What kind of mirror did your mom make you look at your vagina with?

So MAYBE it’s just because I work for Planned Parenthood, or maybe it’s just because I’ve now learned my open and overly forthcoming parents were a rarity, but I think the ways we learn about sex and the way we first experience/define sex are fascinating.

For instance – my mom was of a generation where she kept her ten-pound “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book handy on the shelf, and felt it was her duty to teach me how to straddle a hand mirror when I was five so I could see what my vagina looked like. I learned how babies were made when I was three, when my mother became pregnant with my sister. She figured if I was old enough to ask I was old enough to know (the story goes that she emphasized the “when mommy and daddy love each other so much they decide they want to take that love and make a baby” part to the point that when she was done my first reaction was “I want to do that!” Apparently though I had the more age-appropriate “ewwwww” reaction a few years later when, having forgotten how it worked, I asked again.)

All this measures up very differently when I hear friends’ stories about how they only really learned about sex in their twenties, or thought that by only having oral, or anal sex they could still remain virgins. So, to expand my horizons a little, I asked everyone I knew to contribute their virginity and/or their how they learned about the birds & the bees stories. They’ll be going up all this week starting later today.

These are by no means meant to be exhaustive, representative, or even anything other than conversation-starting. My group of friends that I asked was narrow enough already, and the group that actually responded (under promise of anonymity!) was even more self-selecting. So, Feministe readers, I have an assignment for you. Was your experience vastly different? Please share it! Was it exactly the same? Tell us that too! No matter what your reaction, I firmly believe that the more we keep having conversations around these topics the more we learn about ourselves, each other, and possibly even about having a healthy relationship with that crazy little thing called sex.

PS – Have kids but have no clue how to talk to them? Let me just take this moment to plug PPNYC’s guide on how to talk to your kids about sex. Want to make sure NYC’s kids are being taught sex ed in school (which, surprise! Most aren’t)? Check out the “We’re Going to the Principal’s Office” campaign, which is helping make sure every kid gets medically accurate, age-appropriate sex ed.

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65 comments for “What kind of mirror did your mom make you look at your vagina with?

  1. June 22, 2010 at 10:26 am

    It was 1966. I was 12 years old. My mother woke me from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and said, “Don’t kiss boys too much. It makes their ‘thing’ get hard and then all they can think about is where to stick it.” I said, “What ‘thing’?” and she said, “Never mind. Just don’t kiss boys too much.”

  2. Erica
    June 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

    That is an amazing story.

  3. Flutterby
    June 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I remember the exact moment I learned that sex existed. I was in fourth grade, and a friend mentioned briefly that ‘the guy is like the key, and the lady is the keyhole’. And that was all I knew about anything sexual for two years.

    When I was 11, I looked up porn. I didn’t start having sexual urges until I was 15, didn’t start menstruating until 16, and wasn’t sexually active until 17, so lucky for me the misconceptions presented by porn didn’t have much of a chance to affect my sexuality adversely, because by 17 I’d gotten smarter. Anyway, at age 11, I just thought, “Hm, ok then. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” I still used that as a basis for learning about different ‘kinds’ of sex.

    At 12, my mother had a brief conversation with me that made very little sense and that I can’t remember any of because I was blushing furiously, dizzy with embarrassment, and just saying yes to everything until she let me go.

    At 13, I started growing pubic hair. I already knew it was common for women to rid themselves of armpit hair, but had heard nothing of this. And yet, none of the women in the porn I’d watched had pubes. I came to the conclusion quickly and without doubt that porn was obviously inaccurate (I’d already been leaning towards that, as I knew most women and men looked nothing like porn actors), and looked around online until I found sites like gURL.com (not recommended) and Scarleteen (highly recommended).

    Phew, sorry that turned out so long. My discovery of the existence of sexuality was a lengthy journey.

  4. Tara
    June 22, 2010 at 11:12 am

    My parents were of the opinion that stuff like this was too “awkward” and “difficult” to talk about, so they didn’t. It was never brought up, and any questions I asked were answered with “you don’t need to know that right now.” I learned about sex and menstruation from the Encyclopedia Britannica. My first sexual experiences were most decidedly Not Good because I had no examples of what a healthy relationship was like. Sadly, it took a couple abusive boyfriends before I caught onto the idea that sex was something that *I* could choose to do and something that should be enjoyed.

    I don’t plan to have kids, but if I ever do you can be damn certain that I will TALK about these things with them.

  5. em
    June 22, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I went to catholic school until 9th grade. The only ‘sex ed’ we had was when they took the boys to one classroom and the girls to another in 6th grade and told us girls about periods and how condoms have tiny holes that are much bigger than the average sperm cell and having an abortion means you’ll die and go to hell, all the while never mentioning penises or the actual mechanics of sex, let alone anything that deviated from heterosexuality (because that’s a sin, of course). Meaning, I learned nothing about sex in school.

    At home it was no different. My dad never mentioned anything about sex to me and refused to even believe I had a boyfriend when I was 16. My mom told me about periods and pubic hair and growing breasts and curves when I was about 11 and she did so in great detail, explaining to me that that’s the process by which little girls turn into young women, but she never told me anything about boys or sex. I was an only child so I was never presented with the opportunity to ask where the little brother/sister was coming from.

    Eventually I learned about sex from books I looked at in the school library and from a boyfriend I had when I was a senior in highschool, who refused to wear condoms because “they don’t work anyway, so why bother” and convinced me that if we had sex during my period I could not get pregnant. It wasn’t until late in my college years that I learned proper sex ed, from a roommate who was taking a course on human sexuality for her psychology degree.

  6. June 22, 2010 at 11:21 am

    My parents had made sure that their children understood the basics of “how babies are made” (age appropriate books, and carefully unspecific answers to questions) and when I was seven, a friend showed me three “hand signs” and, without explaining them, asked me to choose “which one I wanted to be”. One was the forefinger if one hand going through a circle made by holding forefinger and thumb of the other hand. One was holding together two circles made by forefinger and thumb of both hands: one was touching both forefingers together at the tips.

    I had no idea what any of these signs meant, but I thought the “two circles” one was the prettiest, so I picked that. I was told NO, that means you’re a LESBIAN, the one you OUGHT to pick is THIS one (repeat forefinger going into thumb-and-finger circle). I asked what LESBIAN meant and my friend didn’t know.

    …and you know, it never occurred to me till a few years ago that in fact I did pick “being a lesbian”.

    In 1981, when I was 14, Spare Rib published an article on Lesbians, and I read and re-read it, fascinated, until my mum noticed. She wrote me a letter when I was away on holiday, saying she hoped if I was having “any problems in that way” I would talk to her about it. I read, was confused, and of course never did talk to her about it, until I came out to her three years later.

  7. DMA
    June 22, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I usually don’t comment on blogs I read, but my story is so vastly different from yours that I wanted to share. I’m in my early 30s and straight, for reference. My experience was not positive; I was pretty ignorant about sex until my late teens and had emotional issues about it well into my 20s.

    I never got the Sex Talk from my parents. My mom simply told me that sex was what a man did to a woman when he wanted to use her, unless they were married and then it was ok. Therefore, I shouldn’t have sex before I was married because men only want to marry virgins. Men, you see, only want to get in your pants, and if you let them, then you’ll look “used” or “hard” and no one will marry you. Also, French kissing is for sluts and women don’t masturbate (only men do that, and it’s dirty).

    I learned everything about sex and reproduction through my public school’s sex ed program, which only taught about menstruation and that sperm + egg = baby. My first awareness of sex as a physical act occurred while watching an R rated movie at a friend’s house. There was a fairly graphic sex scene for back then (i.e. thrusting was shown). I was unbelievably disturbed and grossed out by what I saw. I was 15.

    Needless to say, I had issues about sex, intimacy, and guilt well into adulthood. I didn’t give or receive oral sex until halfway through college because I was terrified that if I did, the boy would immediately break up with me, having gotten what he wanted. There were times that I went home and cried after fooling around. I felt guilty for “letting” a guy fool around with me, and I felt guilty for *wanting* to be intimate with someone beyond holding hands or chaste kissing. I had my first orgasm when I was a junior in college. I had no idea what it was, and thought that I was going to pee on the boy who was going down on me. I didn’t have another orgasm until after I lost my virginity and was having regular sex and masturbating with an attentive partner (I’m talking years, here).

    I didn’t masturbate until grad school, when I was given a vibrator by my boyfriend (now husband). I was pretty convinced that I was the only woman on earth who did. It was like my dirty secret.

    I didn’t lose my virginity until grad school. I really wanted to have sex with my boyfriend, and felt terribly guilty about it. I was convinced, with 100 percent certainty, that he would break up with me as soon as I slept with him. Or, as my mom said, he’d keep me around so he could have sex, and then dump me when he found a virgin to marry. My boyfriend got a summer job in another country, and somehow I rationalized that if I had sex with him in another country, that was okay. Maybe because it wouldn’t be real? Who knows. So, I flew to another country with the intent of losing my virginity. It was physically awkward but emotionally satisfying. A few years later, we got married. So, I’ve only had one sex partner. While I’d never cheat on him, I regret now not having more partners when I was single, I feel like I missed out on some interesting experiences. It took me YEARS to admit that *I love sex* and that it was okay.

    Thankfully, my husband is very sex positive and provided the type of environment I needed to learn that sex isn’t some dirty act that a woman passively receives. I also have some very sex positive female friends that I can confide in. I’d like to think that now, after all this time, I have a healthy and positive attitude towards sex. In the next few years, I’ll probably have a child and I will DEFINITELY be more like your mom, Erica, than like mine. I don’t want my child to feel guilty about sex. Hopefully I’ll create a safe, positive environment where s/he can talk to me about it, ask questions, and get the reassurance from me that I never got from my mom.

    It goes without saying that my mom and I have never, not once, talked candidly about sex.

