"If you get pregnant, I'm kicking you out of the house."
This was the extent of the sex talk I got from my mother. Surprisingly, it didn't make me want to have sex any less than I already did, and I was very interested in sex. All it did was let me know that she wasn't someone I could go to for advice, help, or comfort. She was The Enemy, and I needed to be good about covering my tracks.
I was fifteen years old.
I made the appointment for my very first pap smear by myself; got on the pill by myself, wrestled with pregnancy scares and heartbreak and just plain uncertainty all by myself. And in the end, I had sex years before I was actually ready for it. That's not exactly my mother's fault, but I can tell you that her reaction to my burgeoning sexuality did precisely nothing to help.
While I really, truly understand that my mom was doing the best she could in the face of her own cache of anxiety, it doesn't mean that I'm not disappointed with her. I wish she could have done better by me and my sister when we were teenagers. We really could have used some adult guidance. Instead, she signed waivers saying that we could get sex-ed in science class, and let our all girls Catholic school take care of the rest.
What we learned in science class was what children absolutely should learn in science class. We learned about eggs and sperm and erections and menstruation. We were shown diagrams of human anatomy and giggled over words like rectum and testicles. I was ten when I took that class, and it was the only adult-led education I ever got about sex.
It's important for kids to learn about human reproduction; there is absolutely no benefit to teaching children anything other than the truth about where babies come from. The age appropriate truth, of course, but still. The truth. But there is far more to sexual education than just the fact that sperm and eggs put together can create whole new human beings. And science class, or at least my science class, didn't really cover anything else.
I've since had lots of sex, and have even had sex to try and make new human beings, but I have never once had sex while thinking about my partner's vas deferens. Or my fallopian tubes. What I do think about during sex is if it feels good. If I think my partner is enjoying him- (or her-) self. If I am comfortable; if my body's working the way that I want it to. It took me a really long time to understand that all of that is the important business of sex. The rest is just the mechanics or reproduction.
I could have used some informed, level-headed discussion about sexuality, but instead did what most teenagers do. Or did. I made penis jokes and vagina jokes and assumed that just because I was horny, I wanted to actually have sex with people. I wasn't really taught otherwise.
I was taught that the implications of sex were STDs and unwanted pregnancies and learned, without parental guidance, how to avoid (or ignore) those risks. My friends and I all learned for ourselves about navigating the weird stigma of virginity and / or sexual activity. We learned about sexual assault and coercion and very little about consent. We were children, still figuring out that we did not, in fact, own the entire world. Of course we messed up. Messed up things happened. To us. To our classmates. To our best goddamn friends.
And none of us knew, really knew, how to handle any of it. We needed information. We needed, not reproduction education, but sexuality education. We did not get it.
Every parent has a list of things that things they vow to do better than their parents. One item on mine has always been the sex talk. Or, talks I should say. Because there is no such thing as having one meaningful discussion with your children about anything. All of parenting is an iterative process. From learning how to pick up your toys to feeling comfortable enough talking to your parents about masturbation, it all starts with the smallest of steps. You don't just tell your twelve year old to clean his room; you show your six month old how to put one toy in a box. You build from there. It's a long, slow, pain in the ass process, but it's the way these things get done.
The same goes for sexuality. I started talking to Jonas about sex the second he started asking how babies are made. I told him simply, in words that he could understand at three. And every time he asked after that, I told him just a little bit more, in words that he could understand at four, six, eight.
But now he's thirteen and he's not going to ask as much anymore. He knows everything already, right, so why go to boring old Mom? Well, ha ha ha, I said, because on the day he turned thirteen I told him "Look, son, now that you're thirteen we're going to have talks. Big ones. Talks about sex, talks about drinking, and talks about drugs. Because I love you and you need this information."
He rolled his eyes and he got kind of embarrassed. But he didn't walk away. He didn't say no and he didn't shut down. And the next week, when we had our first actual factual, no holds sex talk, he talked. It wasn't just me lecturing. He made penis jokes; he made vagina jokes. Of course he did. But he also asked questions. He was part of the discussion, not just its recipient.
And this is how you do this. It's not impossible. It's not even difficult. Okay, so maybe it's a little bit strange. But even if it was, difficult, it's better than the kind of difficult my kid's going to get if we don't talk about these things.
Besides, he's my kid, man. He's more than worth a little strange.