January 5th, 2013
When I was a kid my parents didn’t talk to me about sex. At eight, when I asked my mom what a condom was, she told me it was a “water balloon you throw off the roof at people.” Her answer had some correlation with the two of us watching The Summer of ’42 where Jennifer O’Neal’s husband dies in the war and she sleeps with the grocery boy. When I was nine I read one of my mom’s Cosmopolitan magazines which caused me to query, “What’s the female orgasm?” To which she replied, “It’s a type of pleasurable seizure.” Hm.
I’d rather King Henry III had drawn and quartered me before discussing sex with my dad and I don’t recall my stepmom broaching the subject either. But I knew from attending church that sex was only allowed “within the bonds of marriage,” otherwise I’d go straight into the “fiery inferno” when I died. (Unless I could figure out how to stay alive forever).
So when I lost my virginity to my college sweetheart I did not have a “pleasurable seizure,” he did not use a “water ballon you throw at people off the roof” or any other version of birth control because I didn’t intend to have sex until it was “within the bonds of marriage” in order to avoid the “fiery inferno.”
Unfortunately my body, when left alone with this boy long enough, had other ideas. I was very lucky not to get pregnant. I did, however, contract a glamorous case of gonorrhea, which, when diagnosed, caused me to fall into a massive shame spiral from which I didn’t emerge until I was thirty-two.
I think my parents absolutely did the best they could but I, like all grown children, think I can do better. We won’t really know though, will we, until my kids are grown? Oh, how I pray they don’t become bloggers.
I’ve talked to my kids off and on about sex since they were quite little, hoping to take the taboo off the topic so they won’t rebel and end up on Teen Moms, but also because I want to be the first source of information for them about sex. I don’t want to leave it to Lindsay Lohan on the front page of The Enquirer in the grocery line. Or to that 5th grader with the tattoos who dominates the tetherball court at recess.
So I’ve started reading Joanna Cole’s Asking About Sex & Growing Up to my oldest, Clare.
Every night I say, “We’re reading the sex book ,” as if I were really saying, “We’re cleaning the kitty litter box.” Clare groans in annoyance and I waiver. But then I remind myself that very soon I’ll miss my window of opportunity and Clare won’t want to talk to me about this stuff at all.
So we hunker down in her bed and I read in the tone of a Masters & Johnson research analyst. Very dry and scientific. But inside I still feel squeamish using words like “clitoris,” “testicles,” “ejaculation” and “orgasm” in front of my daughter as if, by saying the words aloud, she’ll instantaneously turn into an underaged sex fiend. I’m afflicted by the magical thinking that if I don’t say the word “sex” she won’t want it until she’s thirty (at which point I would like a grandchild). That we can leapfrog over all the hormonal pitfalls of high school to a place where she’s safe and secure in the arms of a man who really loves her.
But, once I start reading and some of our mutual embarrassment dies down, Clare’s questions start coming. And the questions aren’t just about the biology of sex, they’re also about the psychology and morality of sex. The questions aren’t always easy to answer. Like the one where she asked if I’ve had sex with anyone other than her father.
There was, shall we say, a pregnant pause after that one.
I realized I could be honest without telling her everything. I told her there were a few other men besides her father because we married later in life. And that some of the men loved me and some didn’t. I told her sex is best when people are in love, otherwise feelings can get hurt. Which led very naturally into a discussion about the awkward topics of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy and made me realize I’m the mom who will take my teenagers to Planned Parenthood for contraception. Not to encourage early sex, but to prevent life altering mistakes should it happen.
As we discuss the book I’m surprised at how mature Clare’s thinking is, (“I wouldn’t be responsible enough to have a baby when I’m sixteen. But can I babysit when I’m 14?” ”Yes!”) and I’m relieved that as soon as I close the book she wants to show me the new Lego Death Star she built.
Clare and I will finish Cole’s book tonight and I suspect we’ll both be relieved, but I’m so glad we’ve read it together because I feel like I’m learning how to communicate about this delicate topic without overstepping my bounds and that we’re developing some bonds of trust so that she might be able to turn to me when she’s older and things get more complicated.I’d love to hear your thoughts about discussing sex with your children. (This was not a sponsored post).
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