How My Mom Taught Me More About Sex Ed Than School Did
Originally Published: April 12, 2018
Revised: April 12, 2018
If I had to explain how I first learned about puberty, I’d say that it all started with a Saturday Night Live rerun, a laptop and my mother. Without context, it sounds like the set up to a joke. But hold on! This weird experience ended up helping me out more than the sex education I got at school. Let me explain.
Mom Explains It All
There I was, ten years old, minding my own business, watching Saturday Night Live with my mother. A sketch about period products came on. There was a jingle about stopping dams (a metaphor for periods), but my memory is sort of fuzzy on that. That was the moment when my mom realized that I needed to understand sexual messages on TV.
A brief explanation about my mother: she works as a health and physical education teacher in a nearby town that uses different materials and methods from my school. When a commercial break came on, my mom turned down the volume and asked me to sit with her on the couch. Without missing a beat, she showed me a website explaining periods. It had diagrams, anatomical information and a brief explanation about the menstrual cycle. In a calm voice, she told me what happened and what to expect. As you can probably imagine, this was completely out of left field for me. There should have been a warning label before that sketch: “May encourage awkward conversations about puberty.” Awkward, yes. But in all honesty, it worked much better than the period-related video I would eventually see at school.
Fast forward to one year later: 2012. I was in fifth grade. The female side of my class gathered in a sweltering classroom for the dreaded “puberty video.” It had everything you’d expect from a school-sanctioned puberty video: monotone acting, basic medical facts and attempts to appeal to the younger crowd with sports. Overall the video felt just like medical information: basic.
The topic of puberty can be hard to cover, especially without talking down to an audience. While I’m not saying that learning about periods should accompany an SNL skit, I feel that there needs to be something more personal and honest about it. That personal connection and honesty is something my mother provided.
OK to Be Gay
A few months after our period talk, I had yet another talk with my mother. This time, we were on vacation. Before we went to one specific town, my mom took my brother and me aside and explained that we would see “homosexual couples” (her term, not mine) there. She said it was OK to be gay and that we shouldn’t judge them. When I started writing this article, my mom told me she’d said this to avoid us embarrassing potential couples by asking questions if we saw them holding hands or kissing. This was about four years before the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. It wasn’t as common to see openly gay couples on TV at that time, outside of stereotypes. So it made sense that she explained this to us, especially at that age.
Let’s go forward one more time: five years later, in the midst of my freshman year. During a very awkward health class, the class discussion about sexual orientation went like this: “You know, you can be gay.” And that was it! Reminder: this was in 2016. The brief discussion I had with my mother five years before had covered more!
Sex education in schools can vary a lot. Having my mom talk to me about periods and LGBTQ couples in a candid way helped. Was it unconventional? For me, yes. But was it helpful? Yes, indeed. While a discussion at school can be helpful or harmful, an open discussion with a caring parent can really help.
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