  8. June 22, 2010 at 11:55 am

    When I was five, my fellow five year old down the street explained the entire process to me in specific detail. I found it entirely unlikely, not to mention appalling. A few years after that, my little brother and I found my mother’s copy of The Happy Hooker, and read it cover to cover over the next week, learning everything we ever wanted to know about sex, including (for those of you who have not read this important text) sex with German Shepherds. So when I was eleven and my parents very sweetly gave me a book called Almost Twelve which explained menstruation, sex, and pregnancy in very WASPy terms with line drawings, um, well. Kind of LATE, Ma.

    My daughter, OTOH, I explained it all to her when she was three (the first time she asked) and then again when she was five (because she had forgotten) and then again when she was eight, with a book this time. A little after that, I learned she was taking all the kids at her Montessori school (we live in Arkansas, amongst the very rusty bit of the buckle of the Bible Belt, and her schoolmates are not allowed to even say the WORD sex) out behind the trees on the playground and explaining to them (they are 11 and 12 years old) how sex works and why they should ALWAYS use condoms. She makes someone act as a look-out.

    This cracks me up, BTW.

  9. June 22, 2010 at 11:56 am

    My mother finally decided to have the contraception talk with me last week. Of course, it is kind of late now since I’m 34 years old, recently got married for the second time, and had many boyfriends in between. I asked her why now, given that I have been sexually active for almost 20 years and have obviously figured things out for myself. She says that she always felt like she should have had the talk with me, so better late than ever. :-) :-)

  10. June 22, 2010 at 11:59 am

    My parents borrowed a sex ed book at the library when I was 9, or maybe I requested it, I do not know. I never got beyond the title page, because it happened that it was the book I had at hand when my father made me read to him to boost my reading skills. I think he didn’t check the title of the book before having me read it for academic purposes. That is mostly what I remember about sex ed from my parents. It wasn’t that they actively avoided the subject, but I was naive and uninterested and probably never asked.

  11. Brennan
    June 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I was three when my mom got pregnant with my sister, so I got the “babies come from mommies’ tummies” talk pretty early. But how do they get in there? God. But how do they get out? There’s a hole. But where’s the hole? Never mind. I don’t remember very well, but my dad might have been involved in these conversations.

    Then came the menstration talk when I was nine, including the basics of the internal parts and how sperm+egg=baby. Still no practical information on how the sperm gets there, but at least I knew where the hole was. Dad was definitely not part of these talks, and Mom insisted that I Not Tell My Sister. I guess knowing about pads would corrupt her innocence.

    Fortunately, my school had a somewhat comprehensive “family life” program, at least in terms of the health stuff, contraceptives, ect. In a nod to Bush-era “abstinence only education,” the teachers were allowed to show us condoms and diaphragms so long as they were encased behind glass like museum exhibits. In the fine tradition of the public school education, I could list and describe at least ten STD’s before I had even a cursory grasp of the mechanics. I guess I was about 12 before one of them finally let slip that *gasp* the penis actually goes in the vagina. Nothing beyond PIV sex was covered in the classroom, and that only in the vaguest terms. Homosexuality? What’s that? (I remember watching season 7 of Buffy and being very confused.)

    When I was 13 my mom discovered that I didn’t know what oral was during a surprisingly explicit episode of Boston Public. Cue the most embarassing 30 second conversation of my entire life.

    For everything else, I was on my own. Porn filled in some of the gaps (hee, fan fiction), romance novels thoroughly confused me, and masturbation provided a bit of practical experience (though for quite a while I was convinced that there was Something Wrong With Me). It’s a good thing I was a late bloomer. I discovered the feminist blogosphere when I was twenty, along with Scarleteen, thank God.

    Overshares are fun!

  12. gruntled atheist
    June 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    @ delagar …and then again when she was eight, with a book this time. What book? And your daughter’s teaching career, that’s terrific!

  13. AK
    June 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    It’s funny, I don’t really remember my parents ever having “the talk” with me, but they certainly didn’t lie to me–I always knew that babies got made because Mommy and Daddy did something more than kissing in the bedroom (and apparently that they did it for fun because I remember being both quite aware that they were doing it–my parents were kind of loud and we had a small house LOL–and also that we weren’t going to have any new additions to the family). Again, I don’t remember any birth control related talks but I had all the tools at my disposal and knew how to keep myself safe before I started having sex (and it sure wasn’t from school sex ed, which was abstinence-only). And when those methods failed, my mom told me she’d support whatever decision I made and then drove me to the abortion clinic when I told her that was what I wanted, and stayed with me for three days afterward. I felt comfortable telling her because, even though she’d never told me she was pro-choice and I don’t remember ever talking about it with her, I knew she loved me and wouldn’t judge me.

    I do remember, though, that she did give me a talk about how a lot of men aren’t good at making women orgasm but that it’s important that my partner make sure I’m satisfied too. I think maybe I remember this because she went into a bit more detail about my father’s, shall we say, talents than I was entirely comfortable hearing. What can I say, my parents are comfortable in their sexuality.

    So I guess either I have a terrible memory or my parents did a really good job of subtly answering questions and making their views known as the need arose.

  14. Paraxeni
    June 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    When I was two my mother got pregnant with my brother, and gave a basic explanation. When I was three I mouthed off at her for having ‘dirty knickers’ (it was her period, I’d seen her undies in the sink and thought it was deeply unfair that she wasn’t in trouble for ‘messing’ them!) and she explained what it was, and that “Mammies sometimes wear little nappies like you used to, to catch the mess, but we don’t always know when it will happen.” After that I was her pad fetcher! She explained it all to my brother too.

    At seven I received my ‘How We Grow Up’ book from her, which explained everything from discharge and hair, to arousal and consent, and promptly took it to school to share with my friends. Ahem. The less said about that incident, the better.

    At eight the hair arrived everywhere, the full B-cups came overnight (literally – I never got to wear the cute training bras she’d bought!). At eight, hips, an arse, and a killer rack are not fun. Fat-shaming ahoy, from everywhere She’d never taught me anything about hair removal either, as she thought it unnecessary, so as a proud post-pubertal Paraxeni I got a heavy-handed dose of ridicule and disgust from my peers about my hairy pits and legs.

    Then came the curse. Yes, I was prepared for it educationally and mentally, but not for the pain. My previously liberal, educational mother vanished and was replaced with someone who said “Ha, tough, welcome to womanhood. I had to put up with it, now it’s your turn.” Sadly my father shared her attitude, and I went from age 11 to 26 believing I was defective, weak, and damaged because I did not embrace my ‘womanhood’ or the vomiting, fainting and haemorrhaging that went with it. Luckily masturbation was encouraged in our house, so I did get brief respite from the cramping occasionally.

    So the good things were giving me info, not forcing societal tropes about the dirtiness of body hair onto me, encouraging exploration, saying “I don’t like using tampons but it’s your body, I’ll get you some to try” and not promoting heterosexism.

    The bad things were ignoring my suffering, not warning me that “Some people think X, Y and Z about hair/bodies/etc”, and drawing negative attention to my early development.

  15. Tracey
    June 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    These are some great stories. I’m in my early 30s, and neither of my parents really talked to me about sex. I learned about puberty and sex through public school – thank goodness they taught me something. Although at the time they could not teach students how to use contraception.

    I had a boyfriend at 16. I wasn’t sexually active, but my mom was afraid that I was (and my dad stayed out of sex convos altogether). When we were driving in the car together (ie, no possible escape!), she’d tell me sex horror stories. For example, “your aunt had sex too young, and it hurt her, and now she can’t have babies!” She also told me that if I ever got pregnant she wouldn’t be taking care of the baby.

    Her messed up advice only turned me more towards the arms of my boyfriend. I still didn’t become sexually active, but it probably made for a co-dependent relationship, lasting several years. I also had a low self-esteem which I believe led me to make some poor decisions around relationships.

  16. rebekah
    June 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    First time I ever saw the word sex was when I was four and was reading a book intended for tenth graders. I looked up what it meant in the dictionary and got thoroughly confused. So I asked my mom who blushed and asked where I heard that word and then took my book away.
    When I was 7 and had to go get a bra my mother explained in the vaguest way possible about breasts, armpit hair and periods. She never told me about pubic hair or vaginal discharge so when those started happening I was confused and ashamed thinking that there was something wrong with me. she got pregnant when I was ten and decided that it was time to explain sex to me. I got a “the man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina and releases sperm which meets an egg inside of a woman’s tubes and then it settles into the uterus where you have your period from”. by that point I had pretty much figured that part out. What I wanted to was where he stuck his penis in. I had been masturbating since I was seven (even though I really didn’t know that’s what I was doing) and there wasn’t anywhere to stick anything in. I was even more confused. When I got my first period at the age of 11 I decided to finally look and see what was going on. I took the hand mirror my mother used to pluck her eyebrows with and got down on the floor looking at my vagina for the first time. I remember thinking that it had too many layers and that the hole was too small. At the age of twelve my step father raped me. I was terrified I was going to get pregnant. So I finally decided to start educating myself. I hacked into my mom’s internet account and unblocked all of the blocks which wouldn’t let me search for sexual health information. I luckily found both planned parenthood and scarleteen and I finally knew what the hell was going on. I’m nineteen just lost my virginity, but I’ve known more about sex and sexual health than most adults for seven years. My journey has been long but I made it and I have the knowledge to take charge of my body and my sexual experiences for years now.

  17. Deltabob
    June 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    My mom pointed to the television one day when a rerun of “The Andy Griffith” show was on; the episode where Andy gives Opie “the talk”. Mom just said “There.” I think I was about 11. When I started menstruating, she just said “Oh, you started that monthly bleeding crap?” then put me to bed for a week.

    Everything I learned came from books or my friend; then later, experience.

    I was confused about sexuality for a long time – I knew that I liked boys, so I knew I wasn’t “gay”; however, I also liked girls, and I hadn’t had any exposure to bi-sexuality, so it wasn’t until I went to university that I had a name for what I was.

  18. Tab
    June 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    My parents never gave me ‘the talk’. The closest I ever came to it was that when I was twelve, my mother gave me a book about puberty, and expected me to work out the rest myself.

