Having a Real Sex Talk with Your Kids is the Best-Worst Thing a Parent Can Do
A piece by Erica Garza called Sex Talk Was Taboo in my Latinx Parents’ House got me thinking:
I don’t remember having the Sex Talk with my parents.
I don’t remember any kind of Sex Talk. That memory would burn into my brain, I’m sure of it— the awkwardness, the red-faced embarrassment, the shrinking away and the curling of my shoulders as I tried to evade the discussion.
My parents would discuss it with me. They were responsible and present in my life.
So why don’t I remember it?
I remember the Alcohol Talk. My mother let me drink when I was 18 (in the house, under her supervision, after my friends mocked me for being terrible during a drunk scene in the school musical).
I remember the Marijuana Talk. A night out with upperclassmen turned into a smokefest at a secluded lake. I — the lone freshman — sat apart and alone, terrified of the lingering haze. Later that night my father asked with a laugh, “So, didja smoke a doobie?”
(No, Father. I did not.)
It’s possible the Sex Talk memory was so mortifying that I mentally blocked it, but that’s doubtful. I’ve been in therapy long enough for a hidden blockbuster nightmare to rear its hydra head.
This leaves the logical conclusion: We never discussed it.
How is that possible?
Dealing with your child’s puberty is the most embarrassing, necessary part of being a parent. They pretend not to notice the porn in the family computer’s search history or stains on bedsheets going through the wash. The teen pretends not to notice the parents noticing. It’s part of the package. They signed up for it when they made us.
My mom did impress one lesson: Don’t let anyone make you do anything. She related this to a story of her being assaulted by a drunk patron while bartending.
She made me take karate classes for the better part of a decade.
Sex Ed in school wasn’t any better. I knew how to fight someone away from my crotch. I didn’t know what to do with a welcome patron.
One week in health class was spent sweating profusely as we learned the basics of procreation. The anatomical drawing of a penis entering a vagina made no sense to me. I couldn’t even figure out how to insert a tampon. Nothing below the waist existed yet; I’d gone on no journeys of self-discovery.
I paled. How was that supposed to go in there?
The only other memory I have is the teacher stomping around the classroom, her hands planted in a triangle formation over her narrow pelvis. “This is the uterus!” she barked, emphasizing it with her fingers. That image burned into my memory: fingers in a triangle against pleated khakis. This is the uterus. That’s where the baby goes.
And with that crucial knowledge, I was sent off into the world.
I got married before I even became curious about my sexuality. Luckily, my husband is the perfect companion for this necessary exploration.
There’s just so much I need to learn about myself. I had my first orgasm by accident. I was way past my majority before I learned the difference between sex for procreation and sex for pleasure. Health classes in school focused on the consequences, the don’t get pregnant part without impressing the most important information: Sex is supposed to be fun. It’s not just a vehicle for offspring.
Sex serves a higher purpose. It’s mouths and hands and dicks and pussies and wet and messy and needed and fun. I had no idea my body was capable of such pleasure. Sex Ed didn’t mention the clitoris. Nobody mentioned the clitoris.
Another thing that neither parents nor school imparted: Gender is fluid. Sexuality is a spectrum. It’s okay to not be okay with yourself. It’s okay to want something else.
There are days I couldn’t give a shit about sex. Other days, I want to climb my husband like a tree. Some days I dress masculine, others I dress feminine. It’s a new world we explore together. He stands beside me as I flirt with the cute barista, holding my hand and grinning while I blush like a schoolgirl. He gives me the freedom to discover what I like — who I like.
If I’d known how much I like girls, for instance, and if I’d been aware of the possibility earlier, things would be very different.
(I didn’t even experiment with kink until after graduate school. There’s something to be said for figuring things out on your own, on your own time, but I’m a blind explorer stumbling through the wilds of an uncharted continent.)
Other people became aware of their sexual preferences much earlier than I did. They were braver and far more determined to learn on their own. One of my best friends knew he was gay in the seventh grade. I had my first crush on a girl when I was fourteen but was terrified of the potential ramifications. Girls didn’t date girls. It just wasn’t done. Plus, I still liked boys… didn’t I?
Except it was done. But nobody talked about it, so how was I to know? Remember, the Internet was in its infancy when I was a wee child.
If my parents or a teacher had said, “It’s okay to like girls. It’s perfectly normal. You can also like boys. You can like whoever you want,” would I have been braver? If I’d had the freedom to choose, what would I have done?
My husband and I want to know who we really are under society’s strictures. We want to learn about our bodies and our desires. We want to experience everything and understand ourselves better in doing so. Most importantly, we want to do it together.
If I’d known this sort of freedom from the beginning, who would I be now?
I don’t know if I’ll ever have children. We’ve talked about adopting and fostering. It will be mortifying for all parties involved, but I promise to tell those future children what their bodies are capable of: the consequences, yes, but also the rest of it.
The important parts.