My grandmother never spoke to my mother about sex. In fact, my mom isn’t sure my grandmother has ever said the word sex. "Sex" was a bad word in her house — as were vagina and penis. So when I was growing up, my mother made sure I knew all about sex, because she never wanted anyone to tell me something untrue about sex that I would believe. By twelve I had a good idea of the schematics of sex, what goes where and the possible outcomes. I knew about STI’s and STD’s, pregnancy and how it occurs, how it doesn’t occur etc. I even knew some of the common sex myths:
- Having sex while upside down won’t get you pregnant
- Having sex for the first time won’t result in pregnancy
- If you don’t have sex, cobwebs will grow in your vagina and it will stop working
So I knew everything I needed to know, but at the same time, I realized that most kids my age knew absolutely nothing at all. I wanted to tell them what I knew but I figured maybe their parents hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet.
The amount of detail in the sex talks I had been having with my mom progressed as I did. The more I could understand, and was curious about — the more she told me. One time, when I was 16, I was cuddling with my mom and just talking about girly things and she randomly went:
“Sex is nice. It’s the best thing in the world, but only if you’re in the right frame of mind. Once you’re ready, and no, I don’t mean married, you’ll know when you’re ready, it will be great. Just understand that it isn’t a big deal, it’s just penis goes into vagina, repeat process. So wait, wait until you can handle everything that comes with it, because once you start you won’t stop and it will be the only thing you think about for a while.”
On other occasions she spoke to me about the sometimes harsh reality of sex. She let me know that it isn’t always be awesome and regardless of what he may think, you have the option to stop anytime it’s not going how you want it to. Depending on his sex ed, he might now know that you need to be aroused or else the friction can actually damage your vagina. Or sometimes, he might want you to do things that you might not want to do. You don’t have to. You NEVER have to.
Then there was my dad. Not surprisingly our sex talks were a lot more subdued and a lot less graphic, but they were just as meaningful. When I was 12 he let me know that my rapidly developing body would not go unnoticed by men his age and older (he was 40). He let me know that many of them would have no problem sleeping with a girl my age (rape), and that naivety was not an option. He told me about all the girls he slept with while he was young, just because he could.
His support when street harassment got really terrible helped me to cope. I didn’t cope well with being heckled, I still don’t cope well — often getting very angry and confronting hecklers. My dad has always maintained that although men may feel it is natural for them to seek out women, it’s never okay for anyone to make another person feel uncomfortable to just walk down the street.
Perhaps the most important thing my dad ever taught me was that I am valuable. I was a legit daddy’s princess growing up and there’s something about that sense of meaning everything to someone that translates into feeling like you really are important in the grand scheme of things — especially to yourself. My sense of self-importance has kept me from making bad decisions to please boys, or even just doing things I didn’t want to do because it’s “expected”. No, I won’t dance with you, I don’t want to dance. I DON’T CARE IF EVERY OTHER GIRL AT THIS PARTY IS DANCING.
Everything I needed to know, my parents told me. So when I had my first boyfriend and he tried “If you loved me, you would…” on me, I kicked him to the curb. When people — bus conductors especially have tried to touch me — even in benign ways like on my shoulders or less benign ways like on my waist — I know that I decide who touches me and where and I firmly say “Don’t touch me.” When the cat-calling began, as annoying and shockingly graphic as it was, it wasn’t new information.
Moreover, with the foundation they set, I was able to evaluate information I encountered when I eventually started trying to find my own answers to the things I was curious about. My searching enabled me to learn things that would have perhaps been beyond the scope of my parents. Life moves very quickly and suddenly for many of us (but not suddenly at all in reality) — being LGBTQ is a thing, gender is a spectrum, Trans people exist etc. These are things, about which my parents know less than I do, and I’ve been able to talk to them about it. For example, just last Sunday I had the difficult task of explaining how someone who is “Intersex” might experience various levels of body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria.
I’m telling you all of this because at twenty-two, I can have conversations about sex with both of my parents without anyone cringing. If a sex scene comes on in a movie we’re watching no one bats an eyelid. I can talk to anyone about sex, I’m not afraid to say the word sex, or penis, or vagina. Yet, even at 22, I have friends who are just like the 12 year olds who knew nothing. I have friends who are woefully misinformed, under-informed and generally lost as to what sex really means. I have friends who their only sex education came from a pastor who said wait until marriage. I have friends whose only sex education came from the boy who told them “just dweet” (dweet means do it in Jamaican Patois), when they were 16. I have friends who blush or giggle when someone says penis or vagina. Friends who are so ashamed of their own sexual organs, friends who don’t know how they got pregnant in the first place, friends who’ve been assaulted and don’t even know they have been etc etc etc. The list goes on and on.
When I told my 6th form Literature class a quarter of the things my parents told me about sex everyone cringed, said it was gross, couldn’t think of their parents speaking about sex much less having sex.
During my time as a Writer/Reporter on the Talk Up Yout School Tour — I met kids who wanted more sex education in their schools because they didn’t know anything about sex, and teachers who thought telling them anything other than the basic penis goes into vagina repeat process was immoral. I met people who thought children generally shouldn’t know anything about sex, and blamed people telling their kids about sex for the high rate of teenage pregnancy.
Seriously Jamaica and everywhere else. Sexual Education in our schools needs to be revamped to reflect the society we live in, where parents are sending their children out to have sex with older men for money. We can’t tell those kids “Abstinence Is the Only Way” any more. We can’t tell anyone that Abstinence is the ONLY way any more. It’s crazy, and it will never work.Take the time to talk these children. Let them know that their bodies belong to them, and whatever they choose to do with their bodies will have repercussions.
My point is. Sex education in school is a necessity, but the problem begins at home.
If parents don’t educate their children, then they leave them vulnerable to misinformation and cannot really be upset when their children make mistakes.
Talk to your kids. You don’t have to be as graphic/thorough as my parents, but talk to them. And more importantly, make sure they know they can talk to you.
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Youth, ages 14 - 26, from all over the world, talking up. #TalkUpYout