This is what my parents taught me about sex:
• It’s shameful
• It’s wrong
• You’ll get pregnant.
They had a super hard time talking to us about the “birds and the bees.” Come to think of it, they had a hard time to talking to us about everything. When my great aunt died, they broke the news to me by reading a book about death they rented from our church’s basement. It was called “When People Die” or some shit like that. After 20 tearful minutes of them suffering through this supposedly helpful book, I caulked my 8-year-old head to the side and bluntly asked, “So did Aunt Gloria die or something?”
Luckily for me, my school believed in comprehensive sex education. I was able to learn the plumbing there…but it wasn’t easy. Because my parents had such negative things to say about sex, I was embarrassed to really pay attention, to really learn how everything worked. And so I developed a bunch of misconceptions about sex. Two really big ones come to mind:
1) I literally believed semen was green. From all the cartoon photos I saw in class, I swear it was the color of mint ice cream. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I learned otherwise. As a friend told the story of giving her first hand job, she nearly snorted milk out of her nose when I asked, “So how did you get all that gross GREEN stuff off your hands?”
2) I thought you could get pregnant from going to 2nd base. When the same friend missed her (erratic, brand new) period, the other girls and I CONVINCED her she must be pregnant. Our theory was based on the previously mentioned hand job and was the following: Semen must have gotten on HIS hand too, and when he returned the favor, he implanted his boy sperm inside of her body. Duh, that’s how these things happppen.
Another friend was apprehensive about our Immaculate Conception theory, (and because the potentially pregnant girl was now becoming hysterical), and she suggested we just called Planned Parenthood. We found the number to the “Facts of Life Line” and gave it a call. Hmmmm. To our surprise, there was NO information on getting pregnant this way.
We hung up and dialed the number to the Planned Parenthood clinic. Our bossyfriend got on the horn and explained the situation to the person on the other line. It sounded even more preposterous as she told the story to a professional. The helpful woman told us our theory was “possible, maybe?” but was “not very likely…” She said the best thing to do was to just come in for a pregnancy test.
But we were only 14 years old—no one we knew had a license and we were most certainly NOT going to take the BUS (or “the shame train,” as we called it). So we did what any respectable 14 year old does: we rode our bikes to the nearest drug store and bought a pregnancy test.
I know I don’t even really need to clarify this, but no, of course she wasn’t really pregnant.
Fast forward 13 years: I am now 27 years old and have been working for a sexual health organization for two years. My job? To answer questions about sex and relationships from college-aged students. Man, talk about coming full circle. Someone called me “Sexually Liberated” the other day and I almost laughed out loud. In a way, I guess I am.
If I could give my younger self any advice about the sex, it would be the following:
• As long as the two people doing it are consenting and are being safe, there’s absolutely nothing shameful about sex.
• You can get pregnant from sex, but there are also a lot of tools at your disposal to make sure that doesn’t happen.
• When done right, sex can and should be a lot of fun.