Let's talk about sex, baby

Sex. It’s been on my brain. Not that it’s unusual for an LDS mid-single woman to fixate on sex. But it’s been on my mind a lot. Had some really indepth discussions lately, with a good friend, about sexual practice (and non-practice) and expectations. Talked with an old friend about sexual activity way back in our college days. Read this nostalgic romp down memory lane over at Zelophehad’s Daughters. Listened to NPR and heard this great teen news report by Johanna Greenberg, which brought to mind that old song by Salt n’ Peppa. Which doesn’t really say a whole lot about sex, just that we should talk about it. Which makes me wonder, where did I learn about sex?

Not from my parents, that’s for sure. I vaguely remember my mother talking to me about menstruation, but not much else. And I have oddball memories about talking with some girls at school about the sex-ed class we were going to have one afternoon (but not memories of the actual class itself). I remember watching a lot of Fantasy Island, Love Boat, Dallas and Falcon Crest (the last two I confess to sneaking, watching behind the blinds of my father’s study). But I never actually talked to anyone about sex.

What did I do? Simple. I read. I suppose that if I were a teenager today, I’d get most of my info online. However, back in the dark ages of my youth, Prodigy was a distant dream. Anyhow, I read. Some factual books that I found in my parents’ collection of books, when I was about 13. Some steamy teen-age romances that I got at the library, when I was about 16. Some steamy adult romances that I found at homes where I babysat, when I was about 16-18. And some non-fictional works that a friend lent to me, which were rather explicit, when I was in college.

I am still single, and have yet to have sex. And when I say that I haven’t really talked to many people about sex, that is not to say that I don’t joke about sex all the time with other LDS singles. We joke about sex all the time. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that LDS singles joke more about sex than anything else.

Anyway, getting back on track …

Greenberg’s little bit of reporting really made me think and question. How do we talk about sex to children? Greenberg posits that she and many of her peers are not getting “The Sex Talk” at all, and that parents are shirking their duty when they fail to discuss sex and relationships with their children, and that children today are learning about sex from the internet, the television, and whatever “facts” their friends are anxious to share. And this scares me.

So, I went on-line to see what it is that teens these days are learning about sex. Some of it is not half bad. At Teensource (affiliated with the California Family Health Council, Inc.), I found a rather comprehensive list on different sorts of birthcontrol, everything from abstinence to sterilization. At Sex, Etc. affiliated with Answer at Rutgers University Center for Applied Psychology, I found a wonderful discussion, lead by Dr. Winnie King, on how to talk about sex with kids of all ages, as well as a lot of forums for discussion between teens, and between teens and experts. Of course, some of this information is much more explicit than many conservative parents would like. In which case, they should start talking to their kids right away.

I was particularly impressed with the comments of Tamara Kreinin (President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, prior to 2004). She advocated for not having one big “Sex Talk” with children, but keeping sex among one of the many topics available for everyday discussion. She acknowledged that children ask about sex all the time, unless they learn that they should not discuss it with their parents. To this end, she urges parents to talk about sex with their children, and even offers some good leading questions that can help the discussion along. Why are you asking me that today? What do you know about that? Do you understand?

What it comes down to, for me at least, is that there is plenty of information out there. Any teen with a library card or internet-abled computer can find out a wealth of information about anything they want to know about sex. What they need from parents, and role models, is an idea of how to navigate through the roiling seas of puberty, hormones, peer pressure, the desire to be loved, and media hype. They need to talk about sex as an introductory topic so that they can talk more deeply about relationships and love.

These days I learn mostly about sex from friends who are married. Not that they give a lot of detail. They don’t. Nor do I want much detail. But they share enough of what they learn so that I can benefit from their experience. For which I’m grateful.

So, how did you learn about sex? Did you learn from parents, leaders/role models, books or contemporary friends? How do you talk to your children about sex? Do you? Have you? What’s been successful? What was awful? How would you do it differently if you could wind back the clock? Are there any resources you’ve found valuable that you can share? Let’s talk about sex.


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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  1. C.L. Hanson says:

    My (LDS) parents were more of the “leave relevant books lying around but don’t encourage too much discussion” school of thought. At least when I was little. That wasn’t too bad a strategy, but I’m leaning towards being more open about it with my own kids.

    We had some good discussion of the question here: The birds and the bees and the whales….