    The thing is, this actually worked well for me, since I was the sort of kid who voraciously read anything and anything, and got most of their information about the world from books. I don’t recall ever asking my parents where babies came from; instead, I found out by reading books about the human body. Similarly, I learned about sex and relationships from various books on those subjects aimed at young teenagers.
    All things considered, I think it gave me a pretty well-informed and sex-positive outlook. I was lucky enough to have access to the kind of books which were all about challenging myths and loving your body, and how you weren’t wrong or sick if you developed at a certain rate or didn’t want to have sex a certain way. I can remember being completely astonished when, at sixteen, a female friend confessed that she’d never masturbated; everything I’d read had told me it was completely normal and healthy for women as well as men, and I’d presumed everyone held that attitude. (Not that there’s anything wrong with not masturbating if you don’t want to, but she specifically said she hadn’t because a friend had told her it was disgusting and wrong for women to do so.)

    The only downside to all of this was that all of those books assumed an entirely hetero and cis audience. What I had wasn’t a bad start, but it would’ve been even better if it’d addressed a wider range of experiences.

  19. June 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I always blocked any attempt by my mother to discuss sex or sexual development with me. She was sexually abusive to me, and any discussions of that nature triggered anxiety attacks in me. I didn’t even like to go to the beach with the family in a bathing suit because I always felt that she was checking me out. Imagine that- wanting to flee when the abuser tries to talk to have The Talk with you about sex. In school, I learned about sex once in 4th grade where the Catholic school took girls & showed us a movie and explained pads, tampons & menstruation. Then again in 9th grade at a Catholic high school: sex ed was only about 2 weeks long and the only option presented was the rhythm method. Finally I escaped and attended a public high school for last two years of HS – in the junior year at that school- they have year long comprehensive health – covered sex ed, mental health, abuse etc. THAT is where I learned about sex. That is also where I learned that my mother was an abuser. I believe that if I hadn’t received that education, I would have ended up diseased, pregnant or dead because I fell back on it a lot to make decisions about relationships, sex, and all of the other lovely experiences of life. So, no, my mother never gave me a mirror to examine myself. She did it for me. Forcefully. I no longer speak with her.

  20. Heather
    June 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I guess I learned about sex from TV. There was a period where we had free HBO, Showtime and Cinemax, and I would sneak in the living room when my parents, who are both very heavy sleepers, and watch Skinemax. I also found my father’s Playboy magazines and was just a generally nosey (or inquisitive) kid. In 3rd grade, a girl wrote me a note asking if I knew how babies were made and what sex was. I wrote (and I remember this, because my mother still has it): “the man puts his long thing into the lady’s thing and they yell at each other!” That little letter got confiscated, my mother was called to the school immediately, and I went home for the day. My mom didn’t say anything on the car ride home, but once she finally worked up the nerve to talk to me about it, she asked how I found it. Around that same time, my brother had gotten his (16 year old) girlfriend pregnant, so it was only appropriate we have that talk right then. She basically told me I had it all right, except the yelling was something people did if they were enjoying themselves so it wasn’t really yelling. She said that you only do those things if you love someone, but never implied you must be married.

    Throughout my adolescence, we openly talked about sex. I confided in her after I lost my virginity (at age 17, with my first serious boyfriend), and the only thing she asked was if I was careful. Wait, actually, I think she asked if I thought it was overrated? (Probably hoping I would say “yes” but oh well.) I was already on the pill for PCOS so we never had to do that awkward thing.

    I mean, she never specifically talked to me about orgasms or loving my vulva or anything like that, but she also never told me that was specifically damaging. So, yeah, props to my mom.

  21. Paraxeni
    June 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @Deltabob – “I was confused about sexuality for a long time – I knew that I liked boys, so I knew I wasn’t “gay”; however, I also liked girls, and I hadn’t had any exposure to bi-sexuality, so it wasn’t until I went to university that I had a name for what I was.”

    I was confused because I didn’t feel attracted to guys, only looked at girls, and never wanted to live with a man or have kids but didn’t feel ashamed or suicidal, and didn’t have a crew-cut or wear dungarees. They were the only media messages I got in the days pre-internet, and magazines aimed at women and girls took such pains to stress that everyone lusted after other women because they were ‘safe’ and would eventually find ‘Mr Right’ that I went with it. I was so happy when I realised I was gay, because before that I thought I was just broken! Thank you internet.

  22. Ami
    June 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Oh, “the talk.” As someone who works for girl-serving feminist nonprofits, I have been the giver of so much accurate, empowering sexual information to so many girls…and it has allowed me to see second how many parents are afraid, ashamed, or uninformed. However, I get it…I have every intention of being forthright with my hypothetical future kids, but I think there’s something inherently different about telling them about sex than talking to a classroom full of girls.

    So my story isn’t actually that interesting. I don’t remember ever being really unaware of sex…because my mom got pregnant with my brother when I was almost three. That came with a brief, frank explanation…which was expanded upon when I asked other questions as a 5 year old.

    I remember gather other information through movies and books…I’ve always been pretty intuitive about the whole thing too. I remember talking about sex with friends (for as long as I can think back, it’s always come up–that big mysterious act) and I would speculate with them about things that I later learned were true.

    My parents did a LOT of problematic things in my life, but my sex ed was not one of them. They never shamed sex and they didn’t say I needed to wait until I was married, just that I should protect myself and understand the consequences. They also offered to get me birth control if I needed it, but I was too self-determined (and embarrassed to ask) so I got it on my own…but knowing that it was something that was acceptable for me to have when I was ready was really helpful.

    I think it was this tone set in my life that allowed me to be a sex educator as an adult.

  23. June 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I can’t remember when I learned where babies come from. I remember my father very earnestly trying to give me The Big Talk when I was 12, and I told him he was too late. A year earlier I’d given and gotten oral with a girl my age. He was a bit shocked. I didn’t have PIV intercourse until I was 17, by which point I had already been in a few threesomes and was beginning to think of myself as a kinkster; because of that I’m accutely aware that age-of-first-intercourse is very narrow indicator of young people’s sexual development.

    School did fairly well with biology, anatomy, STIs, etc. up until high school, but in high school in the late 1980s, they got serious and our class got real educations about HIV and prevention, including same sex relationship. We watched a video with Rae Dawn Chong (remember her?) explaining that the anus was dry and tight and needed additional lube for penetration. I’ve written about how I didn’t really appreciate the comprehensive sex ed I got at the time.

    My mother also talked to me about relationships and respect. We were operating from somewhat different paradigms, but she was really trying to do right by me. When I was in college I came out to her as a BDSMer, and until her death we had a tremendously open and forthright relationship about sexuality.

    As a parent, I know that it’s better to give my kids information they don’t understand and have to tell them twice than to wait and leave them unarmed. I explained intercourse, fetal development and childbirth (including cesarean) to my oldest when he was four — he’s very interested in biology, so when his biology books explained how the sperm and egg join, he wanted to know how they got there, and when they talked about fetal development, he wanted to know how the fetus got out. So I told him.

    I think what gets left out so often is the sexuality and relationship stuff. Antirape education, for example, should start before kids know what rape is. All my kids know, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.” Respect and consent for roughhousing preschoolers and respect and consent for sex partners are really not that different, so that a solid grounding in the concepts need not wait.

  24. Erin
    June 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I got the basics when I was four: the basic mechanics of vaginal intercourse, and the “sperm meets egg” and pregnancy stuff. Sex wasn’t presented to me as bad, but it wasn’t presented as pleasurable either. As far as I was concerned, sex was just a thing you did when you wanted a baby – not because I thought that sex outside of procreation was bad or abnormal, but because I didn’t see any reason why you would do it if you didn’t want a baby. I didn’t understand why people were so obsessed with sex.

    All my knowledge beyond that point, I learned on an Internet forum when I was 10. Kudos to the people in that forum, because I actually got accurate information. I learned about female anatomy besides the vagina, I learned about how sex can be pleasurable for men and women, and I learned how to masturbate. Yes, from an Internet forum.

    To this day I’m tempted to confront my mom and tell her that I got a better sex education from an Internet forum than I got from her.

  25. June 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    My father was good to answer all my numerous questions accurately and truthfully, even at a young age. He managed real estate properties, which had to be maintained for those who wanted to buy them, so I would go with him on long car trips, usually on Saturdays. While on our way, we had a series of talks about the birds and the bees. This went on for a year or two.

    I was pretty precocious for my age so I knew of many words and concepts regarding sex, even though I wasn’t sure what they really were or really meant. But as for eroticism or anything particularly detailed regarding how one had sex, I learned that mostly from soft porn movies and reading erotica. And, of course, I didn’t truly understand sex until I lost my virginity at age 16.

  26. M
    June 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    As someone who’s still 17, I’m still learning – but I remember that when my mum had ‘the talk’ with me, it wasn’t about sex at all, but menstruating. (That would be when I was around 8/9?) I also remember looking up the word ‘sex’ in a dictionary, and just nodding solemnly to myself and carrying on with life. (Er, I was a weirdly nonjudgmental kid.) I’ve always been a curious sort of person, and I do remember exploring my body when I was 11/12, but even if I was horny it didn’t go anywhere, as I didn’t know what to do. The next wave of self-educated sex-knowledge came through the medium of TV; I went through a wave of randomly downloading and watching telly on my computer in my early teens, and remember looking at the positions/thrusting/noises and going: ‘Oh. OH. You do that.’ (I didn’t intentionally download things with sex in it, but as we know there’s sex in quite a few things, heh) Sex ed at school happened when I was 15 – which is pretty late, I suppose – and I mostly had the technical things worked out by that time. I’m still inexperienced when it comes to actual sex, so, thank you to Flutterby for Scarleteen – I’m so glad I’ve found a useful site. I’ll definitely be directing my friends to it.

    Looking back my parents have had little to no influence on what I know about sex, which I suspect is potentially quite damaging. (Two reasons: a) they are crap at this sort of thing, b) they left it to my school) We aren’t a close family, but I’ll definitely be telling my little sis that she can talk with me about it anytime. If I have kids in the future I’d definitely want to talk to them about sex.

