A few weeks ago, my family was gearing up to watch a movie at an Airbnb with limited movie selections. We were lucky enough to find Bridesmaids, a comedy which follows a character named Annie as she grapples with serving as maid of honor for her best friend’s wedding while her financial, emotional, and romantic life implodes.
The movie opens with a scene of Annie and her self-proclaimed “F Buddy,” mid-coital. Throughout the scene, Annie’s partner completely ignores anything she says in regards to her comfort, instead doing only what he wants. After watching, my dad made a sarcastic comment along the lines of “what a great family movie!” No one in my family was surprised by this; my brother was counting down the moments until our dad would predicatively comment. Anytime we watch a movie containing sexual imagery, he says something. While I also feel embarrassed and uncomfortable watching a sex scene with my family, part of me wishes we could be at a place as a family (and society), in which we don’t have to feel so awkward about it. How has our own human nature and means of procreating become just about the worst family conversation topic ever?
I understand the discomfort around the topic of sex. Many parents dread giving their children “the talk” and kids tend to keep their sex lives completely private from their families. While privacy is necessary at times, avoiding the topic altogether creates this alternative reality for kids that sex doesn’t (or shouldn’t) really exist for young people. As a high school student, I see this prevalence. Parents seem to care more about their kids abstaining from sex than fostering dialogues about how to do it safely.
At my high school we watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.” The part of this talk that struck me the most was when Adichie talked about men being praised for sex while women are often disgraced for it. I agreed with her frustration about that double-standard because when it comes to the act, it (typically) takes two. I see a similar double-standard when it comes to talking about sex. We are somehow able to talk about it in a formal, textbook-like way, and yet once it becomes more graphic or explicit, and thereby more realistic, it becomes incredibly uncomfortable to talk about. It seems silly that we have this social hangup, because none of us would be here had two people not boned.
As a society, our lack of discussion about sex is not helping anyone, in fact, it is actually the cause of many negative byproducts. By not talking about sex we create problems. Talking about sex doesn’t have to be as uncomfortable as it is, we just make it so because of how we address it. By treating sex as a forbidden topic, we imply it is a forbidden task. And in that silence, we miss out on valuable and important educational opportunities. Instead of acting like sex doesn’t exist, we should be acknowledging that it does, and elaborating on what safe and consensual sex entails. After all, teenagers are going to have sex whether it is discussed or not. So we should be learning about birth control, STIs, pregnancy, and rape culture not only in school but also through dialogue with the adults in our lives.
My experience with public school sex education has been minimal. As valuable as it is to learn about the anatomy of the reproductive systems and the dictionary definition of consent, knowing what a Fallopian tube is won’t be very helpful when you are suddenly in a foreign sexual situation. There needs to be more in-depth curriculum to learn about how to handle real-life situations; and if it’s not offered in school, the education needs to be supplemented by unofficial educators like our parents. Who better to learn such important lessons from than the people who’ve taught us the most?
Even if it starts awkward, having uncomfortable conversations are worth it in the long run if it means avoiding an unwanted teen pregnancy or preventing sexual assault. It starts with a simple check-in, a clarification on what is and isn’t okay, and an openness to talking about sex and sexual health.
I’m not a parent, and I don’t know firsthand how to raise a child, but I do know more girls who have been sexually assaulted than I can count on my fingers. I know boys who have assaulted women without even realizing it was assault. I have witnessed STI and pregnancy scares. Through all this, I rarely heard a teenager say they were going to go to their parents for help.
We need to break the norms that silence these conversations and replace them with a safe and communicative climate surrounding sex. It may not be perfect, and these problems aren’t going to go away simply by talking about them, but it’s a really good start. Today it may just be a conversation, but someday maybe we’ll reach a point where sex scenes can be viewed without awkward tension or disruptive comments. Here’s hoping.