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David Boulding Lawyer from British Columbia advises parents of sons with FASD on the 'Rules of Sex'

David Boulding Port Coquitlam BC

03 April 2011

Here are the rules for sex:

  1. Only have sex with people the same age as you.
  2. Before you start sex make sure everyone says “yes” out loud.
Sex is always a difficult topic because every time you and I discuss sex we reveal more about ourselves than we do about the specific selected sexual topic. It is like criticizing Shakespeare; you are being read not the Bard of Avon!

Sex like money is the great engine. Most divorces, most murders, most civil lawsuits are about sex and or money. Callum, the grade nine teenager, I have hired to help me paint the basement this Sunday afternoon had his first sex course in grade six. He remembers, perhaps in grade seven, using a condom on a banana. Saturday, he said he knew what a lubricated condom was and admitted he learned most of what he knows about sex from his peers, not from the classroom. His peers in the playground seem to be the best source of his sex information.  He says people always laugh nervously in the sex classes at school and he is clearly more comfortable talking sex with his buddies.  The same was true for me in 1965. And you?

And it is also true today that people with Fetal Alcohol are probably learning about sex mainly from their peers. And who are their developmentally equal peers? Usually they become the complainants in their criminal cases.

Judith Rich Harris in the NURTURE ASSUMPTION opines that peers are more important than parents. She marshals the data persuasively. In the old days I would suggest that parents with kids in criminal court read this book because it does explain to parents what happened. My quick Sunday morning poll (15 year old Callum and 58 year old David) indicates the Harris assertion is true when discussing sex.

We, as adults, have failed our children in sex education. My parents never said anything about sex and when I meet parents at conferences there are always several who tell me that their son has been arrested for sex with an underage child. For the last five or six years I  get a phone call, an email, an enquiry of some sort at the rate of about one a week that goes like this:

Briefly, the nervousness, the uneasy laughter Callum speaks off at his  grade nine sex education class is not just about sex; it is about a lack of relationship. The teacher is uncomfortable and does not want to be there and neither do the kids (because they already know much of the course content from their peers on the playground).And in those grades sex talk with adults is socially awkward. Kids require the safety of relationship before they will open up about sex. This explains the high volume of information they acquire on the playground.

Nora Baladarian is wonderful and everyone is immediately comfortable with her. Relationship skills must be the first qualification to be a sex therapist. I watched her navigate a room of some 1500 people at a disability conference in L.A. Everyone wanted to talk to her, to reach out and touch her, and to be recognized by her. There is a lesson here. She reminds me of Bill Clinton because she can work a room and every one feels seen and heard. To me this means when talking sex you must communicate that you want to be with the people, not telling them what to do or be. Nora can align herself with anyone; then deliver the straight goods.

When I meet people who work in the prison system, the forensic psychiatrists who do the sex offender treatment programs, my first reaction is to run and wish Nora Baladarian would arrive like Samantha from the TV show Bewitched.

This quip may sound sophomoric to some. It may be. And every time it happens I wonder what is going on. I obviously have authority issues and sometimes I think the people who teach and talk about sex are machines not people. People with fetal alcohol are not stupid, they can tell when someone is uncomfortable because they have survived  socially by being vigilant, watching for cues to see if they are pleasing or at least not irritating the people in charge.

Everyone can spot “faking good” with high accuracy. “Faking good” is death in a relationship. If there is no relationship, your sex talk, your sex advice will fall away unheard.

When you begin to explain the two rules of sex, you must be in relationship, not in a power based dynamic of “I know, you do not “.Relationship skills can be taught. Here I mean speak as you would like to be spoken to.

Respect requires looking twice before speaking. If something else is going on, address it first because attention focused elsewhere means no one is listening.

Repetition requires heart and the awareness that you may need the info once or twice. Your son may need to hear it every day for years!

Relevance and sex need no explanation, except that if you choose to invade the land of weird metaphor instead of speaking plain English you will fail. The bird and the bees never made sense to me. Try saying penis and vagina!

Rhythmic is the key. Rhythm keeps the info fresh and not stale and boring. Find the rhythms of the person, each evening, each Saturday night. Rhythm is musical and makes life fun!

And of course rewarding means not just, “here is a cookie or a dollar”, it means giving yourself fully present to the other. There is no greater gift than just being with someone because you want to be there!

The last ingredient requires recognizing that the brain before you is missing pieces. That brain is not like yours recognize the limits and the strengths of that brain and build on the strengths…..this may require the information to be visual or even music. I can remember in 1974 when Dr. Bennet Wong played for me the song from musical HAIR, “Masturbation can be fun”…I did not know what the word meant! I can still laugh at his gentle humour: well, someone had to tell me!

