Oliver has been hounding me on and off for the last few months to tell him how the babies in moms’ bellies actually get out. And I have spent those months deflecting his inquiries by telling him to ask his dad, or promising to tell him “later” and then “forgetting.”
Then, of course, I found out that in the off-weeks, his dad has been answering his questions with, “Ask your mother.” Oh, haha. Sometimes my life feels like a poorly written sitcom.
My avoidance of the subject was effective up until a couple of weeks ago, when our neighbors brought their new baby home from the hospital. That’s when Oliver’s questions started again.
“Will you please tell me how the baby gets out of the mom?” he begged over dinner the other night.
I warned him that it might be a little gross, and then I explained that the baby lives in a little “pouch” inside the mom called the uterus. (I made the mistake of first trying to compare us to kangaroos, and for about 20 seconds the kid thought humans had actual baby pouches on the outside of their bodies -- but don’t worry, I set the record straight.) I told him that sometimes the doctor performs a surgery and takes the baby out, but that usually the mom uses her muscles to push the baby out through her vagina.
“Like this?” he asked, and lifted up his shirt to show me how he was flexing his stomach muscles.
“Well, kind of. It’s sort of like if you have to take a really big poop. It’s those same muscles the mom uses to push the baby out.” The thought of a woman pooping out a baby was too much for the kid to handle, and he erupted in a fit of giggles. But still, he remained unfazed.
“That’s not even that bad, Mom. You could have told me that when I was five.”
Of course, he still hasn’t asked how the baby gets IN the mom. That will be a whole other conversation, one that I’m not sure I’m ready to have. But my kid doesn’t embarrass easily, and neither do I, so I think when the time comes we’ll be cool.
My mom and I never had “the talk.” When I was 10, she just handed me a book called “Lynda Madaras’ Growing-Up Guide for Girls,” which had, of course, illustrations of sex organs and explanations of body changes. I spent so much time looking at the illustration of the penis inside the vagina that the spine of the book is still creased, 25 years later. Yes, I still have the book, and I dug it out of my closet just for you!
It was also part journal, and included quizzes and “freewriting exercises.” Like this one:
Surely not everyone's mom or dad handed them a book. I asked other xoJaners about “the talk” they had with their parents, and here’s what they had to say:
Mandy: I don't remember a talk. Wish I had one.
Marianne: In the 80s, Georgia public school sex ed started kind of early, I guess. So I'd say it was the 3rd grade when I took home a permission slip for sex ed.
I remember bringing it to my mom the night before -- she was already in bed with the lamp on the side table turned on. She squinted at the form, signed it, and handed it back to me.
"Now, just remember," she said to me. "If you have ANY questions, be sure to ask the teacher."
Thus ends the only time I have ever talked about sex with my mother.
Honestly, though, I had the most thorough sex ed ever -- with increasing detail about STDs and masturbation -- in Cherokee and Fulton counties. And it was kind of great because no one was embarrassed about anything so I didn't really pick up on anything being shameful.
Other than that, I got a lot of sex ed from Heinlein, which was probably less good, what with all the incest.
Madeline: Yeah, my mom explained it to me. I thought it was gross but also wasn't really that surprised to learn about it. I didn't really know that your vulva wasn't your vagina because I was still so young; I didn't really know about the vag-hole. So I imagined that intercourse kind of looked like a hot dog in a hot dog bun. That's the first thing I thought of when I first imagined sex.
Rebecca: My sex talk with my mum is stamped on my memory in mortifying technicolour -- mainly because I didn't have a clue what was involved and was genuinely shocked and disgusted by the whole thing.
My mum sat me down and said, "Right, what's the closest a man and a woman could possibly be?" At that point it sort of dawned on me what she was talking about (I was about 9 at this time -- I'm not sure how this information had passed me by through four years at school, but it did).
I remember thinking to myself, "Nooooooo," and being incredibly mortified at the very thought of it. I also had a sneaking suspicion that my mum was making the whole thing up.
