The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What My Mother DIDN'T Tell Me About Sex

"Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above, and a thing called love." ~ Jewel Akens

That was about the extent of my sex education at home. This song.  And my mother didn't even explain that. Love was a walk in the park from the sounds of it.  When I asked where babies come from she told me "the produce aisle of the supermarket".  For years as a kid I thought the announcement,  "Clean-up in aisle 5" meant to was time for someone to change diapers.

But let's back up for a moment.  Curiosity, exploration and even stimulation of one's self begins as toddlers and preschoolers.  This is where parent's can make sure their little ones get off,  to a healthy start that is.  Don't confuse them.  Teach them the proper names for body parts, and don't try to shame them for playing with themselves.  Tell them it's alright to touch, but should be kept private and not pulled out for public performances.  Your reactions, behaviors and responses are extremely important.  If you keep it low key and matter of fact and the message is - this is perfectly natural.  However - respond embarrassed, angry, begin laughing and you might as well start saving up for the psychotherapy they will require one day.

Mothers need to face the fact that curiosity kills not only the cat but your delusions that kids are clueless. Young children always have and always will play "show and tell" or "doctor" with other children.  Thanks to prudish or holier than hell parents, this is how sex education usually begins.  I, for instance,  knew from early on that boys and girls came with different equipment, but it was "how come" I wasn't sure about.   I just figured that if God punished women by making childbirth so horrible, God punished men by making it harder to aim when peeing.

My mother had issues.  Whether it was a part of her Puritanical upbringing, bad parenting or if something happened to her along the way I'll never be sure.  All I know was she felt the human body was something to be ashamed about, disgusted with, and embarrassed by.  Gotta love religion.

When I was molested at age seven by a neighbor's 17 year old son the subject was quickly sweeped under the carpet. No discussion, answers to questions, support - just shame and silence as usual.  I figured it must have been something I did wrong. In essence, I was victimized twice. First by the neighbor, and then through neglect.

Education about the abuse can be approached in a casual, non-threatening, non-fear inducing manner. Let kids know that have the right to say "stop" or "I don't like this".  Let them know that no one, except their doctor in your presence, should be touching them and that they should immediately tell you  if this happens. Simple. If you are still uncomfortable, there are children's books on this topic designed to help you get the message across without too much discomfort.

As I reached my teen years and began dating, still nothing was said. By then I was stealing my brother's girly magazines for answers.  Let's see - open communication with mom or Playboy Forum. I knew darn well the first choice was out so the second had to do. Talk about distorting one's perceptions about sexuality. Too many moms out there figure they'll tip toe around the subject unless they are confronted with questions.  If you wait that long, it's usually already too late.  Someone with far less knowledge has already opened the proverbial can of worms.  You have to ask yourself, will it really kill you to address the subject or would you rather your daughter begin learning from a teenage boy instead.

Avoidance of the topic led to a near death experience. Yes, you heard me - "near death".  I, like any normal teen, had discovered the pleasures of masturbation when I discovered alternative uses for our back massager.  Unfortunately, I ended up with an UTI.  Being the discomfort was "down there",  I wasn't about to discuss this matter with anyone.  Big mistake!  Over the course of a couple of weeks it led to a double kidney infection with permanent damage.  I ended up in the ER in septic shock.  That all could have been easily avoided. All I can say is  - Moms, take note! Your embarrassment over personal matters may have far more serious implications than you think.

My mother finally broached the subject when I was age 16 years old.  I'll never forget it. With a face as red as a lobster she began by asking me if I knew the difference between boys and girls.  I cracked up and told her I had figured that out back at age 4.  She went on to say that sex was a horrible thing that women must endure for the sake of having a baby, and then gave solid advice on how to use the "I've Got a Headache" or pretending to be asleep manuevers.  Well at least I knew she had actually had sex on 4 occasions, having been pregnant four times.  Then there was the story about her honeymoon night.  She wore a floor length flannel nightgown, long underwear and knee socks and not because it was cold.  Then as an added measure, she hid my father's glasses.   I cried hearing this.  I'm not sure who I felt more sorry for - her or Dad. 

I may have been painfully innocent, but I wasn't dumb.  I knew sex was a beautiful expression of love and intimacy between a man and woman.  Even though I was a certified "virgin" (unlike most my peers), I had managed to run the bases and perhaps even explored the outfield.  But this girl was not ready to go for the grand slam with just anyone.  Fortunately my boyfriend at the time (a puppy love with a guy who would eventually dump me to become a priest) was empathetic to my situation and supplied me with the book his father gave him, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But was Afraid To Ask" by David Rubin.  Finally!  The real deal.  Although the coming attractions looked tantalizing, I was willing to postpone the game for the right moment and the right person.

Mom might have thought (in her own warped way) that she was protecting me from evil, but it had the complete opposite effect on me.  Therefore, when it came to raising my own kids, I was open and honest (in an age appropriate fashion), letting them know that sex and everything related to it, is a natural part of the human body's functioning.  I taught them that, just as with every other aspect of our health, we need to be responsible and respectful for it's maintenance and care.  Keeping an open dialogue, my son and daughter felt comfortable asking me anything and telling me more than I really needed to know.  But, for this I was grateful.  Today, they are both grown adults and well adjusted.  We never had any unexpected issues or problems in this area.

Parent's need to realize it's not what they know that hurts them - it's what they don't know that will. Withholding information, breeds fascination. That forbidden apple will always attract trouble. 

I know my case was an extreme example, however, I hope it serves to enlighten those who rather avoid the subject or want to believe that simply demanding abstinence is fool proof.  Religion is not a substitute for birth control nor does it guarantee moral behavior.  Just look at statistics -  the state with the highest use of on-line pornography subscriptions is Utah.  The state that represses sex education most fervently is Texas.  It also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy. All in all - pornography is most prevalent among among Conservatives and the red states. Tells you something.  Doesn't it.  

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