Sex. It is everywhere, and it is a part of all of us. Having it, not having it, wishing we were having it, never having it done correctly, being addicted to it, even being paid for it. We all are classified by how we identify with one, none, or even multiple genders. It seems to pervade every layer of political discussion and color most interactions to some degree. Who we are is somewhat defined by our sex and our approach to it. So why is it so hard to talk about? And why do we struggle to define “healthy” as it relates to sex?
I remember when my older brother had “the talk” with our dad. They went away on a “boys trip” to our friend’s cabin near the ocean for a week. All I really remember was when they came back my brother came over to me—with the most intense sincerity that a 10-year-old could have—and said “If you ever get the option to do this with mom—DON’T DO IT. I lost years off of my life this week. It was AWFUL.”
I was a bit of a latchkey kid with several after-school babysitters, so I had my fair share of daytime television exposure. It should be noted here that I came “of age” before the internet was really a thing. I admit there was the occasional playing of “doctor” with the boy next door (which was instigated BY ME!) and my first kiss was in kindergarten. Ah Joshua. Anyway, when the time came and my mother approached me for the same discussion I looked her point-blank in the face and said “nah. I understand it. I’m good.” I won’t lie and tell you she didn’t seem relieved too.
And then, I bloomed early.
As the first girl in my year to require a bra or to hit her cycle, when it finally came time for institution-based education, I felt I was already quite advanced. In all honesty, the scholastic sex-ed we received was limited, consisting of religious-based videos where the primary medical expert consistently pronounced puberty as poo-berty. Which is very distracting to a classroom of 7th graders. I know that there are lots of great educational programs out there—my school did not include one.
I had unanswered questions.
Around my mid-teens I had still not had a boyfriend. As the friend-zone-funny-girl who developed early, I intimidated most boys in my age group and was jailbait for those who found me attractive. Sure, there was the occasional kissing session, but nothing announcement-worthy. Then one night, a group of friends and I were all eating pie on a park bench (this is another blog all together) and one of the guys present had a promiscuous reputation. Not as a womanizer, but just that he was one of the only people in my extended circle who was known as sexually active. I felt safe in this group of people and so I asked if he would answer a few questions.
And the amazing thing is—he did. All of them. We talked for several hours and I asked everything I could think of, from frequency possible in a night to the consistency of sperm. He never laughed at my questions. He never looked embarrassed. It was an information session with no judgement included. What I learned most is that the discussion of sex should NOT BE embarrassing. Ever since, I have tried to be as open and honest about these more “taboo” topics as I can…and have definitely been called upon for advice. Examples include questions from both bride and groom pre-wedding explaining the specifics of female anatomy (locations included), to confirming for a friend that yes, her areolas were in fact a normal size. I believe this is because people know I won’t react negatively to their questions.
And yet, even now as a mom of 2, I recently realized that my 5-year-old didn’t know the word “vagina.” (We always used the term “bits” and “bum” to explain things.) I realized I was perpetuating the cycle of misinformation.
A friend of mine has recently started the painful and prolonged agony of a divorce from a chauvinistic sociopath (nah, I have no personal opinions of THAT situation). Anyone who has experienced this knows it is truly awful. She approached me recently, as I am the honest-answer-go-to in my circle of friends, and confessed she isn’t really sure what a “healthy” sex life looks like. When I told my husband, he piped up “2 times a week, if you’re lucky!”
But now I’m thinking—do any of us truly have a healthy idea of sex? Does the idea of “healthy” change from one couple to the next? It’s difficult when we live in a gender-shaming culture, where degradation is built into our language…
- Annual statistics are broadcast of how many people were raped, NOT how many people committed
- Girls are sent home from school for their distracting clothing (how many boys are sent home from school for the same thing?)
- “You’re so GAY” means the opposite of the word’s true definition.
- Women have always been responsible to hold themselves in check else they ignite the masculine passion that obviously can’t be controlled.
- No one talks about the commonality or grief of miscarriage.
- Breast feeding an infant elicits fierce anger from strangers, and not being able to breast feed is mommy-shame-worthy.
- Famous women are asked about their secret to beauty, while famous men are asked about their passions and motivations.
- The #metoo movement scared me, knowing how many of my friends have been physically assaulted, and then thinking back that I don’t know a single female friend (me included) who hasn’t at least been verbally abused.
Whether it’s fat shaming or unwanted sex talk, our culture’s concepts of power and sex and gender are definitely not what I would define as “healthy.”
We live in a world where my friend had to explain in her divorce claim related to an abusive relationship why she had a second baby so closely after her first. In the court’s eyes it was all on her shoulders that she “got” pregnant, not that she was impregnated. (Because women in abusive marriages always have a choice about when they have sex.)
So, what is healthy as it relates to sex? If you’re asking me, I have a few ideas:
- Not all attention is “good” attention, though often any attention feels good
- Boys who pull hair or tease should NOT be given a pass because they like the girl, they need to be taught how to show feelings correctly. And girls shouldn’t just take it “because he likes you.”
- Everyone should be held accountable for their actions.
- Gender or gender identity doesn’t give anyone a right to touch me.
- No always means no. Even if it was once yes.
- Sex doesn’t necessarily play a part in love.
- It’s ok to explain to your partner what you want (or don’t want).
- Education is always better than NO education, though limited education can often be as dangerous.
- There’s no shame in not knowing, only being afraid to find the answer.
I have already told my kid what the correct terms are for her anatomy. Without any preconceived ideas about what is “embarrassing” or “wrong,” my kid took this lesson like any other we’ve taught—just something important to know but to be taken in stride. Sex is a part of who we are. With all the negative messaging our kids are going to encounter in their lifetimes, we should do our best to make sure they have a strong foundation of knowledge and be confident that, if they need to, they can come to us and receive answers—rather than shame, judgement, or embarrassment.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on sex from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.