Sex Ed in an Immigrant Family
Originally Published: September 10, 2019
Revised: January 13, 2020
I remember being 10 years old and arguing with my best friend at the time that babies come out of the anus and not the vagina. I was so confident in my logic. After all, how could babies possibly fit through a hole where only liquid comes out? (I didn’t know then that the vagina was separate from the urethra, where pee comes out.) I later told my older sister about it, laughing about how ridiculous my friend sounded. She stared at me and said, “Babies do come out of the vagina.” I was astounded. I was a year older than my friend and yet I knew less than she did. How embarrassing!
Like many kids, I had a lot of misconceptions when it came to sex. For instance, I thought that vaginas were called “virginias,” women only have two holes “down there” and penises were completely smooth. I held onto these misconceptions for longer than I’d like to admit. My parents never attempted to educate my siblings and me about sex. When I asked my mom about childbirth, she told me it was like pooping, which, as it turns out, is a major understatement. My parents seemed closed off about the topic, so I never tried to ask any sex-related questions. And they never tried to initiate a conversation about it either. However, my parents weren’t anti-sex ed; they just weren’t comfortable being the ones to educate me about sex.
My parents seemed closed off about the topic, so I never tried to ask any sex-related questions.
Curious why I never got the “birds and bees” talk, I tried speaking with my mother, but she had no interest in talking about this. I did, however, sit down with my dad to discuss his thoughts and own experiences. My dad revealed that he had received no sex ed while growing up in China. It wasn’t taught in schools, and his parents just told him not to have a girlfriend. Sex before marriage was considered shameful, and young people were expected to focus solely on academics. Young boys would talk amongst themselves and tell dirty stories; that was all the “sex ed” my dad got.
I told my dad that many of my Asian friends, whose parents are also immigrants, have said that they never talked to their parents about sex. He thought that maybe it was because the parents grew up in a conservative environment and as a result are uncomfortable speaking about it. Because no one had talked openly about sex with them, they didn’t have an example of how to do so with their own children.
In response to why he never gave my siblings and me the “sex talk,” my dad admitted he had expected the school to teach us, and he felt that the school would do a better job, anyway. But he also said that if any of us had asked him questions, he would have answered them honestly. Ironically, I never asked him any questions because I thought he wouldn’t answer them. Perhaps the same holds true for other seemingly reserved families, and if someone is brave enough to initiate talking about sex, a good, productive conversation can happen. Though I was hesitant to do so, by approaching my dad, I took the first step to breaking the silent barrier around sexual topics and the cycle of avoiding discussing them.
With my own kids, I’d like to take more initiative in their sex education. Unlike my parents, I was fortunate enough to have received comprehensive sex ed, so I feel better prepared to answer questions. Kids often have questions about sex and their bodies, and I feel it’s the parent’s duty to answer them in an age-appropriate way. I would actively encourage them to ask questions and I would strive to answer them without judgment or ridicule. I would want them to feel comfortable approaching me.
I believe that if you truly want to prevent your child from experiencing an unintended pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease and you also want them to know about healthy relationships, communication and consent, the best way is to educate them.
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