance. Love the child you have—not the one you imagined. That one doesn’t need you or your love; this one does.

 

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What’s the Deal with Gender?

Last week’s blog, The X’s and Y’s of Sex, was about chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity. This week is all about gender identity.

girl-playing-doc-01Gender

Webster’s Dictionary defines gender as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Note the total lack of chromosome analysis or exacting descriptions of genitalia? That is because gender identity is not the same as sex; it is a collection of traits typically associated with one sex or another in whatever culture you belong. Pleated skirts? Scottish men in the 1600s. High heels? Frenchmen in the time of Louis XIV. Guyliner? Egyptian men did it first. Women in pants? Heavens, no … not before Katherine Hepburn.

Gender identity is not wired to your reproductive system and it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation; it is in your mind and soul. We don’t understand the biology of gender identification any more than the Romans understood chromosomes. That does not make it less real.

Children start identifying with their own gender by one year of age; by two years, they recognize physical differences. By three, your pediatrician will get a decisive answer to “Are you a boy or a girl?” The label is firmly attached.

After three, children gravitate toward whatever activities their society attaches to their gender. If they were a male born in the time of Louis XIV, this would mean wearing a wig and high heels; now it means appreciating cars and playing sports. It is not any specifc activity; it is what society dictates.

Children in their middle years will gravitate toward their own sex. They play the games the other boys or girls play, develop the physical mannerisms typical of their sex, and role-play behavior specific to their sex. They conform. When they conform, they feel comfortable, safe, and self-confident.

Gender Identity

For some kids, conforming isn’t easy. They know early on that they belong in the opposite sex. They choose the opposite sex as their peer group and role-play the opposite roles. They cannot accept their biological sex.

Counseling can help these kids deal, but in no way does it change their gender identity.

This is not the girl who is a “tomboy” or the boy who has some feminine traits. This is the person who in his mind is a boy stuck in the body of a girl, or the opposite. People with gender “confusion” can be miserable every day of their lives. Their whole lives are lies, down to their most basic identity.

Lately we have chosen to make this worse by making it a political and religious issue, I assume so we who are not transexual can feel superior and have the fun of judging and condemning other people. (No, there is not one mention of it in the Bible, so don’t go there.)

Why don’t we practice a little empathy instead? We are each of us not perfect, and we all want the same things in life: air to breathe, shelter, love…

If we have a need to hate and condemn, the problem is in our own minds, not in a stranger’s behavior.

So we’ve talked about the X’s and Y’s and gender; next week is all about sexual orientation.

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The X’s and Y’s of Sex: What Makes a Boy or a Girl

Infant feet-01Remember high school biology? You were taught that humans had forty-six chromosomes. There were two each of twenty-two pairs, and then there were your sex chromosomes, the Xs and Ys. If you had two X chromosomes (XX), you were a girl. An X and a Y (XY) made you a boy.

It’s not actually that simple. That is the most common arrangement, but there are many variations. When you have a variation on any other chromosome, it causes physical issues that are unfortunate and sometimes deadly. If you have three number twenty-one chromosomes you have Down’s syndrome, and your life will be different.

We don’t ever blame the child, right? Nobody asked them if they wanted the usual forty-six chromosomes or if they would mind having an extra. It’s not their fault.

When the extra or missing chromosomes are the Xs or Ys, suddenly we involve social judgment and religion. Why? I can only assume that we are all so uncomfortable with sexuality that we would rather judge than understand.

You’re reading the wrong blog if you wanted to get away with that.

Variations

One in 840 male births are an XYY. We used to think that this made the men more violent because the tests were all done on men in prisons. Once we started testing men who were not in prison, it turned out that there weren’t actually many differences. Most are completely normal. There is a mild tendency toward tallness, poor fine motor control, weakness, and some speech and language issues. Most of these guys never know they aren’t the typical XY.

One in 500 males have XXY, or Klinefelter’s disease. These kids do have some physical issues, such as a tendency toward long limbs, smaller genitals, and slightly less intelligence than they would have had without that extra chromosome.

When you get into larger numbers of chromosomes, you see more problems. XXYY and XXXY kids tend to need testosterone replacement. XXXY and XXXXY kids tend to be short with small genitals, mental defciency, and elbow issues.

Without any Y chromosome, we get girl babies. XXX girls are usually tall and sometimes uncoordinated. Rather like the XYY males, most won’t ever know they have it. Girls with as many as five X chromosomes have been found. The more X chromosomes they have, the more problems: they tend to become shorter, with mental defciency and behavior issues.

About one in 2,000 live births are XO girls who are missing one X or Y chromosome. They have Turner’s syndrome. They have lymphedema (fluid swelling under the skin) before they are born and frequently have extra skin at the neck. They tend to be short, with wide chests and gonadal dysgenesis (sex organs that do not develop normally).

To add to all these variants, we have mosaics: two fertilized eggs fuse so that the resultant person has half a body with the typical XX or XY and half a body with a variation.

Variations with the Usual Chromosome Count

There are also variations that occur with the typical complement of chromosomes.

