The Many Sources of My Sex Education
Originally Published: June 6, 2017
Revised: January 3, 2019
I first learned about sex from Seinfeld, a sitcom about a dysfunctional group of friends living in New York City. Many episodes mentioned sex in a matter-of-fact, humorous way. “The Sponge” episode involved birth control and “make-up sex.” Another episode dealt with the impact of underwear styles on sperm count. Learning about sex from Seinfeld felt casual and comfortable, but sometimes it was also confusing.
For instance, one episode compared something sexual to “getting thrown out at second.” I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked my dad. He laughed, and as he explained, there was none of the discomfort that might creep up when you’re talking about sex with a parent. Seinfeld’s casual approach to sex made it easier to have these conversations. I am lucky to have such an open relationship with my dad; he was there to answer my questions when learning about sex from Seinfeld wasn’t enough. Still, I needed more thorough information.
[My grandmother] believed that sex education builds self-acceptance and self-esteem and can foster healthy relationships.
Our Whole Lives
My older brother, Harry, had completed a program called Our Whole Lives (OWL) two years earlier. He told my parents, “Sam’s ability to function during his teenage years literally hinges on his doing this.” OWL is a “comprehensive, lifespan sexuality education curricula” offered at churches and schools. OWL covers issues like sexual health, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as things that have an impact on sexuality, like culture, drugs and alcohol. The goal is to help participants make informed choices about their sexual health and behavior.
OWL did help a lot, but it also confused me at times. I was 13, so terms like “joint” and “blow job” were not familiar to me. But at other times, I learned a lot. In one class, we spent four hours discussing masturbation. The honest descriptions of what the word means and how many people do it helped debunk some of our misconceptions about masturbation. Before that conversation, I wasn’t even sure what masturbation was, and I didn’t really need a four-hour discussion about it. Yet, despite the discomfort, the conversation helped me to practice talking about uncomfortable things, and when it came time for me to be curious, I knew how to ask good questions.
OWL changed my conversations with my family. For instance, on OWL’s Condom Day, when my parents picked me up, I got in the car clutching dozens of condoms. Some of them, I told my parents, were glow-in-the-dark and flavored! During the ride home, my parents kept cracking up over my excitement. The fact that their 13-year-old son had pockets exploding with condoms didn’t faze them; they trusted that I was approaching the whole OWL course in a positive and healthy way.
Despite my comfort with condoms, I still didn’t entirely understand when and how I might actually need to use them. I knew the facts, obviously, but understanding the subtle circumstances that would evolve into a need for a condom still felt mysterious to me. That didn’t matter, though, because I knew that when the time came for me to ask those questions, my family could handle them.
Grandma Gives Me Hope
My grandmother has devoted her life to educating people about sex. Long ago, she recognized that teenage pregnancy rates were on the rise, and she realized that knowledge about sex could empower people to improve and even save their lives. She believed that sex education builds self-acceptance and self-esteem and can foster healthy relationships. Maybe that is why sexuality was something my family talked about early and often, almost as casually as we talked about other subjects that would affect my future like schoolwork and sports. I’m fortunate to have a family so willing to empower me with the knowledge and acceptance to explore relationships of all kinds.
Seinfeld got it right in making talking about sex fun and casual. Comfort is key. My family was then open and honest when answering my questions. For me, the best way to learn about sex was not through family discussions or programs like OWL or TV shows like Seinfeld, but a combination of all three.
*Sam is a contributor who lives in Massachusetts.
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