Posted on December 01, 2016
I remember the first time my mom approached me with a conversation about sex. She asked if I was sexually active, and I instantly responded with a sharp 'No', overheating with embarrassment. She then let me know I could come to her when that changed, as she would take me through the necessary steps to begin birth control. Again, red-faced and mortified, I quickly responded with a defiant 'Okay, Mom', and promptly ended the conversation.
As I look back on that conversation, I am grateful for her bravery in making an attempt to dialogue about a challenging topic with her then shy, naïve daughter. The conversation may not have felt profound at the time, but those few words paved the way for what is now a close bond with my fiercest ally.
This same conversation also began to normalize discussions around sexuality for me. After all, my own mother let me know that conversations about sex – as well as sex itself – was nothing to be ashamed of. My own mother! Sex slowly became something different for me as a result; something that I could talk about, seek support for, and even begin to take ownership of.
Shortly after that first awkward conversation, my mom gave me the book 'Our Bodies, Ourselves'. She also took me to my first OB/GYN appointment to teach me about responsible sexual health practices. She was truly making an effort to befriend me on the topic. Since then, one theme has remained consistent for me over the years: I have always been very responsible with my sexual health and safer sex practices. I have no doubt that this is largely due to the support I received from my mother at a young age.
There is one aspect of sex that my mom did not address, the uncomfortable topic of sexual pleasure. As most of us do, pleasure was something I learned about on my own – through peers, media, and adventures in trial and error. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of my early years as a sexual being experiencing intimate encounters and relationships that did not give me a lot of pleasure. I didn’t know what I wanted, how to ask for it, or what was even possible. I had heard about orgasms, but they just weren’t happening with the way I was being touched. I remember actually thinking there was something wrong with me. Maybe I was just someone with low libido or less nerve endings or differently constructed body parts. Furthermore, it felt like the people I dated were more concerned with their own pleasure as opposed to mine. Maybe this is just how it’s supposed to be, I wondered.
Luckily, those early normalizing conversations around sexuality worked in my favor, inspiring me to educate myself about sexual pleasure during my college years. I began reading books, taking Human Sexuality classes, and talking openly to partners and peers. In fact, I became so fascinated with the topic of sexuality that I decided to go to school for it, and eventually became a Certified Sex Educator.
I have come a long way in my evolution as a sexual being. And though I am both happy and self assured, I can’t help but think that my life would have been a lot easier - and far more enjoyable - had I understood more about sex and pleasure sooner. What a gift it would have been, saving me from years of trial and error! I keep asking myself: what would this world be like if we gave young people sex AND pleasure education? Would it possibly create generations of empowered adults and healthier relationships? And where would we start? The public school system has restrictions on what can and cannot be taught in that arena, with a major emphasis on what NOT to do when it comes to sex. How else might we reach young people -- before they find out the hard way?
This brings me full circle, back to the dialogue between parents and kids. Parents, guardians, and caretakers of young adults are the key influencers of their impending fate. Parents are the ones to champion this movement. And as I say this, I realize it is easier said than done. Successful conversations about sex take practice, and many parents may not feel skilled in this department or up to the task.
For those here in Santa Cruz who feel the spark of hope or ambition or willingness to try, I invite you. I invite you and your young teens to join myself and fellow sex educator Gina Lepore to talk about sex in an upcoming 4-week workshop at Luma Yoga beginning Sunday January 22. Let us support you as you develop the strength, comfort, and confidence to tackle this all important topic with your kid as they move from childhood to adolescence.
This is an opportunity to break through intimidating conversations around sexual health and pleasure. Material will be age-appropriate and covered with sensitivity for varying preferences, orientations, perspectives, and levels of experience. The respect and safety of the container will be held. Confidentiality will be respected. Bonds will be strengthened. And I hope and trust that all who join us will walk away feeling empowered.