Thursday, October 30, 2008

Deep Breath - It's a Long One

My dear friend T is very interested in reproductive justice and is involved in the reproductive justice group at school. A few weeks ago, she helped in hosting a panel about sex education. I watched videos of people who specialize in abstinence-only education doing their thing, and I participated in a sample lesson-plan for abstinence-only education. It involves a piece of tape that represents a girl being applied to the arm of a boy (which represents a sexual relationship connection). When he pulls the tape off, it’s not quite as sticky anymore now that his skin/hair debris is on it. The lesson, of course, is that every time you have sex with a different person, your ability to create an intimate bond is lessened. I have so many issues with this lesson that I don’t even know where to start. So I’m not going to. I’m just putting it out there as a jumping off point.

So this was all on my mind when I had brunch with my dear friend C the other day. I told her about the lesson. Turns out she’s got a client right now who teaches the sex ed classes at his Unitarian church. He’s about 65 years old, and she says they’ve been having these wonderful conversations about what he’s teaching and how he’s teaching it. Of course it’s comprehensive – he is a Unitarian, after all. And C has a new interest in it now. Because she has a daughter. Her daughter is only one, but it’s got C thinking about the future and about what she’ll teach her and how she’ll teach it.

We started talking about our own sex education – not at school, necessarily, but in our homes, from our parents. C’s education was the opposite of abstinence-only. Her mom’s basic message was “F*cking feels good. Enjoy it.” You might think that it’s refreshing in its honesty, but C felt like something was missing. She didn’t grow up with a lot of the hang-ups about sex that many people do, but she also didn’t get any messages about the intimacy that you can experience, about making good choices, about how sex is emotional and that sometimes there are emotional consequences. She wants her daughter to get those messages.

And we talked about my sex education. I don’t remember much from school. And I don’t remember very many specific conversations, but I do remember that my parents were pretty open and that I felt like I could talk to them about anything.

I wasn’t without my hang-ups. I grew up in a very religious community in the South – I went to Wednesday evening teen groups at the local Baptist church. I’m not sure who could survive that without hang-ups. One day I’m going to give my long-time high-school / college boyfriend a giant trophy for being such a trooper for the 5 years that we dated. Pretty much every time we took a new step forward in our physical relationship – the first time he went up my shirt, the first time he saw my boob, the first time….well, you get what I’m saying – I would end up crying and telling him that we could never do that again. Of course, a few days or weeks down the road, there we would be again, and I would feel a bit more comfortable with whatever it was we were doing. And there wouldn’t be anymore crying until the next thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a high-school boy is owed anything or should get a medal for sticking with his girl when she doesn’t want to take the next step. It’s more that he was great through all of it, and it wasn’t like he was pressuring me or anything. I was going willingly – I would just have second thoughts afterwards. And then, I think, make him feel really bad about it. And it really wasn’t his fault. At all.

When we were 19, I decided that I was ready. To take the big step. And here’s the really important part. Here’s what I think is a testament to how great my parents were in this respect. I asked my mom to come into my bedroom, and I told her that I was ready to have sex and that I wanted to go on the pill. She didn’t jump up and down or anything. In fact, she had to take a really deep breath. But then she talked to me about it. About making sure that I was safe. And when I asked her questions about what it would feel like or whether it would hurt, she talked to me about that too. She talked to me about her first time and things that I could do to make sure that it was a good experience for me.

And it was. It was with someone who I cared about and who cared about me. Who was careful with me. I was ecstatic, and there was no crying afterwards.

Obviously that relationship ended. And I’ve had other relationships. And other sex. (And I definitely haven’t lost my ability to bond.) I’m a relationship sex person. It’s just who I am and how it works and feels right for me.

But the point is that I had the space and the permission to figure that out about myself. My parents never demonized sex, but they also never pretended like it didn’t have the power to be something really special. And I love that I got both of those messages. Because I think that’s where you get the ability to make the choice that feels right for you.

My children might be ready to sit me down for that conversation when they’re fifteen or sixteen or maybe even earlier. I don’t know. But I hope that I will have created an atmosphere where they feel like they can. And I will take a really deep breath…


Merrily Down the Stream said...

What an amazing gift she gave you. I grew up catholic so we were only supposed to do it to make babies - so I did at 18. "And how'd that work for you, Mrs. Merrily's Mom?"
I think I'll go your mom's way with mine!

Graham said...

I'm writing a sex-ed paper and i wanted to thank you for writing honestly about your experience with you're sexual occurances.

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