I think she then went into the whole thing in a bit more detail, while I stared at her, incredulous and open-mouthed. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "Ha, you're mental if you think I'm ever doing that!"
Fortunately, I did get over that, eventually.
s.e.: I don't remember getting the talk -- I do remember reading a lot, including nonfiction reference, and getting a pretty good idea of the score.
My favourite sex-related parental education moment has to be the time I was reading something and encountered a word I didn't know, so I went to ask my dad about it, and the following conversation ensued:
"Hey Joe, what does 'orgasm' mean?"
"Uh, go look it up in the OED."
So I did.
Lesley: By the time my dad explained it in very rudimentary and clinical terms, I was already pretty aware, between talking to friends at school, and the fact that the older daughter of the guy my mom was living with at the time took it upon herself explain the aspects of sex that don't get covered in the typical school sex-ed program, like what blowjobs are and how it felt to lose her virginity. Some of what I gathered was utterly false but surprisingly, most of it was accurate. Weirdly, most of the bad information came from adults, like when my dad's then-girlfriend ferociously insisted to teenage me that you can avoid pregnancy by peeing after sex, or that you can't get knocked up if you have sex in a pool.
Daisy: I found "Where Do I Come From?" on the bookshelf when I was four or five and that was that. I don't know if my mother knew I found that book or what, but she never discussed sex with me ever. Which was perfectly fine with me.
Emily: All I remember is my mom sitting me down after I got my first period and telling me that my body was now "capable of making a baby" so I had to be very careful. It was all unhelpfully vague. I proceeded to be very uncareful.
India-Jewel: So, my mom told me I was going to the YMCA one Monday night to play sports. She led me into a room filled with other young, equally as confused 13-year-old girls, told me to sit down and listen as she turned around and left. She picked me up an hour later, asked me if I learned anything, and changed the subject. I haven't been right since.
Though I should note, when I was 16, my boyfriend told me he was going to break up with me if I didn't have sex with him, so I ran home to her crying and asked her what I should do. She told me to do what I thought was best.
I thought it best to drop his ass and hold on to my V-card. I never told her the outcome, but I like to think that she'd be proud of me for not being pressured into making the wrong decision.
Kate: I got literally all of my initial sex education from the Internet and the dictionary (I have a distinct memory of looking up "masturbation" when I was around seven or so) so I thought I was hot shit by the time my parents gave me a book and ran away. Naturally, most of that Internet info was patently wrong, but a book about the cellular science of sperm and eggs wasn't gonna help, MOM.
My parents have always been kind of cowardly about discussing sex.
Julieanne: My mom CLAIMS that she gave me the talk after I tearfully related a story I'd heard on the bus about Rod Stewart swallowing so much semen that he had to be hospitalized. I doubt the veracity of this story because I was way too cool to cry and also am not a Rod Stewart fan. What I do remember is that my mom told me we were going to have the talk, and then sneaking into her room to read a book on how to have the talk with your kids and finding out that way.
Helena: My mom referred to sex as "grown-up games" until I went to college at which point she told me that if I ever got pregnant I could just finish out the semester, pop the baby out over break, give it to her to raise temporarily and then go back to school. Needless to say this never happened. I think in sixth grade my best friend's mom told us the most about sex before high school Health. She said when a man gets "really excited" he "ejaculates" from his penis and that's what gets you preggos. So FOREVER I thought pee could get you pregnant.
Olivia went right to the source and asked her mom (who seems awesome, by the way):
And I've saved the best for last (I swear I'm only sucking up a little bit), from Jane: My parents were artists (painting and drawing) so my dad drew very graphic pictures for me and my brothers and sister to illustrate how it all happened. I remember the pen-and-ink penis particularly well.
So, did your parents have the sex talk with you? How old were you? Did you just find out from other kids, or school, or movies? Did you get a book, like I did? And was there any sort of funny thing you thought about sex that you learned was NOT the case, like how Helena thought pee could get you pregnant? Share please!
Somer is on Twitter @somersherwood