  2. MJK says:

    I was raised by a single mom, with one sister. I know she gave us “The talk” several times, about 8 years old or so for each of us I think. (but together) she explained the mechanics of sex, and menstruation. I think she focused a lot on that, because I know I wasn’t surprised at all or worried when I got my first period.
    The only thing I remember her saying specifically during that talk at 8 is that “Sex is supposed to feel good, and it can be fun, and when you get older you’re going to want to try it, but you should wait until you’re married because that’s what Heavenly Father wants us to do, and because it’s something special that you should only share with your spouse.”

    The only other thing I remember, from when I was a little younger, is that my mom was watching “Murder She Wrote” and they were talking about prostitutes, and I asked mom what they were. She told me it was when you paid someone money to have sex with them and my response was, “Well *that’s* dumb.”

    The rest I was like the poster: I read. A lot. And then there were the friends I had in high school. One of my high school friends had parents who were very “leave the relavent books lying around conveniently” and we’d take those books, all 10 or 12 of us (co-ed group) go down to the basement and pass them around and read out loud. And laugh like lunatics. Good times.

    In conclusion, my parents didn’t teach me a whole lot about sex, but at least they didn’t give me any hangups about it, or make me think it was dirty, or nasty like some other people.

  3. Anonymous says:

    regular commentator, anon for this

    My parents never said a word, and I was quite a loner, so the only live influences I got about sex were from overheard high school innuendo or pressuring boyfriends.
    Therefore I read up. I devoured the sex sections at the library and bookstores, and I bought porn magazines to study. seriously.

    I’m now married with kids and an LDS convert. I’m tremendously informed, but unfortunately some of that information was downright destructive, such as what I “learned” from the magazines- what a girl should look like, how to act “hot”, what guys want sexually, etc.

  4. Caroline says:

    (sorry if I’m giving too many details here :))

    My mom told me very early – maybe when I was about 4 – the exact mechanics of sex. “The boy puts his _______ in the girl’s _______.” But she used the real words. I was always happy that she was so matter of fact.

    I also remember a dinner time conversation when I was about 8 and my brother was 12. I was asking mom how a boy could possibly get his _________ inside a girl since it was all soft and wiggly. (Evidently I’d seen some cousin’s or something.)My mom then told me quite clearly that during sex, it became hard like a stick. At which point my brother howled with outrage that we were talking about this during dinner. HAH! That seems so funny to me now.

    I was a huge reader as well and read some very steamy books – a la Danielle Steele – when I was about 12 or 13, so those were quite informative. And I continued to read those steamy books for quite a few years. Now I’m off romance novels for the most part – my tolerance for the stereotypical over-sexed jerk who reforms for the gorgeous feisty virgin has waned.

  5. Dora says:

    So it sounds like the average teen’s experience these days is not much different from what our readers’ experience has been … namely, finding out on one’s own with the resources available (or sought out), and comparing knowledge with friends.

    And while I’m glad that there are those parents who were thoughtful enough to “leave relevant reading material lying around,” I also think that that leaves much too much to chance. Besides which, I do think that teens need their parents (or positive role models) to talk with them about sex and all the other things that come along with sexual development. Physical changes. Emotional changes. Relationship changes.Basically, everything that seems so dire at the onset of, or mid- puberty.

    Caroline ~
    He howled with outrage? How’s he doing now? And I’m very interested to learn that you’ve been weaning yourself off of steamy romances. If you’re looking for some interesting non-fiction to fill the void, let me know!

  6. fMhLisa says:

    My parents never discussed anything with me. I didn’t really get the whole sex thing figured out for sure until I was seventeen or eighteen. which is horrible, I think.

    I just read a great book called Sex and Sensibility, How to talk kids about sex, (or something) and it was great, it advocated much the same as whosit you mentioned that sex should not be one big talk but something that is part of every day conversations all the time.

    It was interesting because she also talked about how kids hear and talk and joke about sex all the time, and yet none of this discussion is with the people that matter, their roll models, their parents, adults who can help them make wise decisions. And how harmful the combination of the constant barrage of sex with a total absence of good information is devistating to our kids.

    She talked about how in Europe, where sex is talked about very openly, and sex-ed is very explicit in every grade level, their pregnancy rates, their abortion rates, their std rates, are all much lower (less than half ususally) than ours. Plus European teens are delaying sexual intercourse for two years compared to American teens. Who’d a thunk?

