“Mommy, where do babies come from?” It is a question that parents dread. My own parents smartly answered the question before it was ever asked. Not too long ago, it was also easily answered, if it had to be asked at all. The culprits of this sorry state of affairs are our separation from our agrarian roots, increased individual privacy, and perversely, the growing openness about sexuality and promiscuity.
While I am too scrupulous to relate my own sexual history, I will relate that of an acquaintance, who told it to me in discussions about this essay. I think his are fairly typical experiences, but this is such a personal matter that I suppose everyone’s experience is typical in its uniqueness.
Before he ever asked the question, he remembers, as a preschooler, reading a children’s picture book about the subject. It was simply illustrated, without words, and it was left where he could find it and read it by himself. The presentation was that a man and a woman would lie naked in a bed together, they would hug and kiss, and from that a baby would start growing inside the woman’s belly. It would grow inside her and come out some time later.
That account satisfied him until he was in first grade, when he asked his father why his penis would get hard. The dad replied that it happened when one had to pee or when one was in love. He knew that he didn’t have to pee all the time, so he tried to figure out with whom he was in love. He picked a pretty girl in our class and dutifully told her one day. She took it very seriously at first, though he thinks she forgot about it the next day.
He quietly carried a chaste obsession for her into the fourth grade, when he started having inklings of what was behind his father’s euphemistic use of the word “love”. He remembers figuring out the mechanical necessity of an erect penis for coition, and informing his classmates of his (still unproven) hypothesis. One friend did him one better by explaining his married brother’s revelation of what a “blowjob” was. They all reacted with appropriate shocked disgust at the notion of putting one’s penis in someone’s mouth.
Fifth grade brought with it their first formal Sex Ed. sessions, which they tittered through. His most vivid memory of it was passing around a dog-eared advertisement clipping for a “pocket pussy”. One class clown blew their clandestine joke by loudly exclaiming “$15.95? What a ripoff!” in mock outrage.
Middle School saw Penthouse Forum letters and Hustler magazine fill in the rest of the blanks. By the beginning of High School, Health class and the frightening (and necessary) publicity of AIDS prevention had completed his scholarly education concerning sex.
His fieldwork on the matter was very sparse into young adulthood. He had a smattering of inconsequential occasions of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” played in prepubescence. Summer camp eventually gave him some practice at heavy petting and french-kissing. High School was much more hit than miss. Through the good graces of a much more experienced underclass girl, he managed to lose his virginity by 16, something he was desperate to do.
Therein ends this tawdry digression into a random sexual education. My friend did learn enough to avoid catching any venereal diseases or siring any bastards. He is thankful to the good sense of forthright health education on this score.
But his education, while healthful, was also a sterile and academic one. Which brings me to my first lament of agrarian decline and the farm mentioned in this essay’s title. For most of human history, almost all people were farmers, herders or hunters. In the United States. It is only in the last two centuries that this has gradually ceased to be. This can be seen in the chart below of United States farm labor as compared to total labor, from 1800 - 1960 .(source: Historical Abstract of the US, Colonial Times to 1970, series D 167-181)
From 84% of Americans being farmers to less than 3% today. So what does farming have to do with sex education? Farming has plenty to do with sex education, since farming is about getting living things to breed and grow and that is the essence of sex. Farmers know about the nuts and bolts of sex, because it is their business to know about it. Kids on a farm don’t need to read a book about sex because they see the chickens and pigs and horses and cows doing it daily. And unlike our modern neurotic confusion about what sex is all about, children on a farm are familiar with practical examples of it on a daily basis. They might not talk about human reproduction at the dinner table, but studs and brood mares and their breeding are just shop talk.
The next obstacle to a casual understanding of sex is the increasing sense of individual privacy of modern society. It used to everybody knew everyone’s else’s business, because communities were rarely large enough to allow for anonymity. This led to gossip and a healthy inkling of what the neighbors were up to. And since everyone didn’t have their own room to sleep in, it was harder for secrets to be kept as to what Mommy and Daddy, or your older sister and her boyfriend, did at night. What was a typical date in colonial New England for a young unmarried couple contemplating marriage? They slept together overnight, with their parents’ blessings. If the girl got pregnant, they got married. You don’t buy a stud horse, after all, if you aren’t sure it can sire foals. Now we buy self-help books, go to therapists, kill ourselves and suffer from depression. Where we used to gossip about the neighbors, our shared stories of personal foibles are now dominated by remote, semi-divine celebrity icons. The average guy is inconsequential and anonymous, even to his own girlfriend, who probably know more about what turns on Tom Cruise than her own boyfriend.
The third related obstacle to a normal understanding about sex is the very openness with which sex and promiscuity are discussed nowadays. Pornography is so ubiquitous, perversions are so normalized that the average person is overwhelmed by sexuality. I’m not arguing against the teaching of health science, the basic facts about venereal disease and reproduction. This basic education is necessary, good and useful. What I think we need less of is German scheisse videos. Just as the gross expansion of commercialized music has seen the decline of casual musicianship, so Long Dong Silver and breast implants have left most of us feeling totally inadequate, or hungry for unachievable temptations.
So there you have it. If you want to give your kids a healthy education in sex, start farming, get rid of your cable TV and Internet, and slap your wife’s ass in public once in a while.