So I was reading “Savage Love,” and they have the hilarious, and painful “childhood misconceptions about sex” column, where people write in to recount the sordid tales of how they believed sex worked before anyone sat down and explained it to them.
It would be both too graphic and too embarassing to relate any of mine–particularly “How I learned that homosexuality existed (by reading Mercedes Lackey books)”*–but I was reminded of the time that I put my mother on the spot (with no warning) and she rose magnificently to the occasion.
I think I was about six or seven. I knew sex existed, since as we probably all remember, as a child you are usually relatively obsessed with sex, (insomuch as your attention span will allow) because it’s the great taboo and no one will tell you about it. Latency period my frickin’ ass. However, most of what I learned, I learned from reading books, and thus I had the eclectic education of the young and precocious–I could tell you all about evolution or Egyptian mythology or Star Trek or Nancy Drew, and ANYTHING about horses, but while some of those Black Stallion books got a little bizarre long ‘around number thirty or so, they still did not include “The Black Stallion Does Dallas.” (Although they did have aliens. And voodoo. And vampire bats. In retrospect, they got VERY weird.)
I reviewed what I thought I knew about sex, and decided it did not make logical sense (I can’t even remember what the hell I thought happened, except that it violated my comprehension of the laws of physics in some fashion) and strolled in to my mother’s bedroom, where she was frantically looking for a nice outfit because she was trying to get her MFA and I think she had some kind of major interview to go to fairly soon. (Obviously, the perfect time to have That Talk!)
“So, hey, Mom,” I said, as she flung blouses around, “What exactly happens during sex?”
There was a pause in the blouse flinging. “Sex?” said Mom blankly. Sex was not on the same world as Mom at the moment, she had MFA concerns. “Uh…sex. Um.”
She was a very devout, repressed Protestant at the time, having gone there from being a very devout and repressed Catholic. And to her infinite credit, she did not balk, she did not feed me a religious party line, she did not protest being ambushed by a small child at perhaps the worst possible time, she said, “Um. Well. See,” and groped for some paper. (Mom is an artist to the core.) And then, while using phrases like “very excited” she proceeded to draw the entire process on the back of some post-it notes.
I studied this for a bit. I was not particularly convinced, since I didn’t really think I had a vagina (I’d’ve noticed that gaping a hole down there, surely!) but assumed that possibly it would appear at puberty, like breasts. I was fairly sure Mom wouldn’t lie to me, but Mom’s judgement was occasionally questionable, so maybe she wasn’t entirely clear on the process either. However, I’d asked, she’d given me her best answer, and I thanked her and strolled out again.
“Now, you shouldn’t draw pictures like this unless you’re trying to explain it to someone…you know…scientifically…” said my mother weakly.
“Right, right,” I said.
Years later, I had the benefit of some very thorough sex ed classes in both middle and high school, which laid it all out with breathtaking clarity, although I could have used a little more practical advice and a few less word searches with things like “vas deferens.” The Oregon public school system may suck donkeys in every possible regard, but they had very practical people who understood that education was the key to keeping kids from showing up pregnant, and if that meant male and female anatomy word searches, then damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!
While I would not be other than who I am, I occasionally stop and reflect that the road that got me here was a pretty absurd one in many regards. But anyway, kudos, Mom! (Who, I should mention, mellowed dramatically in the following few years and eventually became a radically liberal person and painted lots and lots of nudity to make my occasional cheesecake look like a friggin’ word search. But I digress.)
* Well, I’ve heard of it, since “gaaaaay!” was a common schoolyard insult, but I had no idea it was, y’know, something that really happened. Parents, let this be a lesson–explain these things to your kids before the telepathic white horses do.