Parenting

Sex Talk: The Awkwardness of the Mother Is Visited Upon her Sons

In our local department store, The Emporium, I stood in front of the training bra display that segregated the girls’ department from the boys’, hoping my mother would notice.

She didn’t.

Maybe I was eleven? I’m not sure if I needed a bra, or if I just wanted one, or if, as I did with pretty much every other pubescent rite of passage (lipstick, high heels, Tom Selleck poster) I thought I was supposed to want one.

I am sure, however, that I didn’t want to talk about wanting a bra, hence the stand-silently-in-front-of-bras-and-hope tactic, which failed.

How I finally procured my first bra—that part escapes me, but I do remember not wearing it, as if tucking it into my top dresser drawer were rite of passage enough for me, thank you very much.

I also remember the day I finally did choose to wear my bra, under the baseball shirt with the jokey decal heat-sealed on it (the only kind of shirt I ever wore). When I walked into the family room, my mom noticed immediately and said, “Oh good, you’re wearing your bra. That gives your body such a nice shape,” and I wanted to disappear into the brown shag rug.

This early aversion to body talk extended far beyond bras. On a trip to the grocery store, it took me an entire thirty minutes to muster the courage to ask my mom if I could put a stick of deodorant in the cart, for me. Thirty minutes practicing the distinctly casual tone in which I would say, “May I get this?” or the alternative, “I think it’s time I get one of these.”

A couple years later, I would hide the onset of my period for months, until the day the damn toilet clogged, stranding my evidence in the bowl, and I had to fess up and Ugh! Talk about it.

I’d forgotten about most of these pubescent horror moments until last night, when I stumbled into a conversation about sex and changing bodies with my sons, ages eight and ten.

When I became a parent (obviously I got over the body talk thing enough to share the conception process with my kids’ other mom, an entire sperm bank staff, everyone in the fertility clinic, and anyone who read the book I wrote about it), I wanted to shrug off any remaining discomfort and create an environment where we would talk openly about bodies and sex.

And we have, until last night, when I asked my kids, in the context of a conversation about song lyrics, what they think “sexy” means, and both my sons made it abundantly clear that they are suddenly totally disgusted by any talk about sex, bodies, or puberty.

What the . . . ?!

But I had good and important, age-appropriate information to share! I had that book, It’s Perfectly Normal, tucked away in my room, waiting for just this kind of teachable moment to come along!

I got nothing but groans, faces hidden behind pillows, and sideways, giggling glances tossed back and forth between the siblings.

I was dumbstruck, unsure how to get either further into or gracefully out of the conversation. Until I remembered my own pre-pubescent awkwardness. So instead of loading the kids up with information they clearly didn’t want, I told them stories:

I told them how thoroughly disgusted I was when I first learned about sex. I told them how I went mute when I wanted my first bra. I told them about the deodorant and how I pretended I didn’t have my period until the clogged toilet ratted me out.

They laughed. Hard.

And then I told them the best news of all:

“Your bodies will change no matter what, but sex is optional. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

They were visibly relieved.

I also told them:

  • If you ever feel pressured to do things with your body that you don’t want to do, please ask for help from Mama, from me, or from someone else you trust. (I’ve said this about a million times. And I’ll keep saying it.)
  • The book you don’t want to look at will be on a shelf in my office, in case you change your mind. If you have any questions about anything you read in it, you can ask Mama or me.
  • If you have any questions about anything that’s happening with your body, you can ask Mama, ask me, or check out the book.
  • Much of what you will hear about sex and bodies from your friends or the Internet will be wrong. If you want to know the real facts, ask Mama, ask me, or check out the book.

I know we’re not done with the sex and body talk around here, but according to the two boys who wanted to disappear into the couch last night, that’s enough for now.

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