    Anyway, so now I talk to my kids (6,4,3) all the time. And I’m very precise and I don’t gloss over much. I figure if thy’re not ready for it, they’ll forget it and probably ask me again later. But I don’t want that wall of embarrassment and silence I had with my mother.

    Also, Caroline, I never read romance novels until I had babies and was suffering from ppd (when I desperatly needed fluff), but now I’m something of an expert and if you ever need quality fluff reading (face it we all need it sometimes) I have buckets of recommends that are completely free of oversexed jerks and fiesty virgins.

  7. Deborah says:

    One conversation once. I asked mom to read me a bedtime story. I picked out Babar. She put it away and pulled out “Miracle of Life.” I said it sounded gross. She said it could be nice. I was nine. Twenty years later and that is still the only conversation I’ve ever had with my mom about sex.

    Of course, the great irony is that for two years I ran the 6th grade sex-ed/puberty/maturation class for girls and their mothers. It was optional in the evenings. The point was to provide some information but then provide questions for girls/mothers to discuss together (to help the mom’s start the conversation). Talk about great people watching . . . but it made me a bit envious of the (few) moms who so effortlessly and lovingly engaged with their daughter. Clearly, the weren’t “beginning”
    the conversation on this evening.

    Caroline, I’m in stitches. Your poor brother — but he was lucky to have a sister like you to keep it real!

  8. Hellmut says:

    I agree with Deborah that sex education in Europe does make a difference. There are also other factors. Conformist pressure in high and middle school is lower, a lot. American schools are really disfunctional with respect to conformism.

    The other factor is that in Europe public media are a lot stronger. Hence there is at least a rational voice about almost anything.

    The problem in the United States is that the media teach kids to do anything while they know nothing. That’s, of course, a recipe for disaster.

    Prudishness motivated by fear contributes to the problem because it gets into the way of education.

  9. jana says:

    My daughter had her school-sponsored puberty talk on Wednesday night. I was dismayed that not one word was said about sex–only about deodorant, body hair (called ‘black spiders’ that will appear under your arms and on your pubic bone), menstruation, and breasts. Nothing whatsoever about sex. That was just crazy to me. She and I had a good long talk on the way home (I drove around the block numerous times since we only live a mile away from the school) to fill in all the blanks.

    Fortunately, my kids have known about sex since they were pretty little. Like when they were still taking baths together and we’d discuss the functions of penises, vaginas, etc.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Why on earth would you expect the schools to teach your kids about sex… that is your job. People relying on the school system to teach what should be done by parents is why this country is falling apart.

  11. jana says:

    I don’t rely on the school to teach my kids about sex. But how they can teach a whole lecture about puberty and reproductive organs and never mention sex (or even reproduction in a scientific way) is just weird. I think it’s crazy that schools are so afraid (or are too prudish) to mention _why_ kids’ bodies are changing.

  12. Kiri Close says:

    OMGosh! TALK ABOUT IT!!! Like, TALK ABOUT IT. Did i mention that us ‘role models’ should TALK ABOUT IT? (lol!)

    There is nothing, NOTHING, dirty about talking about sex. So, just freakin’ talk about it!–yes, even the stuff that seems, like, TMI! the orgasms, dating, date-rape, rape, homosexual tendencies, bisexual tendencies, heterosexual tendencies, nicknames, the toys, the body images, the positions, the emotions, the G spots, the addictions, the babies, the sperm, the ovum, the past good and bad experiences, the porn, the kissing, the necking, the fondling, the contraceptives, the diseases, the right time—EVERYTHING (well, not all on one night).

    You’ll know when it gets creepy, and TMI for whoever your ‘mentoring’ or discussing. That’s when u stop. Also, i find it very helpful to never OVERtalk something like it’s a football game ‘HOO-rah’ chest bump prep haka.

    May I also strongly, strongly suggest that you let young people/single people freely talk about their feelings alongside it so that in their minds, there isn’t a disconnect with the physical pleasures and the emotions that come with. the more genuine their feelings, the better (and they trust u won’t be sharing it with anyone else).

    This is how we talked in YW in Boston. BTW, i’m in Nebraska for a year and have just been asked to take care of the YW in our branch. Currently it doesn’t have a YW program. (is the title, “starter” written on my forehead of which i don’t know about?). The format, I am already guessing with sex talk is the same here (with some maneuvering within this hellishly conservative old town)-wish me luck!

  13. Kiri Close says:

    PS–u don’t have to be single, or young, to talk about sex. everyone should feel invited to this openness.

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