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How to talk about sex, according to 'grey-haired' dads

Author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie waits with dancers backstage for his turn on stage as the keynote speaker at a celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, at Seattle's City Hall.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie waits with dancers backstage for his turn on stage as the keynote speaker at a celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, at Seattle's City Hall. ";

Who better to talk sex with than self-described "old, gray-haired dads" Sherman Alexie and Daniel Handler? KUOW’s Bill Radke sat down with the two authors to talk about how adolescence has gone from treehouses in the woods to porn on phones.

We've included some of our favorite gems, but you can listen to the full interview above.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Do you remember you first experience reading about sex?", "style": "wide"}]]Sherman Alexie

“On the reservation growing up we had two porn magazines for my entire generation of boys, and they were in a treehouse out in the woods.

“Relatively tame, in fact very tame compared with what a teenage person has access to now. I vividly remember how illicit it felt, how secretive, and then the notion of being together as boys looking at these together – just all felt forbidden and interesting.

“The conversations have so dramatically changed from when I was a kid, so I just keep thinking, ‘Where is that safe treehouse for kids in this generation now?”

Bill Radke

“My friend took me to the book section of the 7-11, which I had not been aware of. I never walked over there. And we stood there reading and the 7-11 began to spin, and I ran outside and sat on my skateboard to throw up.

“When I say throw up, I don’t mean I was disgusted. I was just spinningly, nauseatingly thrilled. Think roller coaster.”

Daniel Handler

“I was always reading above my age level and I was often confused by adult literature. Because if you are pre-sexual all of that is really mysterious. My sister and I would be in the house alone on Saturday nights when my parents would go out and we would watch The Love Boat every time. And I remember one day suddenly realizing, ‘Oh, they’re having sex!’”

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "On talking about sex with their sons", "style": "wide"}]]Handler

“My mantra is, it’s embarrassing. Instead of saying ‘There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, let’s just talk about it,’ I say, ‘Obviously this is going to be embarrassing, extremely mortifying, so let’s just talk about it.’ Own that it’s going to be mortifying. And for me, to face discomfort is one of the most powerful things you can do.

“I think one of the things you have to do in this amnesiac, kind of happy culture in which we’re living is to face your own discomfort, to face your own shame about these things”


“It really is about trying to be a feminist, progressive person and parent in the midst of all this objectification of women, but also the objectification of men. And then all this binary thinking about what sexuality and gender is. So in the midst of all this public discussion, this revolutionary change in the way in which we perceive ourselves and others, you end up just kind of teaching your kid how to be a decent human being.

“But it really comes down to what Daniel said: teaching my sons, my straight cis little males, how to be respectful and honoring of their own vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of everybody around them.

“How do you teach them to be positive about their own sexuality in the midst of this tsunami of change.

“It’s incredibly complicated and I don’t think we know the extent to which human sexuality has been dramatically changed in positive and negative ways because of the huge amount of information that’s instantly accessible to a kid at such an early age.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

Year started with KUOW: 2012
Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012