Saturday, April 26, 2008
Birds and Bees Again
When I was 9, my friend Vanessa, who was 10 told me the facts of life. At least as far as she understood them. Her mom and dad were going to have a baby so they had told her how this came about and she decided to impart her new found wisdom. Vanessa told me that when I got married I was going to have to go to bed naked with my husband.
The horror! I denied that little bit of information. "No way!" I insisted. After all, I always saw mom and dad in pajamas, so I knew what she said wasn't true. "Well," conceded Vanessa,"you can wear your pajama tops, but not the bottoms." That made absolutely no sense to me. "You're wrong," I told her. And I promptly ran home. To ask my mother of course.
"No dear, when you get married, you can wear to bed whatever you want to wear." I knew it! I was vindicated.
"That's what I told her." And then I went to my room and read the "Fury" book I had started the day before. (The Fury series of books was about a stallion named Fury of course, and the boy who rode him)
It was actually the next year that I learned everything I needed to know about procreation. And I was horrified. And scared to death. At the same time we were doing the sex ed portion of our "Family Life" section of social studies, my mom was flat on her back in the living room. She has had back problems for years and would plunk herself on the floor in the living room for weeks at a time, not being able to move without excrutiating pain. Every day after school I would come home, sit on the floor next to her, and question her about what I had learned in class. For 3 weeks. Every day. It got to the point where my mother, a devout Catholic, finally had to assure me that when I got married and if I didn't want to have children, there was a pill I could take to prevent pregnancy.
Within a few years I had a better understanding of the whole sex and childbirth thing, but thinking back about what the teacher had "taught" us I really wonder about what was going through my head. I have very vivid memories of some parts of those classes but I know there's a lot I am repressing.
When I was 17 my folks and I had a discussion about when it's appropriate to teach children about sex. It came about after watching a talk show on the same subject. My parents always answered whatever questions we threw at them and we were taught from an early age to call a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina. There was no embarassment about bodies, their parts, and what they do, but sex was always in the context of marriage. When we were young anyway, as my folks were, and still are, good Catholics.
Anyway, the conversation about age appropriateness led to what Mrs. L was teaching me and my classmates. And my folks were shocked when I told them exactly what she had told us. I guess when I was 10 I didn't like to use some of the words Mrs. L had used, so my parents only knew that we were doing sex ed in class and mom figured the questions I had for her were only natural. Mrs. L would tell us the different ways you could have sex (standing up was one way I remember her telling us), the pleasure of an orgasm, the pain of childbirth, and all other fun things about sex. She told us the many different terms for sex including the swear words. Hearing your teacher use the F word is almost as shocking as hearing your parents swear for the first time.
I still have visions of Mrs. L at the front of the class, clenching her fists and squeezing her eyes shut as she told us about how good sex is. We were 10! I still shake my head and wonder about my classmates and if any of them were as frightened about the whole prospect of having sex, which led to babies, which meant pain of childbirth. Obviously 10 was too young for me but probably not for all of the rest of them.
This whole post came about as I was thinking about wills etc. this week. Before we had discussed the topic, I had already made the Wookie promise me that if I was hit by a truck or experienced some other fatal disaster, he'd go to my apartment and get rid of anything related to my sex life so my mother wouldn't have to deal with it on top of everything else. Not that there's a lot of stuff, or that any of it would be embarassing to me personally. It's not like I've got a closet full of rubber suits and heavy bondage items but we all have at least a drawer with sex related items in it, condoms, lingerie (to put it politely), that sort of thing.
And it's not that I think my folks don't know about sex. I give my parents sexy underwear for Christmas sometimes. I know some of you are going "Ick", but it's not like I ask them to model it for me. And I don't ask if they ever wear them. Basically I am acknowledging the fact that my parents, who after almost 46 years of marriage, are still in love with each other, and are human beings, and we know that human beings who are in love have sex. There. I said it. My parents have sex. At least I think they still do. Dad still pinches Mom's bum. Who knows, maybe they've got a closet full of rubber suits.
My mom is a teacher, retired now. Her sudents have ranged in age from 6 to probably 96. She taught high school for a while from Home Economics (called Human Ecology these days) to Math. And Sex Ed. It's only fitting that I continue the tradition. Last year, I was asked to be a facilitator with other MSers for a program called Journey to Wellness. I didn't have time to do the whole 8 week program but did the section on Healthy Relationships and Sex. Heaven knows, I've had enough unhealthy relationships to be able to recognize the warning signs and perhaps offer advice on maintaining a satisfying relationship. At least I think that's what the other facilitators thought. Besides, I was the only one who would say penis out loud.