We need to do better, much better, at talking to our kids about sex.
This isn’t a new concern; it stems from my own youth, but is still problematic today. You see, when I was a child, my parents didn’t talk about sex at all. I sensed a taboo about it, and I wouldn’t have asked my myriad of questions to them unless my very life depended on it.
In fourth and fifth grade, our classes separated and the boys learned about their bodies, and the rest of the girls and I learned about ours. I learned about ovaries, Fallopian tubes and periods, what to expect from my own body, and why hair was showing up in some places and bras we becoming a necessity, but the classes went no further. When I got home, I remember my mom tentatively asking if I had any questions, but her manner was so awkward that I declined. I did have questions, dozens of them, but I knew she didn’t want to talk about them. Not at all.
In middle school health class I remember someone mistakenly saying “orgasm” instead of “organism” and most of the class laughed, but I was late to laugh, looking around, trying to figure out the joke, because I had never heard the word “orgasm” before, and had no idea why it was hilarious.
Then, at the ripe young age of 13, I had a crush on a boy. One summer day, he invited himself to my house when nobody else was home. I thought this strange, but I hadn’t seen him since school let out, so I accepted, and he rode his Honda Spree over. He tried kissing me on the love seat while I watched my soaps, and leaned into me until we were horizontal together. Then he slid down his shorts, and then mine. My favorite Forenza shorts. I asked what he was doing and he said it was OK, but it hurt, and definitely didn’t feel OK. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stayed still beneath him while he bounced up and down on top of me. Then he got up, kissed me goodbye and left. He left something on the floor, a smelly wet balloon, which I didn’t understand, so I wrapped it carefully and threw it away, then I went to bed in the middle of the afternoon.
I never wore my favorite Forenza shorts again.
My friend called later that afternoon, and I told her what happened. She told me we had sex, which astonished me, because I thought that only happened to married people. I still wasn’t exactly certain what had happened, but I felt awful about it.
While this may not be a common story, I don’t think it’s that far out there. As a people pleaser with my first crush, I had one strike against me, but having no idea what sex was, or that it could happen to me, that was devastating.
I got yelled at for not wearing my favorite Forenza shorts anymore.
When I had children, I committed to doing things differently. Thankfully my first is so inquisitive she makes Sid the Science Kid look dull, so from the moment she found out there was another baby in my tummy she started asking questions, and I answered clearly and matter-of-factly, just like I answered her questions about the blue sky and green grass. We named parts and about how they go together and what it’s called when they do. We never sat down for “the big talk”; it was a conversation that has been ongoing for the better part of her 19 years of life.
I get it, I realize our culture suggests a false dichotomy between Puritanism and perversion, and that many think there’s not middle ground in between, but the dichotomy is false. The land between is vast and good.
Many of my daughter’s peers have the same kind of communication I had with my parents. The difference is access to computers and phones with the capacity to Google anything under the sun. Even if their parents have parental control settings, all it takes is one bus ride in a seat with someone who doesn’t for children to find out everything parents aren’t talking about.
I hope they fare better than I did.
Maybe being able to Google the word “orgasm” is better than my middle school experience in the mid 80s, but I would have rather heard it from my parents. It would have been better if the few questions I asked about a family member’s pregnancy at seven-years-old hadn’t been rebuffed, but rather answered in a way that showed my that sex as a topic was on the table for discussion. It would have been better if I could have asked my parents what an orgasm was when I came home from school that day.
It would have been better if sex wasn’t a taboo subject.