No mom wants to explain boners to her eight-year-old daughter, right?
And yet, there I was: slouched over the kitchen table, nervously sculpting non-threatening puppy dogs out of dollar-store clay, trying to explain to my sweet freckle-faced child that, one day, she would suffer the hormonal agony of puberty.
Now, perhaps you’re some crunchy mom who is completely comfortable with telling your children about your “thatched cottage” over homemade clay — good for you, Willow, but I am not one of those parents. I can’t even manage talking dirty to my own husband without shamefully slinking below my white cotton sheets. Even Betty White’s vocabulary makes me blush.
With no vocabulary of my own, and no “talk” from my own childhood to draw on, the need to be sitting here for “the talk” had grown to be the sexy elephant in the room, stomping around to my daughter’s rather jazzy rendition of “I Kissed A Girl.” Shudder!
The result of a repressed Catholic upbringing — where sex is a dirty word, and every birth is seemingly an immaculate conception — my sexual liberation is limited to keeping the lights off.
There was a strange disconnect in my home regarding sex. It wasn’t that sex was completely shut away from view; we weren’t Catholic during the week. My mother was frequently naked, dripping water around the house after a shower, uninhibited and unashamed of her doughy body.
My older brother’s walls were decorated with stereotypical posters of scantily clad women with Aqua Net-plastered hair, and my sister’s boyfriend was pretty handsy with her ass whenever he came to visit. She lived in the basement when I was a kid, and I definitely never spied on her from the top step.
The signs were everywhere, and yet no one ever spoke the name.
My first period is painfully memorable. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the movie My Girl, then you remember it, too, because I had the exact same reaction as Anna Chlumsky’s character when she got her first period: melodramatic hysteria.
I had no idea what was happening to me, and the only explanation came from an underpaid public school education. Poorly informed by a man who was more shop teacher than health teacher, I was cast out into the cruel middle-school halls with nothing more than oily skin and a plastic baggy of condoms and maxi-pads.
Aside from the classroom’s outdated diagrams from the ’70s, my first real experience with sex was through porn. A curious night owl from early on, I would catch a boob between static and squiggly lines on a channel that seemed to only exist between the hours of 1 and 3 am. Frustrated with the spotty reception, I eventually graduated to renting porn on weekends. No more squinting for me!
Each month, my mother would get the bill and only once did she press me.
“Did you rent Strokes of Midnight?”
“Nope,” I answered. A haloed Jesus that hung on the stucco wall behind her head lamented at the multitude of my sins. She never questioned me again.
Now, with a child of my own who is only a few years from middle school and PMS herself, I knew I needed to start the conversation before the playground talk elevated to Betty White’s vocabulary. So I pumped myself up with Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex,” confided in a more humorous and understanding God, and set to work.
“So, do you know what sex is?” I asked my daughter.
“Nope,” she answered, still molding the rainbow of puppies in front of her.
Determined to not continue my family’s legacy of shamed silence, I courageously pressed on through the surprisingly boring conversation about sex.
The talk — which I thought would include giggles, awkward silences, dripping perspiration and the grave realization that I’m not entirely sure how the reproductive system works — was nothing at all like I had expected. OK, so I was sweating a lot, but the rest of the conversation fell far below my over-reaction.
I did my best to explain the basics of puberty, sexual intercourse (including the non-baby making beauty of it), the different flavors depending on your sexual orientation, as well as issues of safety and respect.
She occasionally chimed in with a follow up question, like, “So, how does it work exactly?” or “What’s a uterus?”
Thankfully I didn’t need to access one of the seven professional articles I had on the ready.
In short, there was nothing taboo about it. The elephant was gone and, best of all, a dialogue had opened up for every soon-to-be excessively hairy stage of her life. Thanks Salt-N-Pepa!