What I Wish My Parents Taught Me About Sex
By Melissa Lipari
We have all had “the talk” at some point in our lives. You know, the one about the birds and the bees? My parents took a surgical approach when it came to the sex talk. I was about 14 when they told me about the “meaning” of sex for the first time. I had watched sex scenes in films and I had learned about the female body (vaguely) in health class and from my mom, but I never really knew much about sexual health or the actual “deed” itself. When I had my first boyfriend, my parents decided that this was the time to lay it all on the table. Unfortunately, all I was taught from my parents was that sex is meant for marriage and as a woman, it was how I could get pregnant. After that, I do not think we ever talked about sex again – I am now 22 years old.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents and I are remarkably close, and they have an open mind, but they can be incredibly old fashioned when it comes to certain aspects of life. Marriage and sex are at the top of that list. I was always told that sex was supposed to happen when two people loved each other and wanted to have a baby. I never thought about it as a form of pleasure (both personally or with another being) until I had sex for the first time. Here are some of things that I wish my parents taught me about sex, before I became sexually active:
Sex Does NOT Have to be Special
I will not go into the details of my first-time because quite frankly it was nothing special, which is the first thing that I wish my parents had taught me. I wish they told me that your first time is not going to necessarily be with the love of your life and it does not have to be on your wedding night. You can have sex with anyone, at any time, if it is consensual. It does not have to be a night filled with chocolate-covered strawberries, candles, or The Weeknd on loop either. Meaningless sex is just as suitable as passionate sex. Sex is just that – sex. It does not have to be special if you don't put emphasis on it. It can be whatever you want it to be. If you prefer to have sex with someone casually, do it. If you prefer to be in a relationship or maritally committed to someone before having sex, do that. Do not let the movies fool you, your partner is not going to show up in your bedroom with rose petals covering your bed – unless maybe you’ve been transported to an alternate universe that mimics a Nicholas Sparks movie.
Sexual Health & Pregnancy Prevention is Important (and Not Scary)
I also wish that my parents were more active in informing me on sexual health and pregnancy prevention. I learned about condoms, as virtually every adolescent teen does, but I was not educated about much else. I had little knowledge about birth control, except that it was a pill you took at the same time once a day to not get pregnant. I had no idea about the hormonal side-effects of birth control and how to find the right contraceptive method for you.
14-year-old me was barely educated on how to put a condom on my partner, let alone was given the proper information on birth control patches or IUD’s. Especially as a woman who struggles with mental health, I had no idea how some hormonal birth control methods could affect anxiety and depression. Planned Parenthood does a fantastic job at breaking down several forms of birth control methods for those who want to practice safe sex, have easier menstruation, or gain hormone regulation. Some of these methods include Birth Control Vaginal Rings, Diaphragms, Internal Condoms, and more.
I also never went to the gynecologist until I started college, even though you should be going as soon as you are sexually active or between the ages of 13-15. When I was younger, I thought it would be weird to have an old man stick his finger up my “you-know-where”, but that was before I knew about the various options that women have access to when it comes to checking up on their vaginal health. In New York City there is a place called Tia. It is a Women’s Health Clinic run entirely by women with an all women staff. You can visit Tia for gynecology, primary care, behavioral health, or acupuncture. Even better, they offer online services if in-person appointments freak you out. To most people, Tia probably sounds like a trendy boutique in Tribeca or an eccentric restaurant in the East Village. But that is the beauty of this Women’s Health Clinic, it is not meant to scare you with fluorescent lights or cold examination tables. It was made for women by women.
Abstinence Is Not for Everyone
My parents’ best sexual advice? Abstinence. Not having sex was the cure to all things that might go wrong because of sex. While this might be somewhat true, abstinence is not for everyone. As a young woman in the 21st century, I wanted to be free to explore and embrace my sexuality, as many of us do. I did not want to explore sex as a college freshman with some random boy in a fraternity bathroom. I wanted it to be on my terms, in a place that I felt comfortable with and with a person that I felt that same level of comfort. Now, if your first time was as a college freshman in the basement of PIKE, I pass no judgement. We are all free to experiment with sex when we want to. The difference was, I thought that I had to abstain from sex until all the circumstances were right. I had to be in love with the boy, I had to be ready to have a baby, I had to basically be prepared to sell my life away if I was ready to have sex. Going back to my topic on meaningless sex: sex and abstinence are whatever you want them to be. They do not have to hold a position in your life if you choose not to have either. Hell, you could practice abstinence for years and then decide to have sex. You could also be sexually active for years and then become abstinent, it is your body. You decide what happens to it, so do not let anyone, not even your parents, make that choice for you.
Virginity is a Social Construct
A concept that I wish my parents did not put so much emphasis on, is my virginity. My mom was taught by my very catholic Abuelita that your virginity is like a flower. You want to protect that flower at all costs, and you do not want anyone to pluck that flower until you are ready (aka married). As I grew older and ended up “losing” my virginity, I realized that my mom and Abuelita were not necessarily right about virginity. Sure, it is okay to want to protect your virtue and save yourself for marriage. However, if virginity is based on that thin piece of tissue called a hymen, then your virginity could be taken from using a tampon for the first time or from being active in sports. The Arizona State Press notes that, “Virginity is conceptual, it is a social construction. When we have sex for the first time, we do not actually lose anything. It does not change our identity; it is not life-altering and it does not affect our worth. It is simply a new experience”. Instead of placing emphasis on losing our virginity or trying to preserve it for as long as possible, I wish I were taught that virginity is not really that important. In fact, it truly does not exist.
Whether you are reading this as an 18-year-old or a 28-year-old, I hope you find some comparison in the trials and tribulations of sexual education as a young adult. While I wish that my parents taught me more about sex, I am glad that I took the initiative to educate myself about a topic that I am passionate about. Practicing safe and consensual sex is the biggest take-away from sexual education. We are all free to explore our bodies in any way that we choose, so long as it is on our own terms.