Girls with testicular feminization have 46XY. Their chromosomes say “boy,” but their bodies are insensitive to testosterone. They grow up as girls and don’t realize there is a problem until adolescence, when fertility issues arise.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) will give you a baby that has been virilized. On a girl, the clitoris will be enlarged, and the labia can become fused. It is difficult to tell when the baby is born if it is a boy or a girl until the chromosomes come back. Since the first question everyone asks is “Is it a boy or a girl?” this can be very traumatic to the families involved.

Adrenocortical tumors can also be virilizing, giving the child more masculine traits than they otherwise would have had.

Enough? There are many more. Biology is not as simple as they taught you in grade school, and throwing judgment and religion at it does not change it or help in any way. Ignorance is ugly.

The gender issues and sexual orientation parts of this blog got really long, so…

Come back next week please!

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Your Daughter’s Vagina

marilynThis week my amazing daughter handed my son-in-law a daughter. This brand new person has lots of silky dark hair, deep blue eyes and 2 dimples. She is a 7# 8oz miracle.

In the last few days my son-in-law has heard endless versions of “You’re in deep trouble, man,” “You’ll need a shotgun,” and “The boys will be after her!” My son-in-law is a deep thinker, so he gave it some deep thought and said, “Why?”

Assuming we want our daughters to have joy in life, fulfillment in their chosen work, family, and love: why then do we not want them to have sex? It seems an essential part of the picture.

When we actually consider why we feel this way, it comes down to the unfortunate fact that we equate a woman’s value with her sexual appeal, but devalue women when they actually have sex. No sex? Virginity and a pedestal. Sex with one man? Mother and Madonna. Sex with more? We have a direct line of descent into whoredom, where your daughter can be given a monetary value.

Then we confuse this scale by judging a woman’s value by how sexy she is. I once heard a med student say about the best kid cancer doc I knew, “What else could she do? She’s damned homely.” We want our daughters to be sexy, but not to have sex.

The valuation for men is perhaps equally harsh, but diametrically opposed. Virginity brings snickers and derision. Faithfulness to one women is sometimes thought to be gullible and foolish. Sex with many women is part of the admirable macho stereotype: men have conquests and “sew their wild oats,” admire James Bond, Casanova and Don Juan, and slap each other on the back as they carve notches into their belts or acquire trophy wives.

Math works, and these numbers do not add up.

There are of course other problems with these assumptions: not only are we devaluing our daughters, we are also making life difficult for our sons. We want our boys to have self respect, good long term relationships with their partners and the maturity to hang around to see their children grow up. Herpes, AIDs, and serial shallow relationships devoid of respect will not bring them this future.

So what is the solution?

We need to give our own values serious consideration, and then evenhandedly teach those values to both our sons and our daughters. We cannot tell our boys that it is OK to get a girl drunk so that she will have sex with them, and then tell our daughters that if they drink too much and have sex they are whores. We cannot tell our boys they are not manly if they choose to wait for love, and our girls that they must wait, or they are trash. It does not work to dress our seven year old daughters in spangles and teach them to hip thrust to sexy music, but then insist they remain innocent.

We need a coherent, honorable, human plan. Consider the future you want for your child, give thought to how sex fits into that future, be fair, be stringently honest, and build rules consistent with that future.

Some simple rules might be: we don’t want you to have sex until you are fully mature; we want you to be in a relationship built on love and mutual respect when you do; we want you to be safe and responsible.

Follow your own rules. Start when your babies are brand new, behave honorably, and be consistent throughout their childhoods. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never and will never work, because in the end your children will know you very well indeed.

  • Watch what you say, both to your own partner and about the other people in your life, because words and judgments will worm their way into your child’s mind and later poke holes in his or her self worth.
  • Keep conversation open, so that when they hear something at school or at a friend’s house they know they can ask you about it. They need to be able to come to you when they have questions. Give them knowledge so that they will be able to make good decisions.
  • Monitor what they see on the internet and on TV. Much of what is on screens these days will need explanation.
  • They will probably make mistakes. When they do, it is perfectly all right to discipline them, because they did break your rules (aren’t you glad you made those rules beforehand, and made sure he or she understood them?) Do not, however, add judgment to the mix. Give them time and space to think and consider the consequences of their actions. Allow them the chance to do better next time. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is hard enough to forgive yourself and go on, without the ones you love adding to the weight of regret in your heart.
  • Never throw labels at them, because labels will leach onto their brains forever. They will never forget that their parent, who should love them no matter what, called them trash, or a slut. They might even feel that they have to live up to the label.
  • Sex is a powerful weapon. If handled well it can bring joy, deepen a loving relationship, and create life. A parent’s example provides the model, good or bad, for their child to follow; thoughtless words from that same parent’s mouth can echo in their brains and make them bleed.
  • Society’s views, as seen in your neighborhood or church, and on the screen in everything from commercials to movies to music, have an impact.
  • How we think about sex, our behavior, and the inner judgments of our own actions effect everything from our relationships to our health, our self esteem to our future.

Sex can be a natural part of a fulfilled life, or it can injure your child’s mind, body and soul, up to the point of self-injury, depression, and death. It is important. It is deserving of respect and careful consideration, and an absolutely equal and consistent application of those conclusions to the parenting of both our sons and our daughters.

My son-in-law is brilliant, you know, and he was right.