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Let’s talk about sex: Highlights from our chat with John Bohannon and Carl Flink

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“The birds and the bees” and “the facts of life.” These are the terms adults have come up with when it comes to talking to kids about sex. At TED2012, writer John Bohannon showed dismay at the fact that adults don’t feel comfortable talking to kids about sex, or drugs for that matter, without resorting to scare tactics. In an acrobatic performance — choreographed by Carl Flink, danced by Black Label Movement and scored by celloists Jelloslave — the talk calls for adults to address about these difficult subjects in the same way they would have wanted to hear about them when they were teens.

On Monday, December 17, Bohannon and Flink sat down for a live Q&A with the TED Conversations community, asking everyone to share what they remember of the sex talk they got as a teen. Read the full discussion — and see some of the most interesting interactions below.

Jordan Reeves stated:

I’m gay, but my parents talked to me about how sex works between a man and a woman. I wonder if any of you parents will talk to your kids about heterosexual AND homosexual relations. I mean, many of these kids already have preferences, but for those that do not, I think it’s important to inform them about sex in the most general terms (between two people that are in love or two people that are attracted to each other — not just between a man and a woman). Does that make sense?

John Bohannon responded:

My sense is that society has a long way to go before any but the most liberated heterosexual parents will talk to their kids about homosexuality. But I hope that will change fast.

And Carl Flink chimed in:

Fantastic question, Jordan. This is something that we have already had multiple conversations about in our household. The various debates around so-called “Marriage Amendments” prompted us to have talks with our daughters about what marriage is and how we as parents think about it. It was so interesting to hear from my 10-year-old before we ever said anything to them about this, “Dad, I don’t understand why I can’t marry anyone that I love and want to be with.” Wow, from the mouths of babes.

Shobit Puri wrote: 

I remember: my father took me to a separate room and asked me some questions before he actually explained me everything literally. I remember few of them. The first question was: did you ever feel something when you woke up in the morning? It was followed by another one: he asked me to try and remember if I saw any beautiful classmates of mine in my dreams?

The conversation was pretty much direct. I really appreciated that. I am proud that it happened and I came to know everything from my father, instead of friends telling different stories.

I think, being a doctor, it was easier for him and he was comfortable talking to me about it. I agree that normally it’s rare.

To which Carl Flink responded:

Thanks for sharing this Shobhit.

I know it’s not on the topic of sex, but I want to also say that John Bohannon is a fearless TED Speaker. How many TED Speakers are there who would be willing to do their entire TALK while being moved upside down, laying on people’s heads, etc. He’s a brave man!


Carl Flink stated:

Something that occurs to me as we have this conversation is that there are many facets to this conversation to consider. There is learning about how we reproduce, there is learning about how our particular reproduction can be pleasurable and there is talking about the enormous spectrum of sexuality that is happening with no goal of reproduction. These are all things to consider talking about with our children and have differing layers of discomfort for us as parents and educators.

To which Lauren Baker responded:

I think that’s one more reason why it shouldn’t be one “talk” but rather be an open topic to talk about as more questions come up.