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Let’s Talk About Talking About Sex

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October 29, 2013

October has been deemed “Let’s Talk Month” in the hopes to encourage families to talk about a wide range of issues related to sexuality, like body image, healthy relationships, gender and sexual orientation, safe sex, using birth control…all that good stuff.

At first I thought it was strange to them to choose the month October, especially given that Halloween has claimed it since the mid 16th century. Then I remembered how my mom was more scared to talk to me about sex growing up then I was of horror stories of monsters and ghosts and the supernatural. So now October makes perfect sense.

I remember the first time I asked my mother anything about “the birds and the bees,”  my elementary class was going to go on a field trip to go clean the beach, and on our handout, there was a warning not to pick up “condoms.” At the time, I had no idea what this “dangerous condom” thing was, and another classmate told me it was a balloon for sex. Sounds fun, right? At least I knew what sex was.

But for good measure, I decided to ask my mom. While in the car. With her friend in the passenger seat. Suffice it to say, they both grew very silent when I randomly popped into their conversation with “Mommy, what’s a condom?” Then after the silence continued my little brain thought, ‘Well, maybe she doesn’t want to say in front of her friend.” So I waited until we were back home and alone. I remember clearly. She was brushing her teeth in the bathroom (again, maybe not an opportune time ‘Little Alifa’!). I asked, “Mommy, what’s a condom?” and she froze for a few moments, finished brushing her teeth, and continued to put on make up. After standing there for minutes without her even looking at me, I walked away, and decided that I could never ask her anything about sex. So I didn’t.

The only “advice” I ever got from a family member about sex came from my brother that is 12 years older than me (talk about a generational gap: he graduated high school when I graduated kindergarten!).  I was in my early teens and we were in the living room, watching South Park, and some commercials came on. While I was probably thinking about how they were annoying, my brother randomly spoke:

“You know, if you have any questions about sex, you can ask me.”

“….Mmmmmkay.”

Pause.

“And you know, you gotta watch out for them boys, because they only want one thing. They don’t want love or a relationship, they just want that one thing.”

“…Mmmmmmmkay.”

And that was it. Great to know that all boys are sex-fiends, which I guess includes my own brother… gross.

Even my sister-in-law decided to try and pitch in with conversations about sex during my late teens/early adulthood…but that’s a little awkward seeing as though when she talks about her sex life, it’s with my brother….gross.

Other than that, I slowly gathered information about sex through other venues, credible ones and not so credible ones. For example, in 4th grade my female friends told me that boys drilled a hole in girls with their penis. It wasn’t that girls already had a vagina, it was that boys. drilled. one. into. them. with. their. penises (Peni?). So you could probably guess why I avoided all of my male friends for a full year, running and screaming from them on the playground. Not credible.

My major source of information about sex came from reading “fanfiction,” which are online stories fans write about their favorite stories (like Harry Potter) where they either extend the plot or create a whole new story with the same (or additional) characters from the original piece (So like Draco and Harry being an intimate couple). I don’t remember how I stumbled upon them, but in middle school, I clicked the button that “verified” I was 18 and over and read story after story about the characters I came to know and love have (written) sex. And that was it: my first full sexual plunged into the deep end (you know, besides the first time I had sex of course…but shhh! Don’t tell my mom– she still doesn’t know). Not only did I learn the nitty gritty of it all, but the dynamics of relationships: hooking up, breaking up, and all the messiness in between.

Fast forward to ‘Big Alifa,’ and I found my passion in comprehensive sex education and youth sexuality. Don’t worry; I eventually went beyond fanfiction as my source for information, such as Sex, Etc., Scarleteen, and college courses, bookshelves full of books about sex toys, relationships, and sexuality. Now I consider myself one of the credible sources for my friends and family. When I finally asked my mom why she never talked to me about sex, she said because it was too embarrassing. Not even my brother accidentally getting his girlfriend pregnant could overcome her shyness to talk to me so I did not end up in the same situation. She said she “hoped I just wouldn’t have sex until I was married.” But she never even told me that! Safe to say that didn’t go as she planned…

So I know what it’s like to have to deal with the awkwardness that arises from trying to broach these topics with family members, but it is still important to try. Even now, my mother is awkward about these things with my niece and nephew. But it’s okay, because when I first left for college, I made sure I gave my mom a goodie bag with a condom, lube, and instructions for how to use a condom. I told her that although she couldn’t get pregnant anymore, she could still get a sexually transmitted disease. She replied, “Girl! I don’t need this!” And I smiled and said “That’s what you said 19 years ago, yet, here I am!”

Written by Alifa Watkins, a Choice USA Communications Intern. Alifa is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Psychology. 

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