Growing up, I didn’t get the standard sex education that the other kid’s got.
Yes, I went to that class in fifth grade where the gym teacher drew a picture of the female reproductive system and the class clown used chalk to turn it into an alien and we all laughed, because, whew, too serious, and then we talked about “waiting” and words like gonad and endosperm and ejaculation and other things that we never said, ever again, because, weird.
And then I forgot about it for about five years.
And then around the same time my hormones exploded into a quivering mass of acne and feelings and teenage angst, I fell in love.
How convenient, looking back.
My parents were liberal (well, in some senses—my father, I am fairly certain, was the victim of a conspiracy by Fox News somewhere around 2008, and is actually a Horcrux for part of Rush Limbaugh) in my sister and my upbringing.
Part of it was unplanned, which I will discuss someday in my memoir, and most of it was because my mother really liked us and thought we were awesome and wanted open channels of communication. My mother was serious Generation X—that weird soup that thought that talking kids meant happy kids, which meant good kids, because so many of their parents had never listened to them and they got kind of screwed up, and then Vietnam happened, and everyone burned their bras, and chaos reigned, for a very long time.
And then everyone started having Family Dinners, and watching Prime Time television together, and it was all ok.
When I was 15, in love, angsty, and so full of hormones that I was never quite sure if I was going to burst into hysterics or try to kiss the object of my attention, I decided I wanted to lose my virginity.
Naturally, for me, I went to my mother.
Because we did, and still do, talk about everything.
Author’s Note—As I type, she is visiting me for the week. I have just moved into a new apartment. This morning, she casually mentioned that she had unpacked my vibrator, and it was in my underwear drawer, with my lingerie.
She knew my then boyfriend, who was quite nice and I was quite serious about, for 15. I laid out my reasoning, my feelings, and my belief that I was a Grown Woman, because really, when is a woman more Grown Up than when she has first discovered her sexuality?
My mother listened without interrupting, or threatening, or freaking out.
Because she was a good mom.
And likely because she knew that I was dynamite, and had to be handled carefully.
She asked me to wait 30 days.
Thirty days to continue things as they were, to continue to explore my love, my feelings. And then come back to her, if I still felt like I wanted to have sex. And if I did, we would go to the gynecologist, and get birth control and an exam.
No questions asked.
That seemed perfectly reasonable, so I agreed.
Two weeks later, the boy had decided that his boarding school girlfriend really was a better prospect and that my public school schlub self could hightail it back to Green Acres.
I was heartbroken.
If I hadn’t had the freedom to go to my mother and talk it out with her, and receive her guidance, I would have slept with that boy, without a doubt.
And it would have been a mistake. Because I was 15 and controlled by hormones and feelings and a body that I didn’t really understand.
But she did, and she was ready for that conversation. She knew that she wouldn’t like it and probably wouldn’t be ready for it and that I might not listen anyway, no matter how hard she tried. But still, she gave me the space to come to her as a person, not just as a little girl, or as someone lesser.
The following year, I did meet someone and fall in love—16 and sweet and shaky first kisses and sweaty hands at prom.
I went to my mom.
I waited 30 days.
I went to my mom.
I went to the doctor.
I became a card carrying member of the People Who Have Sex Club, and I have paid my dues every year, and plan to continue to be an enthusiastic member every year until I die.
My mother gave me something priceless, in allowing me to communicate with her openly, to not be afraid of what she was going to say, or how she was going to react.
I am not ashamed of sex. I am not afraid of my body (although I have sometimes been afraid of what I fed it, though. Everyone has issues). I have never used sex as a weapon, or as a tool, or a method to gain control over men. I enjoy it, and my sensuality, and I see my body, my sex, as a gift that I give freely, where I am comfortable, and where I am safe.
I see so much guilt, and shame, and fear surrounding women and their bodies, and their sex lives, today.
It breaks my heart.
We are not dirty. Consensual sex between adults is not bad, or wrong. Our bodies are beautiful, and the act of love making is miraculous. Extraordinary.
Belly to belly. Eye to eye. Palms to palms. Need to need, heart to heart, breath to breath.
Mothers, I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation. But can we allow our children to be sexual beings? Can we remember what it was like, 16 and nervous and sweaty palms in a movie theater, heart racing, certain we were in love? Can we use our wisdom to guide them gently in a safe way, so that they can grow to have healthy relationships with their own bodies, with their sexual mates, and with the concept of sex?
Our jobs as parents are never ending, and always changing. And there is no book, as my mother has always said.
I truly believe that one of the most important things that we can do is to be open with our children. To encourage honesty and communication. To foster an environment of learning, not of punishment. Self-respect, instead of shame.
My mother had one basic, all-encompassing rule: if you are honest, you will never get in trouble. We may have to deal with it, and there may be a discussion, but you will never be punished for being honest.
But, if you lie, or do drugs, you are dead, and you will never leave the house, again.
And you know something?
…to be continued
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photos: Schwartz/Pixoto, Prose/Pixoto
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