My parents and I never really did the whole “birds and bees” conversation. As a family, we didn’t really talk about anything awkward, intimate, or personal, instead we wandered around the house in individual bubbles and tried to convince ourselves that nothing awkward, or intimate, or personal existed in the first place. Our parents led the family, quite convincingly, into pretending that everything was always perfect, normal, and anything else wasn’t worth acknowledging.
And Mom would always say, “You know you can talk to us about anything, right?”
No, Mom, we can’t.
Whenever one of us kids would ask an awkward or personal question, our Dad would refer us to Mom, who would do the equivalent of putting her fingers in her ears and briskly walk from the room saying “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!” to cover any of our voice that made it past her fingers. Then she would hide in her room for three days and come out pretending that nothing had ever been said. That was how we dealt with awkwardness in my family. Avoidance and selective memory. Apparently, this is the New England method of problem solving.
Two specific and related memories come to mind when I think of my parents and the “sex” (taboo) conversation.
The first experience with my parents and the topic of sex was when my mom forced my father and I to watch a PBS documentary on “The Science of Sex.” I think I was about 14 years old. At the time I thought it was pretty fucked up, but later realized that neither of my parents could force themselves to actually talk about “The Birds and the Bees” and this was the alternative.
The problem was, this wasn’t a sex-ed documentary, it was quite literally about the body’s physiological changes before and during the act of sex. To get an idea of what it was like, here’s a similar passage from Wikipedia:
“The beginnings of sexual arousal in a woman’s body is usually marked by vaginal lubrication (wetness), swelling and engorgement of the external genitals, and internal enlargement of the vagina. There have been studies to find the degree of correlation between these physiological responses and the woman’s subjective sensation of being sexually aroused: the findings usually are that in some cases there is a high correlation, while in others, it is surprisingly low.
Further stimulation can lead to further vaginal wetness and further engorgement and swelling of the clitoris and the labia, along with increased redness or darkening of the skin in these areas. Further changes to the internal organs also occur including to the internal shape of the vagina and to the position of the uterus within the pelvis. Other changes include an increase in heart rate as well as in blood pressure, feeling hot and flushed and perhaps experiencing tremors. A sex flush may extend over the chest and upper body.”
But this was a video, not a biology text book, so they had close ups of skin tissue as a person got aroused, genital muscle contractions, they had internal video of a vagina as it begins secreting lubrication. They talked and showed mucus, and fluids, and diagrams on testicles and how a penis becomes engorged. And I’m sitting next to my Dad on the couch, watching this, and thinking he’s probably as grossed out as I am.
(This is of course a joke, my mother would never admit that she knew anything about a “mustache ride”, and if forced at gunpoint she would tell you it’s one of the rides at the yearly carnival.)
The documentary was fucking disgusting. Afterwards, every time I looked at a hot chick I started having flash backs to flushing skin, muscular contractions, and hormone levels. That shit fucked me up for a while, I had to put that video in a little box and hide it in the furthest reaches of my mind to even pretend to be interested in sex. Eventually, my hormones overcame the science-mind-fuck, but it was not a pleasant experience. And the “Parents of the Year” award goes to… anyone but my parents.
The second experience with the topic of sex and my parents was when I was 18. I was staying with them after my Senior year of high school until College started in the fall and one night told my parents I was staying over at a male friend’s house. The next morning they called that friend’s house to ask about some mundane detail and realized that I didn’t stay there. When I got home that morning there was a huge, explosive argument about what a horrible liar I was and how no matter what I should be telling them the truth.
So, a couple nights later I called up and told them I was staying out. Where, my mom asks?
“I’m staying at Ann’s house.” (My girlfriend at the time)
The phone was silent for several seconds. My mom said “Oh”, and hung up. That’s how my parents found out I was sexually active and that’s pretty much the extent of any conversations on the topic. My mom hid in her room for the next three days and nothing else was ever said about it.
(This was my mother’s tried and true technique for winning an argument on the phone, hang up before they can retort.)
Stay tuned for The Birds and the Bees pt 2 (or how I’m going to try and be a better parent than mine were)