We asked 3 sex educators to share with us how they communicated with their moms about sex. What advice did they get? Were there any other sources of information about sex for them in their formative years? What is their approach to discussing sex with their own children? How did their mom influence the relationships they have now, these are their stories:
Kate: A focus on the relationship
My mom always told me that the most important qualities in a partner are that they treat me well and make me laugh. She said everything else could fall into place as long as I had those two things in a relationship. I’ve often found that she was right: if someone is kind to me and can make me laugh, often our sex life is as fulfilling and fun as I want it to be. Not to mention, the rest of the relationship tends to be great too!
Kate Sloan is a sex journalist, essayist and blogger whose work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Teen Vogue, the Establishment, and many more. Her award-winning sex blog GirlyJuice.net has been a hub for kinksters, femmes, and sex nerds for over 7 years. She's also the producer and co-host of The Dildorks, a weekly podcast about sex, dating, and masturbating.
Felicity: Shifting the narrative in motherhood
My parents taught me nothing about sex—except that it was a topic to be avoided. (Whereas murder and robbery were fair game for random conversations.) The first time I remember my mother mentioning sex was when she was driving me home from picking up my wedding dress. I was 21 years old, and I was getting married the next week. That was when she asked, very awkwardly, something like, "So, uh, do you know how it works...when a man...and a woman..." and then trailed off. It took me a full five seconds to realize that she was trying to ask me—now a legal adult—whether I understood what penis-in-vagina sex was. I said, "Yes," and that was it. She seemed relieved.
So when I was younger, I'd had to seek out different sources for information. Once, when we were about eight, my best friend and I literally looked up "penis" and "vagina" in the dictionary. I believe there was a little diagram of a penis and testicles. Of course we too clueless to think to look up "clitoris" or "labia" or "testicles" or "anus," or any other possible pleasure zones. And that’s how, when I was about 13, I ended up confused about why the kids on my school trip were giggling so hard about someone (supposedly) named "Mike Litt." (If you’re confused here, say the name three times fast.)
I have two children now, approaching kindergarten age. As they grow up, my goal is to be as open and honest with them as I can—so that they’re not asking their friend who Mike Litt is a couple years after they’ve hit puberty. Right now, they’re still young, so we’ll get to talking about sex (and masturbation) when it’s time. But little things can turn into teaching experiences: about anatomy or different personal tastes.
For example, the other day my daughter was getting out of the shower when saw her little brother and said something about his “nelly” (the word she uses for “vulva”—that’s my in-laws’ fault ☺). I informed her that no, he doesn’t have a vulva, he has something different called a penis, and there are different genders. I can’t say for sure how well she understands this, but at least I know it’s not a foreign concept to her. In the end, I hope that matter-of-fact mentions of anatomy will let my kids know that it’s OK to ask questions about their bodies.
My other main goal right now is to let my daughter know that people aren't all the same, and that's OK. (Honestly, this is the same thing I'm often trying to teach readers while I'm recommending sex toys to them!) Anyway, a couple times my 5-year-old daughter has pointed out how one particular kid in her class stood out in some way—and in one case, I'm sure she meant it negatively. So I explained to her that people’s bodies are naturally different from one another: taller, shorter, thicker, thinner, darker, lighter, whatever. And “different” doesn’t equate with “bad.” At the same time I told her that everyone has different preferences, and there aren’t “right” and “wrong” ones as long as we’re not hurting anyone else. These are big concepts, so we’ll be talking about them a lot as the years go by—so that both my children have the tools to think about their own tastes and desires, and how those might affect other people.
Phallophile Reviews explores the world of body-safe sex toys, with a focus on silicone dildos and G-spot stimulation. Follow the author, Felicity, on Twitter or on Instagram for toy-related pics and adventures!
Tawney: The gift of empowerment
I was the byproduct of a religious, old school, black and white father and a spiritual, flirtatious mother that lived by the rule of ‘take what you want’. My father was the kind of wonderful man who embarrassed me with flowers when I started my period and the mere idea of asking him about sex horrified me to my core. What if he thought I was actually having sex? Oh the disappointment! I was always comfortable enough to ask my mother about the topic, but ended up learning from my peers and perusing the internet before it ever became a formal conversation.
That being said, there is one particular moment with my mother that truly opened the doors of discussion between the two of us. I was thirteen, standing at the door to my mother’s office. I had recently crashed our computer with my ‘less than tasteful’ Limewire downloads and had never owned a proper sex toy. I wasn’t sexually active with a partner, had hardly been kissed, and was finally spilling over with questions. While I was nervously inquiring about things I had dipped into, but hadn’t fully grasped (masturbation, primarily), my mother was casually surfing Amazon behind her. Convinced I hadn’t caught her attention, I started to feel ignored and frustrated. That was when she turned around and showed me the purple vibrator in her shopping cart.
“Do you like it?”
I was elated. Not only did she gently continue the conversation with me without pressing too hard, but she had given me a tool to better learn about my own body before I engaged with someone else. I was told a lot that day, but the message behind it all was clear. My mom wanted me to take control of my own sexuality and my body, not shy away from what I was discovering and learning about myself. She did it with such ease and such acceptance, as if we were talking about the weather. The conversation left me feeling fulfilled, not dirty, in control and powerful...not embarrassed. I had been comfortable enough to ask her about these things, sure, but I had not at all expected the openness I was receiving without interrogation.
From that moment on, my mother and I had an open conversation about all things sex. She confided that sex was neither a frequent, nor comfortable thing between herself and my father, stressing that my experiences and sexual urges should be explored, and that I should never be ashamed. It was a view on sexuality that always stuck with me, and despite not having a lot of different sexual partners, I always craved it with those I was dating. A lack of sex left me believing something was amiss with the relationship, and I’d work hard to communicate and redirect to what was needed. I was blessed when my husband shared that same communication and desire for sex that I had. I think that, because of the lack of sex in my parents life, I never want to fall into that ‘sexless’ marriage. It’s a huge motivator behind my need to discuss, investigate, and learn about sex and keeping the bedroom (as well as my private time) spicy.
I don’t have children, but when my husband and I do start our family, I can only hope I am half as comforting, suave, and open as my mother was for me. Some may shy away from the idea of their parents ever providing them with a sex toy, but for me, it was the moment that unlocked my passion and unyielding power over my sexual growth. Every day my mother cheers me on, knowledgeable about the choices I’ve made and the authority I’ve taken over my own sex life. She’s my greatest cheerleader, but more than that, she has inspired me to become who I am today and take the strides I have regarding my own sex education.
Tawney is an author, sex educator, and reviewer that loves educating others and herself about the big world of sex. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and doggo, writing to-do lists, and eating candy.