I want to say thank you to a parent who got why sex education counted, mattered, my mother.
Let’s just set the record straight. I had, in many many ways, a very, very privileged childhood. We had a middle class life, lots of financial support and it was the 70’s when I was growing up, so I had access to (in many ways) more liberal thinking in the schools than kids do today. So I got lucky.
If my mother did only one thing right by me, that one was sex education. She bought me books about how babies were made when I was 7, and she showed me an after-school program called “My Mom’s Having A Baby” when I was 9. I remember crying my fool head off at how beautiful the (edited) birth was.
She put up with my obsessive reading of “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret” and my even more obsessive waiting for my period to arrive (at 14, right before a dance recital). She bought me tampons and pads and let me choose. She helped me get a good bra. She didn’t make a big deal of any of it, but at the same time, I could tell she was proud I was growing up.
At the beginning of 9th grade, she sat me down and she said to me in very matter of fact tones, “Julie if you want to smoke cigarettes I’ll be disappointed but since I smoke I can’t well stop you. If you want to drink please please call me and don’t ever drive. I’ll be mad if you drink, but much more mad if you die. And if you want to have sex, let me know so we can get you on birth control.”
Of course, I was a geek and didn’t do any of those things. But between her words, and a surprisingly decent sex ed at school, I knew that protection was out there. She was not concerned about me having sex, she just didn’t want me to get a disease or a baby during my teen years.
She never shamed me about my body, or about dating, or about sex. I knew she’d had sex before marriage and I knew she liked it. I knew she was quite practical about the reasons to avoid getting pregnant in the teen years. She was a staunch democrat, a liberal, and didn’t mince words. She had been raised on a farm and knew from her earliest days where babies came from. Maybe that matter of fact-ness had something to do with it.
She was a hands off parent in many ways, welcoming to my friends who were coming out and confused, she opened her home and kitchen to them. She never fussed with me about my late night dates outside in the hammock with boys, or the weird books I’d buy at garage sales. The Sensuous Woman by J comes to mind, a really funny book about how to give you know…bj’s and eat ice cream sensually so you could have better sex. I read it, practiced it and was entirely unafraid at the advent of my first…foray.
At least I think she was hands off. She appeared so, but maybe she was very well aware that this book or that was about sex and that I was curious. Maybe she was very well aware that my late night shenanigans in the back yard were appropriate but appointed herself a sentry guard on point, in the house, up late doing crossword puzzles. Maybe, because she certainly knew all about sex herself, she only gave the impression of being hands off so that she could let me figure things out on my own while somehow knowing she’d be there to intervene in case of trouble.
Whichever it was, it was a good method.
When I lost my virginity, I was ready and eager to do so, and had the right guy in mind. I had a good time in all the way that counts I got better at sex in general. I did not get pregnant. I did not wind up, over the years, with any STD’s. When I decided to get pregnant, I got off the pill and after a time, bingo.
All this to say, this is how I’d hope it would wind up for all teens, all the time. Parents who give them leeway to learn, provide options and materials, and don’t shame them for having sex, but make sure they can get through their teen years relatively unscathed.
I was lucky, very lucky. I can’t believe how lucky I was, how lucky to have a mother who taught me facts, answered questions, told jokes about sex, kept it in its proper perspective. It should be this way for all kids, yet it most certainly is not. Not at all from what I’ve been reading, and it’s a deep shame that we are letting our children down.
Our bodies are our birthright and sexuality is as much of who we are as our hair color or height. No teen should be fed falsities, guided in the wrong direction or not guided at all, just because a parent is nervous or a church tells them sex is wrong, or a political position makes sexuality out to be a society killer.
Lies are wrong. Misinformation is wrong. Hiding is wrong. Shaming is wrong.
As I begin the process of raising children I think about my mother a lot. I think about how I’m going to talk to them, watch them, guide them, and when I’ll just stay out of the way to see how they use the tools I’ve provided them, all while staying just close enough to catch them if they should start to fall.
I’m proud to write this post and I’m grateful that I lucked into a parent who for whatever reason got it right. I want to help others get it right for their kids, and for themselves. Scarleteen is an amazing resource for parents and for teens and I hope you consider supporting their work.
–Looking for one-on-one coaching on relationships, sexuality, life passages, or need support with personal or career goals? Seeking seeking a facilitator for your group or team to help promote healthy group dynamics and effective communication? Contact me here!