Growing up during the 1960’s and 70’s, sex was never discussed in my household. When I asked my mom where babies came from I was simply told that a woman prayed for one. So imagine my surprise when I finally learned the truth about the birds and the bees in the fifth grade and at all places, Girl Scout camp. One cold winter night nestled inside my sleeping bag by the glow of smoldering lodge fire, the whispering began. In clinical detail, a girl my own age explained the mechanics of sex to a captivated audience. I was horrified. To my innocent mind, it was worse than hearing a gory ghost story. “That’s not true!” I cried. “Not my parents!”
The other girls turned sympathetically toward me. “Poor thing,” they tiskked. “We’re upsetting her.” Yet I seemed to be the only one who found this information troubling.
Once I got home, I had to know if “the rumors” I had heard were true. Cautiously, I approached my mother as she primped for a night out on the town with my dad. As she sat filing her nails with a big hair dryer hood ballooning over her bobby-pinned head, I pulled together what courage I could and yelled over the drone of the dryer motor everything that I had learned at camp. “Is it true?” I screamed.
My mother’s mouth dropped. (Was this the first time she had heard it, too?) I imagined the dryer hood popping off her head and blowing a hole right through the ceiling. She gulped hard and simply answered, “Yes.” From the seriousness of her face, I could only imagine that the act of sex was as unpleasant as it sounded. I ran from the room confused and upset. And that was the first and last time my mother and I ever spoke of sex.
As I got older and over my shock, I swore I’d be open and honest with my children about it all. As I entered adulthood, I spoke of sex easily with my girlfriends and ultimately my husband. After all, sex was a good thing, right? From the moment my twins could talk, we’ve always used the correct names for body parts and without embarrassment. So naturally I assumed that the explanation of those parts and how they fit into the scheme of life would be easy.
I was wrong.
When “Twin B” was seven years old, for instance, he asked what “sex” was. Taken completely by surprise, and not knowing exactly how to answer, I pretended I didn’t hear him. And when he asked again, I quickly came up with, “Hey, anybody want some ice cream?” Fortunately, my distraction technique worked. The questions stopped. Yet I felt guilty. Was I no better than my own mother? Why wouldn’t I truthfully answer him? Did I secretly feel that if I told him what he wanted to know that he’d start cruising the school playground looking for conquests?
During the next two years, I managed to successfully dodge those questions for months convincing myself that my boys were too young to hear the answers. (Perhaps that’s how my mother felt.) But finally during the summer of my twins’ ninth year, the jig was up and I couldn’t bluff my way around it any longer. While in the car headed to our local swim club, my three sons and I had “the talk.” It still wasn’t my idea, mind you, especially since their younger brother was in the car with us. But they asked and I decided it was finally time to answer.
I don’t remember how the conversation started, but one innocent question just naturally led to another until finally, “But how does the baby get in there?” left me no choice. And so the lesson began.
By the time we had reached our destination, the boys and I were laughing, a far different response from when I asked my mother about sex. “That’s the most disgusting ritual I’ve ever heard of!” giggled “Twin A.” His brothers howled at his astute observation. I turned off the motor, and continued to giggle right along with them. I assured them that when the time came they would change their opinions.
We were having fun, I thought. I wasn’t frightening them or scaring them the way I had been more than 40 years ago. They trusted that everything would be OK because of the manner in which I approached it—with humor, understanding, and love. They took their cues from me.
When we got home that night, the boys couldn’t wait to tell their father what they had learned. My husband sat stone-faced and quiet at the table as they related every detail. “What’s the matter, honey?” I asked sweetly. “Do you have a headache?”
“No,” he whispered. “But I’m getting one.”
Right around bedtime, the boys walked into the den only to hear the word “sex” said on television. The first of many times, I’m sure.
“Hey, mom! They mentioned sex,” one twin cried excitedly. “Now I know what they’re talking about!”
Great. And so it began.