  27. June 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Just to be facetious, your mother wasn’t having you look at your vagina, unless there was a speculum involved; she was having you look at your vulva. ;)

    My mum sat me down when I was twelve and started drawing little diagrams for me in a rather embarrassed fashion. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d learned it all already at school four years earlier!

  28. Burn
    June 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    My family never talked about sex. Ever. Or anything personal. As far as I was concerned (as someone who is about 95% asexual) that was perfectly fine, because I just wasn’t interested and it was unlikely that anything was going to happen. I don’t think my parents ever explained the “birds and the bees” to me. Somewhere along the line, when I was 8 or so, The Miracle of Life book got mixed in with my Donald Duck comics and I read it and learned about baby development. Still nothing about sex. I think I was 13 or 14 when I figured out what having sex actually entailed, despite several rounds of “sex ed” at school (which was basically about puberty and getting your period; nothing about what sex actually was.) I had to ask what the symbolism of putting a condom on a cucumber actually was, embarrassingly. (This was at an all-girls school, and I knew some of my classmates had relationships with boys, but that was all outside of school, and my friends were about as clueless as I was and so I had no idea what actually went on.)

    I started visiting feminist sites like gURL.com and Estronet around age 14 or 15, but even though they were sex-positive and I did a lot of reading, I didn’t really relate to it. I had a very sex-positive Health class in high school (this was in San Francisco) but unfortunately the idea I got at the time was that if I didn’t want to explore my sexuality, I was probably repressed or a prude.

    When I was 18, I dated a guy for the first time. My father finally decided it was time to have a talk with me–one that basically entailed, “You know, you can get pregnant, so you should probably go make an appointment with an OB/GYN and get some birth control.” I already knew this, of course, but made a point of going even though I still wasn’t interested in sex.

    For the 5% of the time when I have any sex drive at all, the internet has been very helpful, and should I ever have kids I hope to do a better job with it all than my parents did. I don’t really fault them for it. They picked up on things that were bothering me pretty well and were willing to talk, but I think they just took my lack of interest in sex as meaning they shouldn’t talk to me at all, which isn’t really true; even asexual folks should be informed.

  29. June 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Oh, I should probably have been more thorough! I learned about reproduction from the “welcome to womanhood and menstruation” presentation all the girls got in 6th grade (with a goody bag that included a sanitary belt and one Kotex pad). The boys were insanely curious about what the girls had in their little bags afterward, but we all had a secret the boys didn’t know yet, so we were very cool.

    I ignored my mother’s advice and kissed boys A LOT … probably more after she warned me off it, because if my mom was against it, I was for it. I learned a lot about anatomy from all that kissing, fondling, groping and petting, but I didn’t actually lose my virginity (in the “penis/vagina” sense) until my wedding night. I lost it in the literal “broken hymen” sense in the back seat of my fiance’s car during a particularly passionate session of heavy petting.

    Sometime during my high school years my older sister and I were treated to the following review of sex from my mother, over a pot of fudge she was whipping up in the kitchen:

    Mom: If you ever do let some man do it to you, make sure he wears a condom. Otherwise all that nasty stuff runs down your leg.

    My mother wasn’t very sex positive … lol. My father, on the other hand, kept a stack of Playboy magazines in his closet, a box of condoms in his bedside table (which we counted, and the poor man hardly ever got to use one) and a little newspaper article about flavored douches with “strawberry” circled. My mother later told me that they hadn’t had sex in the last 15 years of their marriage. I’m betting the moratorium dated to the day he showed her the douche article.

    After three false start marriages with men and two children I figured out I was a lesbian at 40. Slow learner much?? Anyway, at 56, in a committed lesbian relationship, I look back and am happy to say I’ve had a pretty splendid sex life, Mom’s crappy attitude toward it notwithstanding. Some things you just have to go for and figure out for yourself! : )

  30. June 22, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    I was ill for most of the 5th-grade sex-ed week, and my mom asked me if I wanted her to borrow the videos so I could learn about that stuff. Horrified, I said no, and that was the end of that.

    She alluded to a few bad things that had happened between her and various boyfriends in the past, but I’ve never found out specifics. We never really did “the talk.” I was embarrassed and scared when I started my period, and remember hiding my underwear in the closet the first time. I don’t think I ever mentioned that it had started.

    In high school, I bought a used Physiology and Anatomy textbook at the library, and learned some col stuff about the human body. Then I got to the 900 pages. It was a very Heart Of Darkness moment, “The horror, the horror!” and I basically educated myself with books and the internet out of sheer terror. After all, there had to be some good in that process, right?

    Things evened out with the help of books, the internet, and some solidly good boyfriends. Now I am the super sex-health-and-education-and-pleasure champion to my friends :)

  31. Mia
    June 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I come from a multiple-single-mothers family environment of obnoxiously loud gossips prone to accidental – and usually very public/non-sober – over sharing, which was really only exacerbated from the communal lifestyle homelessness forced upon us all when I was hitting puberty. So during the years when most start asking questions about sex, I rarely even had to because answers (often detailed and explicit in nature like when I was twelve and learned about the mechanics of anal sex from an older, drunk sister figure) always filtered down to nosy little me, whether I wanted them to or not. I quite honestly don’t remember asking about how sex itself worked (or the differences between oral/penetrative/etc.) – I was just told and/or overheard, at different points in my life, by different people with different levels of appropriateness/actual knowledge. I never experienced “the talk”; people in my life just said shit and expected me to know what the hell they were going on about. My mother – whose view of sex when I was growing up basically amounted to ‘if you’re gonna do it, use a fucking condom goddammit’ – did her best to try and keep sexual conversations mostly child-appropriate when I was young, but she also hung out with some unscrupulous individuals so she was only partially successful in this regard.

    I mean, one of the most memorable sex conversations I had as a preteen, for instance, was with a “friend” of my mother’s, who had done prison time for statutory rape (among other things). He was very, very insistent that I never let myself be taken advantage of sexually or otherwise. “Don’t ever let me see you on your knees for any man,” is exactly how the conversation started and it ended with some very specific advice, in regards to how I was actually supposed to negotiate with men in a sexual sphere in the neighborhoods I was growing up in. [For the curious: I was, according to him, to ignore the advances of boys my own age or younger – even if a fist or two became involved – and to seek out alliances with those older, instead. These alliances were not to be sexual, though. I was simply supposed to use my cuteness/intelligence factor to make them like me enough (but not too much) so that should I ever face the threat of assault, I had backs to hide behind and protect me.]

    As far as my sexual education in school goes, it was surprisingly comprehensive. I think this is in part because I attended a lot of schools in a several more liberal cities (six elementary, two middle, one high school) and thus I was exposed to a wider variety of questions/answers/points of view/etc. in terms of sex education. I knew what Planned Parenthood was before I entered high school and I knew that it was where I should go if I ever got in any “trouble”. Plus there was the internet. I had access – and complete, unsupervised access – to a computer with internet as soon as I hit my teens. I learned a surprisingly amount about the variety of sex from the likes of online erotica. Talk about an eye opener.

    To be sure though I did get one constant, consistent message in regards to sex – which I’m actually rather amazed at some days especially when I talk about this sort of things with others – and that was that I should never allow myself to be forced into it and when I did eventually have it, at my own discretion and when I was truly ready, I should do so safely (with condoms/birth control/etc.) unless I wanted to be a mother/STD-ridden. As this message came from my mother, my teachers, and even known criminals, I took it damn serious and did not have sex until college, at which point I was on the pill and was in the habit of carrying a condom in my own wallet, just in case.

  32. June 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    When I was very little, I don’t remember the exact age, and I first asked how babies were made, my mother gave me a book on the mechanical biology of sex, and the cellular meiosis that resulted in pregnancy. I apparently became bored and left it alone and forgot about it.

    Later, around 5th grade, my mom sat me down one weekend and basically gave me a crash course on sex, from the biology about it to some of the social implications, and how to have safe sex, birth control, what did and didn’t constitute virginity (in the hetero-normative sense, we never went into gay sex).

    She also showed me how to be careful about information surrounding it. We watched a Christian sex ed video, and after the ‘sperm meets egg’ bit, it basically said that it was the beginning of a baby and grew into one in a way only God understood. This was after she had shown me the video that showed the meiosis and cellular process from zygote to infant, including stages of pregnancy, so obviously not just God understood it. And later, I Googled sex, and got to porn, and figured out the mechanics of it and decided it was boring and went back to my Neopets.

    (Irony: even as I initially found porn fairly boring, I was already masturbating, in the sense I had already figured out that rubbing certain spots of my body in certain ways in the shower felt really, really good – when I had my first orgasm, I have no clue, except that I was somewhere between 10 and 14).

    I personally feel this had a positive effect on me. I’m 17, and ironically still never had sex, and I’ve dumped boyfriends quickly when I saw how invested in their own pleasure, and not in mine – one of which later turned out to be an emotionally negligent “player” with several other girls in my class. All of these, I attribute to an early understanding of my body and pleasure. I firmly am one of those who believes in giving teenagers porn and teaching them how to masturbate, because that’s what’s kept my from sex so far – and I live in an incredibly liberal area, and sexual activity is open and common among the teenagers at my school, so this is considered especially “odd” (and this is quite amusing to my classmates who know I now watch more porn than most guys my age). My parents and I have a very open line of communication about all this. My mother knows that when I first have sex, she’ll be the first to know, and my father has offered to take me to get birth control for not just period regulation (which was the reason the doctor recommended), but in the understanding that right about now is when I am starting getting sexually active.

    tl;dr – my mother introduced me to sex from the biological standpoint, and slowly eased me into social and personal issues surrounding it later on, and I attribute this to my healthy sex and love life.

