I don’t believe that you can find any more excuses to not talk about sex with your preteen and teenage children. Tiger Woods—by committing serial infidelity and having his appalling sexual behavior splashed all over the media—has handed you the perfect opportunity to talk about sex with your children, draw lessons, and offer your opinions and values about the scandal.
This opportunity is almost too good to be true. Who would have thought that Tiger—the seemingly perfect American Idol and man of impeccable morals—would help parents break the ice about sex, a topic they often avoid. Well, Tiger’s transgressions have given you a great chance to finally have “the Big Talk,” and also talk with your children about what constitutes really bad behavior by a husband and father.
I know that many fathers—and mothers to a lesser degree—may have knees of jelly and suffer from mouth-stuck-to-the-palate syndrome when they know that the subject is sex. But this conversation does not have to be about the S word. It should primarily be about the V word: Values. This may make it an easier conversation than you think, but talking about values with your children also requires courage.
I learned the importance of the V word in conversations about sexuality from Richard Cross, a wonderful medical doctor, professor, and sex educator who lived in Princeton until his death some years ago. Dick, who specialized in community medicine, had a distinguished career as a professor at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. He believed that all conversations about sex should include discussions about personal and societal values and not only focus on the clinical aspects of sex.
One of Dick’s claims to fame was the development of the first-ever sex education course for medical students and other health professionals offered as part of a medical school curriculum. Still called Sex Week at UMDNJ in New Brunswick, it remains an annual 40-hour course to “prepare students—regardless of their planned specialty—to deal with patients’ sexual concerns and…how to take a patient’s sexual history.” During Sex Week, students met in small groups and spent a lot of time discussing their values about the topic.
Dick would probably smile to know that I am pairing him with Tiger Woods since, to the best of my knowledge, I never saw him with a golf club in his hand. But I think he would endorse the idea that the golfer’s sudden free-fall from grace offers a great moment to discuss such values as honesty, respect, faithfulness, loyalty, trust, and love.
I believe Dick would want to tell you, as parents, to be completely honest and tell your children the truth about Tiger Woods’ behavior: Tiger Woods—a married man and the father of two young children—had a series of sexual affairs with a surprisingly large number of single women almost from the beginning of his marriage. Of course, Dick would say that parents should be prepared to answer their children’s specific questions, including “what is sexual intercourse?” and “what is an affair?”
Dick would also recommend that you say how you feel about Tiger’s infidelity and dishonesty. This requires getting your own values straight about sexual behavior within and outside of marriage. Here’s a father-and-son scenario that helps make my points:
Son (who is around 10 to 12 years old): Dad, what’s a cheetah?
Father: A cheetah is a wild animal, like a leopard or tiger. Why do you ask?
Son: Well, some guys at school were talking about a newspaper headline that said, “Tiger is a Cheetah.” I think the Tiger they meant is Tiger Woods.
Father: Yes, the use of the word “cheetah” is a play on words; what they mean is that Tiger is a “cheater.” It is spelled differently.
Son: So, Tiger Woods is a “cheater” the way someone who plays football or any sport can cheat during a game? How did he cheat at golf?
Father: Tiger Woods didn’t cheat at golf. He cheated on his wife, Elin, by having affairs with other women while he and Elin were married.
Son: What does “having affairs” mean?
Father: In Tiger Woods’ situation, having affairs means that he was having sex with women other than his wife. We call this “extra-marital” sex, or sex outside of marriage. When Tiger got married, he most likely took a vow to remain faithful to his wife, which meant that he promised not to have sexual intercourse with any other woman. He was unfaithful to her.
Son: When you married Mom, did you take the same kind of vow?
Father: Yes, I did. Your mom took the same vow saying that she was going to remain sexually faithful to me during our marriage, and I vowed to remain sexually faithful to her. Most of your friends’ parents took the same vows when they got married. Sadly, some adults do not remain faithful to their partners, despite the words that they say to each other. Tiger is definitely one of these people.
Son: How do you feel about Tiger Woods now, since he had affairs with other women?
Father: I still admire his prowess at golf. He is and probably may always be the best golfer in history. But I do not approve of his behavior at all and am disappointed by his lack of honesty and fidelity to his wife and his lack of respect for his little children and his marriage vows. Since I believe that a person’s character and values are as important as his or her accomplishments in life, I shall never have the same respect for Tiger Woods I once had. He is no longer a hero to me.
Son: I think I’ve got it straight. Thanks, Dad.
Father: We’ll talk more over the coming years about values, like honesty, respect, caring, love, and responsibility. But it makes me feel good to know that you can ask me tough questions about subjects like sex. Anytime you have another question, I will do my best to answer it.
Ideally, Dads and Moms should bring up Tiger Woods before their kids do. His story cannot be avoided: it’s on the cover of every magazine, and he’s the endless subject for commentators on cable news networks, late-night talk shows, and the Internet. Your kids must be itching to talk about Tiger, and have their questions answered and confusion wiped away.
I don’t think that Tiger’s behavior, reprehensible as it is, should be the only aspect of the scandal in family discussions. The women who had sex with Tiger were not, by and large, innocent bystanders. They were part of the problem, and they caused pain and suffering by their willingness to have affairs with Woods.
They strike me as women who hunger for celebrity and money. Some were naive to think that Tiger might leave his wife and small children for them, and some fancied he was in love with them, even though he was recently married. I found their stories and denials on the talk shows disheartening, even pathetic. They had so little self-esteem. Why, I wondered, couldn’t one of them have said no to Tiger and sent him packing? If you have teen daughters, you need to talk about why these women were so needy and willing to do whatever Tiger asked.
The Tiger Woods story is the surprising holiday gift of the year. It can help us all think more deeply about our values and sexual behavior. Perhaps if Tiger had had the chance to talk and think deeply about sex and values earlier in his life, things might have gone differently for him.
Best wishes, parents, and let me know how your discussions go. Happy new year, too.