Moms, Kids and Sex

The most important woman in my life (rest in peace, mom) never talked to me - or my two sisters or my brother - about sex.  Zilch about menstruation, pubic hair, hormones, intercourse or conception.  We snuck our tampons, bras, and birth control into the house like Cold War spies.  It was a surreal way to go through adolescence that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.


Everything I learned about my developing body and sex was from three sources: a grainy black and white educational film shown to the sixth grade girls, gossip from boys on the blacktop, and edification from my new best friend who moved to my block from New York City.  She brought a true gutter mouth and the knowledge to back up her swear words.  She instructed me how to look up sex definitions in the dictionary, and filled in a few missing links about what slang like "rubber," "blow job," and "f*cking" actually meant.


I was recently reminded of Mom’s weird no-sex-ed methodology.  There’s a new anthology out called Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, that purports to lift the veil on what it’s really like to be a Muslim-American woman. An essay by Zahra Noorbakhsh, now a 31-year-old comedian, describes her mother’s explanation for why young Zahra was forbidden from venturing into a dark movie theater with the boys she grew up with in suburban California.


“You have a hole,” her mother told her in the parking lot of a local mall. “For the rest of your life, men will want to put their penis in your hole.”


This stark encapsulation of a woman’s sex life has scarred me and haunted my nights since reading it a few days ago.  I’m 46, with three decades of enjoyable sex under my belt.  I can only imagine what it was like getting the news at 14.  Becoming a comedian was probably an essential survival skill for Ms. Noorbakhsh.


Her mom’s approach to sex ed made me really appreciate my mom’s silence on the subject, for the first time in my life.


I also am relieved that other cultures, outside my own WASP-came-over-from-England-on-the-Mayflower family, have similar mother-daughter communication issues.


All this brings me to one of my favorite parenting topics:  Sex.  More specifically, how easy and important it is to talk to kids about sex long before you (or they) are embarrassed by it.  In my kids’ school, the subject is introduced in fourth grade, which is about eight years too late.  However one of my friends was horrified - at age 10, her girls knew nothing about sex or their bodies.  “They’re too young!” she practically shouted when she learned the school was readying the big talk.