A contributor friend of ours, who wishes to remain anonymous, has a confession to make:
Until about a year ago, my mother was always very close-minded about sex. I never had “the talk” with either of my parents, and I learned about intercourse and other modes of love making via fellow classmates, porn, and the public school curriculum. Though I would have liked to have more direct communication with my mom about the birds and the bees, I did pick up a few messages about sex through my parents’ everyday reactions to the stories I shared with them from school. For example, during my sophomore year in high school, when I told my mom how a fellow classmate skipped lab to go visit a certain “male friend” in New York to have sex with him, my mother shook her head, spat in the air, and said, “Whore! That girl’s got no future.”
As you can imagine, as a child and teenager, I had mixed feelings about sex. The second time I got my period, I hid my bloody underwear for two days in a file cabinet before my father discovered them (he shrieked with horror). Over time, however, I improved and managed to come to my own conclusions about sex, which, surprisingly, turned out to be healthier than one might expect. Without any formal guidance, I had avoided becoming another Bristol Palin, and my parents never had to endure any Juno moment, where, rubbing my stomach, I told them that I was pregnant.
But now, out of the blue, my mother has adopted a whole new attitude on sex and communicating with one’s children about intercourse, contraception, and pregnancy. During one of our midnight snacking sessions, she suddenly said, “I know you’re not sexually active. But do you think about it?” I was in the middle of biting into a piece of toast. Instead, I bit my tongue and started yelling in pain. I felt embarrassed about being asked such a question, especially from my self-professed anti-sex mother. I couldn’t tell at the time whether her question was an attempt at open-mindedness or a trap to entangle me in some family scandal. At any rate, I told her in my matter-of-fact voice that yes, I do in fact think about sex but I never feel compelled to act on anything. She shrugged and left the conversation at that.
A few weeks ago, my mother again began a conversation about sex. She was lying on her bed, her head propped up by several pillows. She said to me, “Sex isn’t always comfortable or even thrilling. Especially if the man doesn’t know what he’s doing. Or is soft and short. Sometimes, I think that length doesn’t matter as much as the hardness. Maybe I’m wrong, though.” And then she went on to do the unthinkable: talk about the details of her and my father’s sex life, mentioning porn, satisfaction, and who knows what else, because I stopped listening. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, I reacted in the way I thought most appropriate — by screaming, “Mom! I don’t want to know about these things!” Her reaction was a mixture of hurt and frustration, as if she was just trying to get a message through to my thick skull but was failing miserably. She flipped over on her side, crossed her arms, and replied in a nonchalant voice, “Fine. Have it your way. I’m just telling you the facts now, so you’ll be prepared later.”
I can only interpret my mother’s sudden interest in conversing about sex as a feeble attempt to make up for past mistakes, which, however inconsequential they were (in my opinion), left her feeling guilty for what she believes is my general inability to harbor romantic feelings for others. And so the topic of sex is continuing to make surprise appearances in our daily conversations. Sometimes, I address them directly (“Yes, I occasionally subdue my sexual urges by masturbating”). At other times, I dismiss them quickly (“I’m not going to talk about this anymore, Mom, since discussions of anal sex don’t apply to me right now”).
Even though I have not made any irrational decisions about sex (remaining a virgin for my own personal reasons), I really would have liked my mother to have played a more active role in my sex education during my childhood and adolescent years. But I appreciate the fact that she is going out of her way to finally address an issue we have both submerged for too long. So now I’m torn between feeling like it’s “too little, too late” and “better late than never.”