    (Long comment is long: sorry)

  33. Melissa
    June 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    My parents never talked to me about sex. (At least not until I was 19, and we were in the car on the way home from a cousin’s wedding, and my mom said “your aunt told me that Ellie’s a VIRGIN! She actually didn’t have sex until the wedding night. Weird, huh?” and I remember mentally noting “ah, so that’s what mom thinks on the premarital sex issue. Hm.”) They did, however, give me some puberty books (what to expect, why you’re not dying if you start bleeding from the crotch, etc.) when I was 11 or 12.
    My school had sex ed in 7th grade. It wasn’t abstinence-only, just…”abstinence-mostly,” I suppose. They didn’t cover consent, relationships, the actual mechanics of sex, or anything…but we did learn about anatomy and what contraception is. And they did talk a lot about how we shouldn’t have sex until we’re married, but at least the idea of protection was covered “just in case.” (And without any of that “HIV can swim through the holes in condoms” bullshit.) Apparently, at the end of class, someone asked the teacher what an orgasm is and she answered the question, and somehow or another some parents heard that the teacher had “spent 15 minutes talking to the class about orgasms” and got very outraged. The next day the teacher gave us a pretty stern talking-to about how she just answered a question about what an orgasm is, and the thing about devoting 15 minutes of class time to orgasms was a lie we shouldn’t have told, because now all the parents were upset with her. (And she was right. I was in the class; there was no 15-minute orgasm speech).
    I first found out (well, sorta) where babies come from on the playground in 4th grade. Of course, at the time the story was that the man pees on the woman’s breasts, and that’s what sex is. I don’t remember when exactly I picked up on the actual mechanics of the thing. But by high school I at least had a basic idea.

  34. Molly
    June 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I want to start off with saying I found this site a few days ago, and this is my first comment. So, hi!

    For reference, I’m 24 and straight. As a small child, I don’t remember actually being told about sex, but I knew it had something to do with penises and what turned out to be the vulva (I had no concept of the actual vagina). When I was 8 my older sister found some porn tapes of my dad’s, and we watched them silently, and have never actually talked about this experience ever. I remember being very shocked at how violent the whole act seemed (although it was pretty straight forward sex, no rape fantasies or anything); keep in mind I didn’t know there was a hole at all. I couldn’t understand how it could possibly feel good.

    Later I learned from school about menstruation and the biology of sex (but never about the actual act itself), and lots about STDs, and very little about contraception. In high school we watched a video from the early 70s detailing pregnancy which showed a very up close and personal birth of a baby which proceeded to gross out every kid in the room. We learned that we should always use condoms (but not how), you should try to wait until marriage, but if not then make sure you loved and trusted them, and that no means no. No mention of nonhetero sexualities or masturbation.

    Things were complicated by my mother implying that girls who had sex before they graduated were sluts, and my father telling me that boys were evil and only wanted one thing. Both of these philosophies were shared as long as I can remember. This plus learning much later that my father was a sex addict who chronically cheated on my mother didn’t improve things.

    As for losing my virginity, I’m still not quite sure when it happened, because the first time I tried at age 19 I was so tight that my boyfriend at the time couldn’t actually penetrate. Later, at age 20, my present boyfriend and I had to have sex about a dozen times to actually break my hymen completely and for it to not be the MOST PAINFUL THING EVER. I only found out a few months ago that I have vagismus, a condition where the pelvic muscles are too constricted. For years, though I knew I wanted to have sex, it seemed like I was defective and destined to never to have an enjoyable experience.

    Although my boyfriend is very loving and supportive, I still have uncomfortable additudes about sex, my body, and receiving pleasure (I’ve never had an orgasm).

  35. what is THAT?
    June 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Short and concise:

    When I was 7 my mom gave birth to my sister and bought a whole bunch of books about pregnancy and that’s how I learned where babies came from. But didn’t know how they got there.
    Then at age of 9 I got my period and didn’t know what was it or what should I do. I knew my mom had some sort of “diapers for girls” on her closet so I assumed they were used for “that” (I read the instructions and followed them). I was really scared because I was bleeding! I thought I’d die (I even wrote a goodbye note just in case) I found later that “it” came every month or so and I kept stealing pads from my mom until I was able to buy them for myself.
    Sex? My father raped me at 13. The only thing he said it was so the boys wouldn’t get me pregnant and I could have some experience. That’s how I learned what sex was about.
    Still makes me wanna cry because I believed him and agreed to for several years (until I was 16 and found out that IT WAS WRONG) and got kicked out of my house because my mom didn’t believe me because, according to her it wasn’t rape per se, it was consensual…
    After several years of therapy and dealing with all I went through I still find sex somehow unpleasant and I have never seen myself “down there” (I truly believe my husband knows me better than me).

    I guess that’s what happens when you live in a 3rd world country with fundamentalist christian parents.

  36. Roving Thundercloud
    June 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    What I want to see is a book like the pregnancy and parenting series, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”–thanks Melissa for putting that in my head. It could have chapters like “Prepubescence: Your Friends Don’t Know Jack” and “Teen Years: Practice Makes Perfect”.

    Seriously though, my first 2 pieces of advice for my own daughter will be:
    1) You are not going to get any real information from your friends. If you don’t want to talk to me, find someone else or go to the library.
    2) Avoid porn. It might have its uses for us jaded adults, but it will only mess up your head right now.

  37. Ali
    June 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    I think my favorite part of learning about sex was that I had next to no idea what a penis looked like when I learned. the book my mom gave me was really informative about my body, but contained like no information on his. so then, when I was 14 and about to give my first boyfriend a handjob, it was all I could do not to tell him out loud how disappointed I was.

  38. Roving Thundercloud
    June 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    P.S. Sorry, I just submitted that without answering the question. My mom didn’t whip out a mirror, but she made sure I had access to a few good books. Everything got derailed, though, when she caught me with a copy of Hustler that someone had left hidden on the school playground. At the time, I couldn’t understand the desperation of her anger and frustration. It did permanently color my views on sex.

  39. Odin
    June 22, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    I was four when my mom was pregnant with my sister. My parents got me an age-appropriate book on fetal development, but it didn’t say _how_ the sperm an egg got together. I wondered about it for a long while, until we were at a museum when I was 8 or so, and I found a book that explained it. This meant that I understood all the dirty jokes people told in elementary school, at least until they started using non-obvious slang. I think that’s probably where I first picked up the “sex is bad and dirty” message, especially when around sixth grade people added “you know what sex is” to the list of things they’d bully me for.

    My parents did try to teach me about it in 6th grade or so. My mom read me a book while I buried my face under a pillow.

  40. Kelly
    June 22, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I found out about sex when I was ten and I kept catching references to “it” on tv, and kept nagging Mom to tell me what “it” was. She took out a book from the library that explained “it”, and I decided then and there that I never wanted to do “it” until I was married, mostly because it sounded gross. However, when I was thirteen, I dated a boy (I’ll call him Jerry) who was older and more developed than I was, and he was sexually abusive. When I finally escaped that relationship at the age of fourteen, I had skewed ideas about sexual relations. Although Jerry never made me “go all the way”, I had fooled around quite a bit. Finally, at the age of seventeen, I had my first girlfriend, whom I’ll call Sarah. I was so in love with her! She and I started fooling around very early on, as I had with everyone I dated after Jerry, and she finally made me talk about my experiences with him, and told me I didn’t have to have sex with her to express my love. Of course, we eventually did anyway, but it was on my terms. She must have asked me ten times if I was sure that first time! But it was beautiful, and we were together for over a year. I still have a soft spot for her, and I’m so glad she taught me the difference between sex and love, and where they come together.

  41. Etta Hollis
    June 22, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I started masturbating at age 3, but hid it with great stealth since my mother had informed me it was “sinful” and never something I should do because “it ruins what God created for a man and woman to share.”

    Age 9 we bought a new dog to join our female dog and over my morning cereal asked my mom “if people mated like dogs”. Her quick positive answer, slight laugh and quick exit are now entertaining.

    I was homeschooled til 7th grade so I was REALLY clueless about everything. I missed the whole girls class/boys class thing. I asked friends, but either they didn’t know themselves, or they were embarrassed to explain, or appalled I didn’t already know.

    The Vagina Monologues my freshman year of college changed my life forever, but I still feared my mother walking in and telling me to leave.

  42. J
    June 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    When I was seven (or possibly before then), I asked my parents a few times how women get pregnant, and received the answer that the mother and father decide that they really want to have a baby, and then they have one. I knew that explanation made no sense, and told them so; after that happened a couple of times, they explained it to me.

    By ‘it’ I mean that penis in vagina = baby, and nothing about how it worked or anything else related to it. I harbored hilarious misconceptions about this for years, found out about the vocabulary of sex here and there (it took me a couple of years to association the word ‘sex’ with that talk), and picked a bit more somehow- either overheard from other kids or in health class. It took a long time. My memories of summer camp at ten years old, for example, are mostly of a bunch of girls telling dirty jokes, but I don’t think any of us really knew what we were talking about.

    My parents clearly found the conversation horribly awkward, as did I (my seven-year-old response to the ‘talk,’ once I found out it involved nudity, was to put my hands over my ears and yell, “I’m not hearing this, I’m not hearing this!”) Because I wanted to avoid that awkwardness, I didn’t bring it up again. I also didn’t tell my parents when I started birth control. In fact, neither of my parents ever gave me a birth control talk, although they did give one to my younger sibling.

    Well before I actually had sex, though (in college), I became an active reader of a number of feminist sites and an online women’s health community. I think that prepared me more than anything else.

  43. Chris J
    June 22, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Early sixties – my mother volunteered in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers and fell into a trap when I asked her where babies really come from and how they get into mom’s tummy. She said that God know when girls were married and gave the couple a baby. She didn’t see it coming until I asked her how God had made so many mistakes with the girls at the Salvation Army. She didn’t really have an answer. I stopped believing in God, which was probably preferable to my mother than having me know details about sex.

  44. Cactus Wren
    June 23, 2010 at 1:59 am

    I think I’m a generation or more older than most posters to this thread. I was an early reader, and my first exposure to where-babies-come-from was the volume Growth in the old Time-Life “Science” series: specifically, the chapters with all the early Lennart Nilsson photos. I was about four.

