Nothing that I know about sex I learned from my parents.
Actually, I’m under the impression neither of my parents have ever gone past the first base before. Ever. If I’m just going off of pure evidence I could swear sex plays a negative factor in their lives. And I really can’t relate.
My mom had my brother and I within five years of marrying my dad. From the get-go, they planned on raising us to be the most well-behaved, moral, Sunday-school-going kids in town. They decided their best shot at that was to protect us from bad influences however they could. So they homeschooled us until I hit 8th grade, then we enrolled at a small Christian Evangelical school where I would join a class of 40 kids. All of my big, formative social experiences happened at a high school where dancing was outlawed and the girls who made out with “too many” people were slut-shamed.
Sex was not even whispered about at my house. Unless I was trying to go out in a skirt they thought was too short. At age 11 or 12, after hearing the word "whore" used in a church sermon one Sunday, I asked my mom what it meant. Clearly not down to have that whole conversation, she skirted around the question until I lost interest and left the room. I probably went straight to the computer to find the real answer in an AOL chat room. That was the last time I asked my mom about anything sexual, I think.
Even to this day, as a 25-year-old adult, if I am watching TV with my parents and any kind of sex talk or hookup scene is happening, they’re pretty much guaranteed to shift around awkwardly and change the channel while letting out a grunt of disapproval. Because how can they put that garbage on TV? Yeah. Some things probably will never change.
By 15 or so, I had convinced them to let me start dating. And by dating I mean hanging out in public with groups of three or more that included a boy. When my parents found out I (finally) scored my first boyfriend soon after, my mom didn’t really ask me any questions or initiate a conversation. She mostly just threw statements at me like “I hope you aren’t doing anything you aren’t supposed to be doing” and “You know you need to protect your purity.” I heard those two things every time I left the house to meet a guy. While it was annoying at the time, I absolutely know my parents love me and had the best intentions.
I definitely knew I wasn’t supposed to be having sex, but the actual sex talk never happened. I guess my parents assumed that my youth group leaders at church or a health class at school had taken care of any questions I had. The topic was covered at church by bringing in a teen mom to tell us that having sex and getting pregnant was the worst thing that ever happened to her (hopefully her kid never hears that speech). My school took the exact same approach, plus one semester of graphic STD powerpoints. Really helpful and super effective.
Being left completely clueless actually made me fear sex enough to stay a virgin through high school. Every weekend my best friends and I would have sleepovers where we would sit in a circle for hours and spit questions back and forth, like “How bad do you think sex hurts?” and “How is it supposed to be fun?”
After years of speculating, we all eventually figured things out by just doing them. And somehow, despite my environment, I developed a whole different set of beliefs about sex. The fact that I’ve been able to find confidence and totally embrace my sexuality feels like a small miracle.
Everything felt so much more complicated than it needed to be because the adults in my life didn’t take an honest approach. I don’t know if I’ll ever even have kids of my own, but if I do there is one thing I have figured out.
I’m going to be an open book. When they’re old enough to handle it, they’ll know how and when I lost my virginity. They’ll understand what the real consequences of sex can be, and how to decide when they can be accountable for them. They’ll know how birth control works because I’ll be sure to tell them. They’ll understand why sex is not a way to earn love or keep it and it is also not at all a representation of a person’s worth. Finding a partner who agrees with all of this will be hard, I’m sure. But I’m OK with that. This is a non-negotiable for me, like being with someone who knows how to do his own laundry and isn’t embarrassed by the stuff I write about on the Internet.
Here’s why I think my kids will be better off:
Because if my parents had been more open with me, I think I would have been smarter in my first experiences.
I don’t think anyone should expect glitter and rainbows right out of the gate. Mistakes are gonna happen. But I do think having a relationship of SOME kind with the person you’re getting naked with is a pretty realistic goal. When I lost the big V I was at a house party in Duluth where I knew no one. There was one guy at the party I immediately hated. And for reasons I’ll never understand, he was the one guy I chose to drag upstairs and push into a closet after my six UV Blue Mountain Dews had sufficiently numbed me.
Yeah, you read that right, I had sex for the first time in a freaking closet. The next day he Facebook messaged me to ask if I was on birth control because the condom came off during. So off I went to the pharmacy to buy my first Plan B and fall down a mental spiral until I got my period. I never heard from that guy again and actually don’t even remember his name.
Because pretending sex doesn’t exist in a hyper-sexual world will create a barrier between me and my kids.
I understand there is a fine line between supporting an open dialogue about sex and full-on encouraging them to go do it whenever they want. You’ve got to be a responsible parent and can’t just be their best friend all the time. But there was an unspoken belief in my house that sex before marriage was wrong, end of story.
As I grew up and decided I don’t agree, I had to hide that from them. Because nothing is going to change my parents’ mind and I frankly haven’t wanted to deal with the shame that would come with that kind of conversation. No matter how close I am with my parents there will always be an entire area of my life I can’t talk about. Sexuality is something I’m so passionate about, but this will forever be a line I can’t cross and that sucks.
Because sheltering anyone from sex in this world is impossible.
Obviously I’m not going to be throwing dildos at my future daughter at her 10th birthday, but I do plan on living somewhere on this planet where people coexist with modern technology, and sex will be a part of that world. It’s kind of a non-negotiable at this point. I think a lot about how terrifying (and awesome) the advancements in tech are going to be 10, or even 5 years from now. Snapchat and Tinder already exist, so imagine what all the parents out there will have to worry about next. Sex isn’t just out there, it’s in the palm of your hand the second you get access to a cell phone. And at what age do kids get their first phones now, six months?
I don’t want my daughter to live in fear of sex like I did.
When I first heard about the basic mechanics of sex, it sounded like something I wanted absolutely nothing to do with. I really didn’t get it and was scared to even be alone with guys for years. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I might come face to face with a dick and have to do something with it. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to say that I was scared or uncomfortable or in pain at all. And this is why I ended up being wasted when I did have sex for the first time.
Sex was also a scary idea because for about 18 years I believed that if I had sex with men other than my future husband, he might not love me as much. Is that the kind of anxiety I want my daughter or son dealing with? Hell no.
At the end of the day, I know it’s impossible to be a perfect parent. Nobody gets it all right and I have no doubt I’ll make mistakes. My kids will probably think it’s really weird and get grossed out at the thought of me being a sexual person. But hopefully they’ll feel safe and more willing to come to me when things go wrong in their lives, or when they make a bad choice.
Or at least they’ll take one lesson from me and choose someone they don’t hate to have sex with for their first time.
What will be your approach when talking to your kids about sex? And parents, what do you think has worked and what hasn’t? Did your parents shelter you too or were you comfortable asking them questions? Share your thoughts in the comments!