|Mosaic Mural in Christopher Street Subway station|
In third grade, my mom sat me down and gave the sex talk but all I remember is her pointing her finger through an "O" she made with her other hand. As a kid, sex made no more sense to me than nose piercings or clowns. Why would someone do that?
In the middle of 5th grade, I was taken out of my private Christian school in sleepy Canoga Park and put into a public school butted up against the LA River in North Hollywood. It was at this school where my sex education flew to new heights. Girls in the 6th grade were supposedly having sex and one of my friends was dating a much older guy who wrote her love letters describing his hard-ons. I became terrified of sex, of boys, of maturing. The following year, when it was past the time when I needed to start wearing a training bra, I can remember being sent home for not wearing one and only wearing a threadbare white tee-shirt, unaware of its revealing nature. For the rest of the year I wore a hoodie, even into the 90 degrees days of June.
In 6th grade, I think my aunt Gail gave me the period talk and my aunt Rose gave me a book called Women's Bodies or something like that but she ripped out most of the pictures which she felt were too graphic. At eleven years old, I probably did not need to see pictures of a herpes breakout, however, to the curious mind, this censorship was beyond frustrating and left literal holes in my sex education. In the end, none of it really mattered because I got my period two years after the fact just before a volleyball game and I remember it being the most anti-climactic experience of my life. I remember thinking, THIS is what it means to be a woman?! followed up by my next thought which was How long do I have to have a period for? When does it end?! To this day, I can tell you nothing about how ovaries and Fallopian tubes and uteri all work. I was, however, the first one of my friends to use a tampon because I could not stand having a period. I think I used them within months of having my first period. I can remember reading the directions in the box, following the diagrams. And a friend recently remind me that I actually coached her behind a bathroom door how to do it and what it should feel or rather NOT feel like.
In the 7th or 8th grade I remember girls talking about blow jobs which I pictured as the literal interpretation. I think you get my point. When I learned what it actually was, I vowed I would never do something like that. Oh, but high school, you were waiting just around the corner to scare the shit out of all of us.
You might ask, what about school? Having gone to Catholic school in 7th and 8th grade and a Catholic high school, I didn't get sex ed until freshman year of high school where our PE teacher passed around a diaphragm that was rumored to be hers. In hindsight, I am sure it was not. But, all I took away from that class was the incredible amount of discomfort I had with the subject and the shame I felt it knowing so much less than everyone around me. So....I faked it. Whenever, girls brought up conversations about sex, I just stayed quiet or laughed at their jokes and that's pretty much how I learned everything, for better or worse.
While I would say my experience is unique because my mom was not around during those pubescent years, I have learned that many of my girlfriends who grew up with moms and sisters had experiences not that far off. When the time comes for me to be on the teaching end of that topic, I hope to be able to create the space for my kid to feel maybe not necessarily comfortable but safe enough to ask me any question in the world. I think it is up to the parents to do the best they can, because I'm not sure how much kids absorb in formal class setting teaching about sex ed and the rest, well, the rest is just hearsay.