    So I knew early how and where babies grew, but didn’t have a very clear idea how they got out for some time, and even less how they got in. (The same book had a paragraph or two on the youngest girl to carry to term and give birth — she was four years eight months old — and I was excited about the possibility of doing the same thing, perhaps even sooner than she had: I couldn’t understand why my mother, when I mentioned this, didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I was: at four, I didn’t fully realize that “having a baby” involved doing something to make pregnancy happen.)

    I remember a couple of little paperback books, “A Doctor Talks to Five- to Eight-Year-Olds” and “A Doctor Talks to Nine- to Twelve-Year-Olds”. Those finally got across how it gets in, but in the very baldest way. At the time such books usually used words like “insert”.

    I was about nine when I ran across the word “condom” in a book: I asked Mother what it meant, and she said it was “a rubber thing that fits over a man’s penis” to prevent conception. It was quite some time before I got past the mental image of something looking like a rubber crutch tip.

    At about the same time I asked what “rape” meant: I’d heard or read the line “And then he took out a razor and raped her!”, so I asked Mom what it meant, and she said, “He made her take her clothes off.”

    All this time I had no idea what an orgasm was, or that sex might be pleasurable for either party. It was just something you did to have a baby.

    I first masturbated when I was fourteen, and was consumed with guilt. I was past twenty before I learned to achieve orgasm fairly reliably. This was all solo, btw: between one thing and another (primarily the fact that I was my mother’s primary caregiver as her health deteriorated over a period of several years), I didn’t have sex with another person until I was thirty. I’ve never climaxed during partner sex.

  45. orgostrich
    June 23, 2010 at 2:22 am

    I started masturbating at around 10. I didn’t know what it was, just knew it felt good to touch “down there.” I had been told the area was dirty, so I would only do it with my pants on. I looked up the anatomy in a biology textbook, and the closest part that was labeled was the urethra, so I thought that’s what was the source of the feelings.

    Fortunately, I had complete sex ed in 8th grade, with anatomy, contraception, STDs, and healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. I didn’t really appreciate it until college, when I found out how rare that was.

    I never talked to my parents about sex. My dad’s advice/rule was to not touch boys at all, ever, for any reason (there was no marriage exception, and this was supposed to include holding hands). Luckily I got past that. :)

  46. June 23, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Coincidentally enough, a couple of days from now is the 19th anniversary of the day I lost my virginity.

    The story is here. Basically, at 14, I decided I didn’t want to be a virgin any more, found a boy, and had sex. It was interesting, and I am still surprised I actually did it, given how terrified of people I was, and still am, really.

    My parents never spoke to me about sex but they never insulated me from information about it either, or told me it was bad. They just told me that if anyone ever touched me in a way I didn’t like, I was to tell them, and they would believe me and they would deal with it. I didn’t appreciate until later how rare a thing that is, even though it shouldn’t be. As far as they ever let me know, anything I wanted to do was just fine.

    I was fascinated with sex from a very early age, and because at that time there was little GOOD information about sex available for children, I read extensively about animals, which is where I got my grounding in the reproductive process. I saw The Miracle of Life when I was six and was thrilled yet horrified by it, and swore I would never have sex because that is how you get babies, and I didn’t want babies. Still don’t. Thank goodness I learned all about birth control shortly thereafter, or I would still be avoiding sex today.

  47. Helen Huntingdon
    June 23, 2010 at 9:07 am

    I don’t know how or when I became aware what sex was. I do know how I found out about menstruation — via elder sister drama. By the time I reached 6th grade, I knew what PIV intercourse was and that menstruation happened.

    That year my Catholic school hit us up with the how reproduction works aspects of sex ed, with diagrams, details, live birth videos, and so on. That was when I found out my classmates had been mispronouncing “penis”. That same year my mother got around “the talk” by giving me a book written for kids my age — it was well done and packed with information. Since I was a bookworm, that was probably the most effective means of getting the information into me available — the internet was still in the ARPANET stage at the time. So when my period started that same school year, I merely gave a sigh of resignation and dug a pad out of the bathroom supply. I have no idea how long it took my mother and sister to figure out I was menstruating. I never said anything and neither did they.

    Later in high school (a Catholic girls’ school), there was more sex ed, of course. This time they covered not only the mechanics, but how the major STDs work (transmission, symptoms, treatment) and how the various methods of birth control worked and their rates of effectiveness. This was all prefaced by statements of, “Of course we know that none of you will need this information yet, but this is part of what an adult in our society is expected to know.” The official Catholic church dogma was presented as simply another set of facts to be learned — as a set of “this is what they say”, not as “this is what you’re supposed to do”.

    I assumed that I had gotten the standard sex-ed experience as far as school was concerned, other than the dogma bits. I was shocked when I went to college to find out how widespread staggering ignorance was. My own ignorance was still terrible — I had nothing to go on for boundary enforcement and healthy relationships — but I was still better informed than just about everyone at my school. I found it bewildering that public schools had worse sex ed than my Catholic school. Of course, it made sense when I thought about it — the private school had no school board. If you didn’t like their educational philosophy, you wouldn’t be spending a fortune to send your kid there in the first place.

  48. Loosley Twisted
    June 23, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I am not sure if I should share. It might be TMI, it might even be triggering for some people I don’t know if I should share. But I want to, I don’t know why. So I am going to put a “Trigger warning” here for those of you who are sensitive to certain types of information.

    I was kidnapped and raped at 3 yrs old very injured and nearly lost my life. I stopped talking for 2 yrs and I have only flashbacks to even remember most of 2 yrs is blank. Like someone blanked out a space of time. I have memories from before, and specific memories after until a certain point. I remember the day I started talking again and by then I could read very well. I was outside on a Saturday and an airplane was spelling out “Pepsi” in the sky. I thought it was the most awesomest thing ever, and ran in and told my dad. He was more excited over me talking and reading then he was over the advertisement but we went outside and watched while the plane finished out the pretty can in the sky.

    I suppose they were warned about not doing something to disturb my balance in my brain. I didn’t remember and that was the best course. Intuitively I knew exactly what sex was and how violent it was to me. I didn’t have any further information until my parents accidently on purpose? Let me and my brother watch this hour long cartoon on HBO, back in 1980’s something. I was 11 or 12? and my brother was 7 or 8. They were very uncomfortable at that time to talk about it. As they nearly lost me, and they wanted to stay away from anything that would cause me to stop talking again. But that cartoon was awesome, I wish I could find it now, It showed healthy relationship, it covered the consent, (not that I knew it at the time) it even covered how the baby gets in there. It was from the perspective of inside the woman after consent was readily accepted. It was a happy funny film that showed everything I needed to know. atleast at that age.

    Mom was able to cover all the biology of girls (AND BOYS) so I knew what a penis was, etc. that film though taught me what happen to me was wrong. That’s all that mattered.

  49. June 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

    This is a great thread! I think my introduction to sexuality was pretty great – my mom bought a book intended to explain everything to me, at some point, which I found before she was ready to give to me and read until it fell apart, ha. They had already given me the rundown on the whole penis-in-vagina thing. Once I had this information, I proceeded to tell my younger siblings and the children of some family friends.

    The funniest/best sex ed moment I can remember is a talk I had with my dad in the twelfth grade. I had been with my first boyfriend for about six months, and I was going to sleep over at his place while his mom was away. We had planned it out ahead of time, and I had told my parents (which shows you how awesome they are – I felt comfortable telling them exactly when/where/with whom I was going to get laid for the first time). So, to set the scene: the young animal is sitting in her parents’ basement, doing some math homework, when papa animal comes down the stairs.

    Dad: Can I talk to you for a minute?

    Me: Sure…

    Dad: So, uh. You’re going to sleep over at Boy’s place.

    Me: Yup.

    Dad: I just want to make sure you know, you should use two kinds of birth control, ok? Condoms? Do you have some?

    Me: I know, I know, yes.

    Dad: And, you know, it’s your first time, and it might hurt a little bit.

    Me: I know. Uh.

    Dad: And if it’s his first time, too, it might not last very long.

    Me: Ok!

    Dad: And it might not be very good, for you, I mean, so I just thought you should know…

    Me: I KNOW, I KNOW. Oh, god. Ok, dad, we’ll be careful.

    Anyway. At the time I almost died, but when I think back, it’s great to know that my dad was thinking about my pleasure rather than just about the possible repercussions of sex.

  50. June 23, 2010 at 10:46 am

    This is all is fascinating.

    I went to a very small, conservative Christian school in a conservative Christian community. “Sex ed” was in 6th grade but only covered sex-specific puberty – although we had an awesome teacher who was determined to be as thorough as possible, so it was actually pretty comprehensive.

    Sex wasn’t brought up again until 10th grade “Health” class, wherein the teacher spent most of his time explaining how the Bible supports marriage and how different types of birth control are ineffective.

    As far as my parents, they kind of let me find out on my own – but they knew I was a voracious reader and left strategically-placed books around the house that would get me the information I needed, although it was primarily from a Dr. Dobson/Focus-on-the-Family perspective. When I was older my mom and I had a close enough relationship that I felt comfortable asking specific questions that I had.

    At the many chapels, youth retreats, etc. that I went on, I remember hearing the following similes: someone who has sex before marriage is like an un-sticky piece of duct tape, a bruised banana, a rose with no petals, or a pearl necklace that has been broken and all the pearls given away. Awesome. Didn’t ever really buy that, but I never even THOUGHT about having sex before marriage. It just wasn’t done.

    As an example of how much I knew about sex, it wasn’t really until my senior year of high school that I figured out the basic mechanics – I had seen penises before (when babysitting small children or working in the nursing home) but they had always been pointing down, so I couldn’t figure out how a penis would get inside a woman! I pictured people laying with their heads at opposite ends of the bed with their legs sort of scissored together…

    In college I studied gender studies and got a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and “The Joy of Sex” and became possibly the most well-informed person in my circle of friends as far as anatomy, contraception, and, in general, issues related to women. I didn’t think I’d ever marry (and therefore have sex) but I started dating a bit, “just for fun.”