I have set out the seven “R”s in a pedantic way, because there is this assumption that a PhD makes you an expert not only in your thesis topic, but also in all things human. Good probation officers are rare. Everyone in court can spot them. The same goes for any profession. If we want to help people with fetal alcohol, we need to be human first, and skilled in our trade second. And this practice point is often laughed at by the army of good people with PhD’s.  We forget that relationship is forged in the limbic system, the dog brain, the Lassie brain. We plough on relentlessly with our sex talk as if we were speaking to ourselves or someone like ourselves with a brain like ours. The reason you, my gentle readers, are not in prison, and my clients are, is because we think, and often they do not. Yet we design our programs for our brains! A probation officer in South Dakota drove home this truth by telling me about her anti – theft program. She spent hours of individual time with one offender and watched him steal something off the desk of the receptionist as he left her office. Water off a duck’s back, I believe, is the technical explanation.

I take this hard line because this topic of sex offenders to too important to trivialize. WHAT WE ARE DOING IS NOT WORKING.  We need to look at the problem as a question of relationship, not course content.

There is another aspect to the rules of sex. My friend Diane Malbin upon hearing about this article asked: Are the rules for the person with FASD, or the persons around the person with FASD? Excellent point! A quick inspection of how we are with people with fetal alcohol reveals we often are controlling them so we can be comfortable with how they are.

My bias is that many of the drugs we give our young people (Ritalin etc) and the main function of anti-depressants is to make the lives of the people around depressed folks easier, that they actually do little good for the depressed.

These two rules are to keep brain compromised people out of jail. The rule for those people around people with FASD is simple: stop assuming their brain is like yours!  As we know there are joys in sex. And how little energy is spent there.  We focus on what goes wrong and fail to build on the person’s strengths. We must try to focus on what the person is doing well and create opportunities to multiply those situations.

A sex training course that is limited to the injunction “DO NOT DO THIS” is destined for failure. I refer readers to the theories and practices of APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY. The academic libraries have many books on the topic. And many people in business, in schools, and in sports have chosen this approach over inspecting and analyzing mistakes because being with people in a whole hearted ways gets results that intellectual bullying can never achieve. Any one who has worked with people with fetal alcohol knows this, except perhaps the people who talk about sex. Appreciative Inquiry works because it is personal. So I would advise parents when speaking about sex, get personal, speak about your first experiences. I can see professionals cringing, as if this suggestion is the height of unprofessionalism.

Your clients, your children, may be as easily embarrassed as you were about your first sexual hang-ups. They will enjoy having quality info about sex. The contact with you over this topic is a true bonding activity.

They may not be burdened by your religious manacles about sex. Lighten up.

As I said you can teach relationship. If you model relationship, they will learn relationship. To assist I want to point out a distinction about sex and relationship that most people choose to ignore.

Sex is all about the creation and release of sexual tension and sexual charge. Sex is a bodily function. This was researched and written up in the 1920’s by Wilhelm Reich, a young student of Freud’s. Today this is not news, yet most professionals who speak about sex have never read THE FUNCTION OF THE ORGASM, and a greater issue is that they make sex special, something somehow disconnected from the rhythms of life.

Too often we speak about sex as if it were strictly a set of behaviours easily classified as good or bad. The fuss about gay marriage, abortion, Catholic priests not allowed having sex, and the social silence about masturbation, indicates how difficult sex topics are for many.

Sex is not in any way related to relationship. My proof is the immortal industry of prostitution, now subsumed in the billion dollar internet pornography industry. And then there is all that masturbation. And then there is rape, which is about power and no one will say rape is relational.

Relationship is about sharing vulnerabilities, and risking who you are while in contact with another. Relationship is bonding. Relationship is intimate. I believe teaching, or being taught, is often the main intimate relationship in our lives.

We are all romantic and wish sex was within the confines of a relationship.  Some people still insist sex requires marriage. Seriously, how can such people give sex advice to people with pieces missing from their brains?

Sex is about fucking; relationship is the frame in which we choose to live our lives. One is biological, the other is existential.

If you wish to keep your son from committing “statutory rape “use the two rules and model human relationship. If you can separate sex and romantic relationships, if you can separate sex and intimate relationships you may be successful. If you do nothing, you risk your son’s life.

If you choose like me to delay, someone will go to jail because no one told your son the secret rules of life. And that is the truth of fetal alcohol: when the social secrets were passed out they were looking the other way.

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