Mom And Dad, Let’s Talk About Sex

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.

 

 

What Slips Away

Almost two semesters into college, and I still feel like I let him slip through my fingers. I wonder what I could have done or what I could have said, if the relationship could have ever even worked given its predestined expiration date.

A little over a month before I left for college, I met a guy who was seemingly perfect for me. He blew my mind or maybe it was my extremely low expectations that I had for Tinder dates, but I thought he was truly amazing. In high school, I hadn’t had the best luck romantically, and when I met this guy, I thought it just might be time to release myself from this trend. We talked with so much ease and had incredible sexual chemistry. I was dying to explore where this relationship could go, but I was faced with the hard fact of having to literally pack up my entire life and move to a different state in a matter of weeks. I was overwhelmed with virtually unanswerable questions: it takes a while for relationships to develop naturally, would ours have enough time? Was it realistic to invest time and energy in this relationship if it seemed to have a set expiration date? Would he even consider this? Was this fair to either of us?

Despite the fact that I was leaving so soon, I went for it. I figured that life is way too short to waste opportunities like this. Plus, it took almost 19 years for him to come around and I didn’t necessarily feel like waiting another 19.

He had just finished his freshman year at a college in my city, and stayed over the summer to continue his job. We had very similar academic interests and cared about many of the same things. We hung out a lot that month, often avoiding the sauna-like August weather inside his heavily air-conditioned dorm. The sexual chemistry was still strong, but my emotions became more and more cloudy, making it hard for me to communicate with him. I buried my emotions in sex, and didn’t allow myself to verbalize how I felt about him because I was unsure of the validity of our relationship. With the way that hook up culture influences our relationships today, I felt pretty confident that my reservations were valid. Among the people I knew who were already in college, there seemed to be a widespread idea that the beginning of college was an important time to be single and explore all of your options. I had heard of many established relationships crumbling when one partner left for college. So what would happen with me and this person I had just met?

I think that he had similar thoughts running through his mind. He would open up and become vulnerable, and then wouldn’t text me back for days. He would ask me to go out on a fun date and then change his mind last minute and decide to Netflix and chill. I recognized those moves from guys who had blown me off in the past so I became cautious about asking too much from him, but this situation felt different because he continuously showed he cared. His inability to commit to scenarios that required a deeper connection suggested he was also indecisive about where this relationship was headed, even though we both really seemed to like each other. 

As the weeks passed, the pressure to share how I felt about him grew, but so did my lack of confidence. These feelings were so fresh and different than anything I had ever felt before, only making them that much more difficult to process. I knew that I wanted to express my feelings to him, but I struggled to understand them myself. Even if I mustered up the confidence to open up about my emotions, I didn’t know if he would accept or reciprocate them because I had to leave. I remember pausing outside his door after I left for what would be the last time, trying to give myself one last chance to figure it out.  

The short window of time forced me to act fast, but some things simply can’t happen quickly, no matter how hard you try. I was confident in my sexuality so it was easy for me to express how I felt sexually, but I was less comfortable with allowing myself to be emotionally vulnerable. I wonder what we both buried in all of that sex. It was loaded with feeling and seemed to replace our emotional expression. I was afraid of discovering where the relationship was going, and ironically he was the only one who could help me figure it out. The end seemed drearily inevitable, so instead, I chose silence.

The transition to college was hard. I had to adjust to a new environment, people, and a new social culture. During syllabus week, I found myself drowning in a sea of single, horny people looking for instant pleasure and one night stands. All I could think about was that he was probably in a similar environment, and I had no idea if he was participating or not.

Over the course of this school year, I’ve tried to let go, but I can’t push how I felt about him out of my mind. We talked, and I searched for the closure I needed, but I never found it. I tried removing him from my social media, I even made a conscious effort to stop bringing him up entirely. I expected my feelings to fade over time, but I still frequently mull over what could have been. The harder it was to forget him, the more it made me remember how important he was, and that feeling keeps me wondering.

Now I realize how important it is to communicate your emotions in relationships. We were never able to figure out what page either of us were on because we never really shared how we felt. Our relationship lacked the time it takes to develop trust and comfort. Going forward, I want to be more conscious of relationship habits, and practice patience with myself and others. No matter how badly I wanted this relationship to work, I need to realize it didn’t. And remember that I can’t rush myself into someone new, no matter how perfect they may seem, and that “perfect” is probably far less real than I might have once tried to convince myself of anyway.