    And then, reader, I married him. And then had sex. And it was (is!) great – we were both virgins and it was awkward and messy and funny for awhile, but he’s always been as concerned for my desire, comfort, and pleasure as his own. So yeah, right off the bat it was “this is great!” and “we need more practice!”

  51. Roving Thundercloud
    June 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    This is a great thread. It’s nice to be reminded that we are all so different and have different experiences, and that some of us have managed to figure it out and establish good relationships and orgasmic sex lives. But it makes me sad to hear that so many people are still being left in the dark to piece things together, and have not been able to make peace yet with the whole thing. It sent me right back to 1978, when I found my mother’s stash of Nancy Friday books (collections of women’s self-reported sexual fantasies), which I got ahold of around age 12. I was inspired, but even at that age I was saddened to read about how unsatisfying, even traumatic, many women’s sex lives had been. Reading some of these accounts, I feel like we haven’t come very far.

    In retrospect I’m really glad I found those particular books. In one way it was tooooooo much information, but it was so incredibly valuable to hear women’s very different stories, and in their own voices. They admitted to some pretty daring stuff, but they were in control. They talked about how they felt about sex (preferences, emotions, arousal), and during sex. They often commented on how their real sex lives (including first experiences) were unsatisfying. And of course, Friday’s commentary helped put things in perspective and give them context. That was even more valuable, and it strikes me that the real problem with our rocky process of sex ed–piecing phrases and images slowly together–is that there is a lack of context.

    As a child and teenager, I found diagrams of pelvic anatomy to be incredibly ugly, and sex scenes in movies often seemed violent (even when they weren’t). How could these things be the source and inspiration of desire, or be related to the fabulous way it felt when I masturbated? I couldn’t reconcile those images with the way it felt to actually inhabit my body. But these collections of women’s fantasies were very nonthreatening, and encouraged me to believe that there was this huge other dimension to sex that was not limited to our physical bodies, whether alone or with a partner.

    One side effect the Friday books had was to give me material and permission to create very vivid sex fantasies of my own, and to become a champion masturbator. From what I’d read and heard, I knew that the average teen boy would not be able to compete with my own imagination and skills–how could they, without much practical experience and having been fed a diet of porn and other cultural lies? So I wasn’t interested in them, and didn’t have sex until I was college age. My mom would have been aghast to know I’d found her stash, but it led to me knowing my own sexual responses long before I had a partner, and I didn’t risk pregnancy, disease, or heartbreak until I was about 20.

  52. Sprout
    June 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    You know, after reading all of these comments, it’s a little disconcerting that so many of us learned about sex in such convoluted ways – meaning, not through direct, open talks with parents or other adults close to us. Just goes to show how far we have yet to go in turning sex into an acceptable, normal part of life, rather than as something shameful. That said, it’s also comforting to know I’m not alone!

    My parents do not talk about sex. I mean, they do not talk about it. Even now, I think my parents prefer to live in a fantasy world in which I am not a sexual being, even though I’m 29 and they know I’ve had multiple long-term boyfriends. The most I ever got from my parents as far as a “sex talk” was my mom talking very briefly, and awkwardly, to me about menstruation. I mean, she was so uncomfortable with it that it was always awkward to even ask her to buy tampons or pads for me, which, in my mind is just wrong – a mom should try to make the whole menstruating thing as non-embarassing as possible for her daughter. And I was an only child, so I didn’t have an older sister or anything to help.

    Public school sex-ed started in 5th grade, when the girls and boys were separated to learn about puberty and whatnot. Then in 6th grade there was more puberty talk, along with more info about the actual PIV sex act, pregnancy, STDs, protection, etc. In health class in junior high, we got progressively more information. It was actually probably pretty decent comprehensive sex ed, comparatively. However, there was definitely some misinformation. In 6th grade, all the girls got to go into this little closet of a room (because it was an open-design elementary school and they had to keep the sex-talk out of earshot from the younguns, of course) with our male teacher to talk about sex. I distinctly remember a girl asking what would happen if a girl had sex with a boy while she had her period. Our male teacher’s answer? If she has her period, then she’s too young to be having sex. Which completely confused me, until I realized a couple minutes later, from something else he said, that he thought a girls “period” only meant the first time she menstruated. I wanted to tell him how wrong he was, but I was too shy. Then, a few years later, this same teacher was fired over allegations that he sexually abused a young girl. It still gives me the creeps thinking about all of us pubescent girls sitting in that little closet room talking to him about pretty darn personal things. yuck.

    All the other sex-related stuff I think I just figured out on my own over the years, through talking to friends, reading books, etc. It probably helped that I learned to masturbate very very young. I mean, I remember masturbating at nap-time in preschool. Of course I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, I just knew it felt good, but I also knew that it was something I should keep hidden. I really think that knowing how to give myself pleasure from such a young age gave me an advantage once I started having sex with other people, since I already knew what it should, or could feel like. I knew that pleasure could come from that area, and I guess I kind of expected it. Wouldn’t it be great if all little girls could learn to give themselves pleasure before having sex with other people? I mean, most boys seem to do it, right? It probably somehow contributes to their generally better sexual confidence.

    Oh, and as for the title question: My mom (obviously, from the explanation above) never made me look at my vagina with a mirror. However, I took the initiative myself when trying to figure out how to insert a tampon for the first time. I believe it was a black plastic hand mirror ;-)

  53. Jane
    June 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    There were many ways in which I learned about sex, most of which made it seem scary.

    I got the technical side from some books my parents gave me in sixth grade (they were clearly uncomfortable discussing the topic and I never talked to them about their own experiences or views). I also got the technical side from sex ed in middle school in the early-mid 80s, where we saw a woman give birth, saw pictures of STDs and may have had a demonstration of putting a condom on a cucumber (or maybe that was later or I’m making it up). In any case, these learning experiences made sex seem very mechanical and with many potentially serious consequences. So, I was a little scared of it.

    On the social side, there was also a lot of fear. My two closest friends in adolescence had been raped and/or abused sexually, and the aftermath was not handled well by nearly anyone (prurient curiosity, disbelief, etc.). In the company of both of these friends, I experienced relatively mild overtures from men in their family, and the reactions of my friends weren’t helpful (failure to notice and “So?”). One of my friends had a very religious family with the philosophy that the only thing a woman had was her virginity—having “lost” her own, my friend was determined to protect mine. While well-intentioned, this was also, in retrospect, a bit oppressive. I learned here that I had to try and control people’s perceptions of me and through that their actions, because obviously men could get away with doing stuff to girls if they felt like it.

    My personal experiences were a mixed bag. Some nice experiences making out as a young teenager, a boyfriend in my later teens who pulled the whole guilt thing until I gave him a blow job—not that he did anything for me, as I recall. I think I was around 18 when I had an orgasm on my own. At around 19-20 I fell in love for the first time and started having sex. It was okay—I often enjoyed it—but my partner wasn’t very sensitive to my needs. I’ve had a couple (male) partners who seemed to take their advice on sex from anyone but the woman they’re with (i.e., “but women like…’’—in other words, you’re wrong about your own experience–hmmm).

    I had good experiences with Planned Parenthood, where I went at age 19 to get on the pill, and with my college health clinic, where the staff created an accepting atmosphere for questions, etc. Once I started working and had private health insurance, I’ve found providers all over the map in terms of attitudes. One nurse acted like a pelvic exam was a shameful thing and barely made eye contact with me during my appointment. An ob who must have served mostly conservative women acted confused when I talked about how long I’d been on the pill: “But you said you just got married this year? Oh [realized her mistake], sorry.”

    I’m 38 now and I’d say I’m happily married. My husband is my best partner so far. However, we still have some inhibiting factors that I’d like to see us work on. I’m still holding onto some of that fear from my past. I’ve always told myself that I dress for comfort, but lately I’ve realized that for me, comfort means hiding and therefore desexualizing my body. I’ve noticed some subtle ways that my husband supports my inhibitions through slut shaming kinds of remarks. I doubt he’s aware of it and I’m not sure to what degree casual remarks reflect his underlying attitudes.

  54. Allison
    June 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t even know. my parents didn’t talk to me about jack shit and I don’t recall learning about it in school, but I read a lot and talked to my friends. I suppose I just gleaned sex info from wherever. I remember learning about menstruation from my slightly younger friend when I was nine or ten. I was embarrassed that she knew (six whole months younger!) and I didn’t.

  55. Rhiannon
    June 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    My foster mom rented a video from the Library that taught about procreation from conception to birth when I was 8. I watched the whole thing up until the birth – when the VCR ate the VHS – all I could hear was the woman screaming.

    Then in 5th grade boys and girls were seperated and shown videos that talked about puberty. I don’t remember if sex was even brought up. And of course in Middle school and High school every Health class discussed more and more about sex. Child Development was quite informative my senior year but I’d been having sex for about 3 years by that point.

    I also remember trying deligently to discover what the actual “birds and bees” story was and how it related at all to sex because everyone had always referred to it that way. Never did find it.

  56. Jay
    June 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    My mother did this right. She gave me the basic answer at 3, when she was pregnant with my brother, and she answered all of my other questions honestly and completely. I knew about menstruation and pads and tampons and birth control before I started my period (ninth grade). When I was 14 and had my first boyfriend, and was completely freaked out by the experience (not anything he did, but my own emotions) she said “OK, wait”. I broke up with him, he *he* waited, and when I was 16 and we started dating again, I was an eager participant in our mutual exploration.

    After we’d been dating six months, Mom asked if we were having sex. I said “no” (honest answer). She nodded. I said “aren’t you going to tell me not to?” She said “Look, you’re not me. You’re probably not going to get married at 19; you want to go to med school, you have lots of your life ahead before you get married. I don’t expect you to wait until you’re married. And anyone who tells you that girls waited in my day is lying. But you need to know that sex changes things. It’s a great experience with the right person, and if you break up with that guy and date someone else, you probably won’t want to go back to a relationship without sex. I don’t think this is the boy you’re going to spend your life with, and I think you need to realize you’re not just making a decision about your relationship with him, but the ones that come afterwards. If you do decide to have sex, I’ll take you to get a diaphragm”.

    We didn’t sleep together – we did a whole bunch of other very fun things – and when I did go to get that diaphragm my freshman year in college, I did tell my mother. My goal with my daughter is to do as well by her as my mother did by me (and I’m absolutely trying to get her to be the best-informed kid on the playground).

  57. Gembird
    June 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I’m another one of the ‘precocious child reads science books’ people, I guess. I was interested in biology from a pretty early age, so my mother would help me choose age-appropriate books so she knew I wouldn’t go “People do WHAT with their WHAT?” and freak out- I was pretty ahead of the game in terms of reading and such, but not so emotionally mature. Still not so grown-up in that sense, actually.

    Anyway. It was just me and my mum at home, so there was never any problem with embarrassed male relatives accidentally hearing my questions. She was quite open about boobs and pubes and what have you, explaining that older girls and grown women have hair in various places little girls don’t, and that she shaved it off her legs but some people did different things. On the odd occasion, she would need me to grab a pad or tampon for her and so on, so I think I was all prepared for puberty and knew what to do when it came to looking after myself there.

    Sex wasn’t quite so open, and there was never ‘the talk’, but I never felt like I couldn’t talk to Mum about it. I was a late developer and late to all things sexy-time, so I had a lot of time to observe and listen when other kids shared their experiences and figure out what was bullshit. When I decided to go on the pill, I had a few conversations with her about it and she was completely okay with the topic being raised just as I got into my first serious relationship. She was probably expecting it, if I’m honest. Now that I’m older and she has a partner again, we talk about sex fairly easily. My mother has always said that my sex life is my own business and that if everything is okay there’s no need to share because eww, nobody wants to think about their daughter’s sex face- but that she’s there if I need help or advice.

    So yeah. Not perfect, but pretty good. I’m quite lucky, I think.

  58. Emily S.
    June 23, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    My family was always very religious and conservative, so when my baby sister was born (I don’t know if I was old enough to talk when my brother was born) I asked my mom where babies came from. She gave the standard “There’s a mommy and a daddy and god puts the baby inside and the doctor cuts it out in the hospital” response – nothing about holes, but she had C-sections due to complications with all of us, so she wasn’t being entirely dishonest.

    Well, between living in a rural area where there were lots of animals and seeing Animal Planet (although my parents always switched the channel during the mating and birthing parts, but I’d watch those parts when they weren’t around) I managed to figure out that male + female + physical contact = babies coming out of the female’s vagina.

    Eventually, I got more and more curious, and looked it up in an encyclopedia or something, and learned about the basics of intercourse.

    When I was about 12 or so, my mom decided to give me the puberty talk. It was fairly straightforward covering the basics of the female reproductive system. Then, when I was 13, my church was having a “sex ed” thing for the middle schoolers. My parents, feeling it was inappropriate for me, refused to let me go, which meant I missed an entire month of youth group, about which I was NOT happy (and yes, my parents were THAT conservative, that they wouldn’t let their 13-year-old attend an abstinence-only church seminar). After they had one such thing at a church camp that I attended (again, parents were upset that such a thing was done without their permission, despite the fact that they split up boys and girls and just told us girls “Don’t do it, you’ll be an un-sticky piece of tape/flower with no more petals/all-gone pearl necklace/crumpled piece of paper/etc” and probably told the boys “masturbation and porn are bad, don’t do it. And don’t have sex”) my mom finally decided to have “the talk” with me.

    Then, I got my period. It was embarassing, and my mom probably wouldn’t have encouraged me to use tampons, but I was on a swim team and my (female) coach made it clear: Suck it up, every female on this team does. However, my coach also informed my mother that the huge tampons of their childhood days were no longer the only option, so my mom went out and bought a box of the tiniest ones she could find.

    Then, the period stuff got worse and worse, and when I was 18 I finally convinced my mom to put me on birth control. I’m surprised she went for it, and still don’t know if my dad knows, but I think the “I can only have FOUR periods a year, think of what you’ll save on feminine supplies!” arguement did it. I’m 21 and still a virgin, but that’s the result partially of personal decisions and partially due to a lack of decent guys.

  59. Julie
    June 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    My parents absolutely did not talk about sex at all. I was given a book by Dr. Dobson which explained the birds and the bees, that was determined to be “good enough”. My youth group did a bunch of true love waits campaigns when I was in high school and the basic message was “good christians don’t have sex because it’s dirty and disgusting and makes you used goods until you get married and then it’s awesome and perfect and you will be so happy”. WTF. No double standards there. It’s a wonder any of us were able to have healthy sexual relationships. It took me so long to get over my guilt about sex.
    As far as my virginity, it’s actually pretty boring. Went on a date with a guy I had had a crush on for a few months. Went bowling, out for dinner, etc… Ended up making out in his car at the end of the night. I told him we should go inside (because we were outside and I felt weird because any one could drive by and see us kissing) which he took to mean “we should go back to your place and have sex”. It wasn’t at all what I meant, but when I realized that’s what he was thinking I realized I was totally okay with the idea and just sort of went with it. We started seriously dating after that and then we were married a couple of years later. No one believes me that it all sort of started out as a one night stand, but it really worked out perfectly for us and my first time was perfect.

  60. trichmous
    June 24, 2010 at 4:04 am

    my parents, old-school liberal west-coasters, answered all of my questions, somewhat awkwardly but not with shame or anything. and they bought me some books, which were very helpful. and they said, “always use protection,” and that it was entirely up to me – not to them, not to my partners, not to my school, not to the state – when and how and with whom i wanted to have sex.

    to which I was like, “dudes, cool, but can we stop talking about this? weird.”

    they were generally just really open-minded and tolerant about it… but they wouldn’t let me spend the night at my bf’s house, or let him sleep at ours, because HIS parents weren’t okay with it. and they said they didn’t want to be complicit in us lying to them. so i guess that was really our only sex-related argument over the years. (that and the time they told me to be quieter… and if I thought talking about sex in the hypothetical was awkward, dang!)

    anyway, the nitty-gritty (aka kinky) details I worked out thanks to dan savage and scarleteen. whoohoo!

  61. Lib
    June 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I wanted to share my experience but as I began to write it got really, really long, and I don’t want to bog the forum. So I’ve included the last paragraph of my story and a link to my blog where the longer version resides. I am really thankful for this space, as the person who I can be open with about this without fear of judgement is on the other side of the continent and I can’t always get her on the phone when I need to let things out. Thank you so much Erica for this article.

    My story:

    I will be 29 this July. I am a heterosexual gender queer and didn’t discover that term until two years ago. My relatives and neighbors are pretty ignorant about varying sexualities and by extension homophobic. I have never had a serious relationship, never had an orgasm that I didn’t bring about myself (I have had multiples, and even a mental orgasm which is amazing), and have never had PIV sex although I have had some opportunities and would like to experience it. Although I know the difference between love and sex now, the type of shame I have in relation to virginity is the opposite of many posters here. I still feel ashamed that I am a virgin at my age, although I say it out loud more often than I used to, it is hard for me to even type right now (I am actually tearing up). I can’t seem to get it out of my head that not having yet engaged in sex does not mean no one loves me, that there is something big I am missing, or that there is something wrong with me. My younger siblings, cousins, friends have all engaged in coitus and the fact that I haven’t makes me feel like I am trapped in some sort of cocoon or that my opinions on certain things will be discounted.

    I also need to mention that I am a black woman. So the pressure guys experience due to virginity does not apply to me, but at the same time I feel pressure from our hyper-sexualized culture, the people around me and the myth that I am wild and sexual apparently from birth because I am black. As an example of the later, my white friends who know I don’t have very much sexual experience still expect me to be able to tell them things about sex, and sex acts (I should note my mind is very sexually active so I am often confused for experienced) although they have done way more than I have.

    For my complete story check out: http://dedgurlcingztheblooze.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/self-examination-what-number-is-this-lol/

  62. Kaz
    June 24, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I still have my virginity and am not planning to lose it, so I’ll talk about how I learned about sex instead. It is actually kind of funny.

    You see, my parents had apparently decided to tell us about sex when we asked about it. Only problem being that I didn’t, so I ended up learning what sex was in sex ed in school when I was twelve and only then talking to my parents (who were I think stunned I hadn’t picked it up somewhere before) about it.

    The main thing I remember: I thought sex sounded like a pretty disgusting and uncomfortable activity and was horrified that such otherwise sensible people as my parents would voluntarily do that. So I decided it must be something that happened by accident when you were asleep. Only I couldn’t figure out what happened to the underwear because it must get in the way. So I asked my brother, and I got this *look* and a “they take it off, dummy”… alas for my illusions.

    At some point during all this (I was also given books to read) I was either told or read somewhere that someday soon sex would start to be very appealing. And I distinctly remember thinking “Yeah, that’s what *you* think.” I was convinced this was not going to happen to me and felt thoroughly vindicated when it didn’t. That and the lack of interest in sex and sexual things as a kid makes me wonder if I wasn’t somehow a nascent asexual even then.

    Oh yeah, and then all the “you don’t want to have sex? Are you prudish? Are you repressed? Are you buying into society’s oppression? Are you CONSERVATIVE?!” stuff started. But that’s much less funny.

  63. July 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Another child with science books here, although my mother was quite aware the books were there and probably relieved that I took it upon myself to read them. She did mention several times that she wanted me to feel free to talk with her about anything but left me with the feeling that she didn’t really want to. I’m not certain how she handled it with my older siblings.

    I’ve been completely honest with our kids when they ask questions. My second child (my older daughter) is the most well-versed at this point because she has been the most curious. She is probably one of the few five year olds who can tell you about prostrates (who didn’t read about on her own).

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