A Lesbian Mom’s Awkward Sex Ed Talk

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / 72soul
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / 72soul

I was only five years old when my brother was born. It was my mother’s growing belly that prompted my questions about where babies come from. My mother gave me both more information than I needed, as a kindergartner, and less. Really, I think some analogy about seeds would have satisfied me — I was fascinated by all growing things, and carefully planted my marigold seeds in a line up and down the stone walkway at the bottom of the porch steps that spring.

Instead my early sexual education consisted of a detailed explanation of the difference between male and female body parts. I learned all the names with the help of a huge book about the body that had transparent pages in the middle, each showing one of the major systems of the body — in male and female versions — that you could pile on top of each other to see how the whole was put together. As far as sex itself went, my mother warned me to never do it until I was married, because men were all alike — they’d ask you to marry them to get you in the sack, and desert you as soon as they had succeeded. I got the idea that sex was a sort of unpleasant prize awarded to husbands for marrying women. Always anxious to please my mother, my five-year-old self declared I wasn’t going to even let a man kiss me a long one — like they did in the soap operas my mother watched religiously every afternoon — until I had a ring on my finger.

My daughter came to me at exactly the same age I had been when I got my detailed yet woefully inadequate information about sex. Obviously her sexual education would be much different than mind had been. I knew this, dimly, from the get-go. But I figured I had some time. I wasn’t pregnant and thus inspiring precocious questions after all. But I had underestimated today’s youth–because within the year, as I was tucking her into bed one night, my daughter said to me, “Mama, let’s talk about The Sex.”

The Sex. Hey, I’m a progressive, liberated woman. I’m not scared of sex. And so I wasn’t prepared for having to excuse myself from the room to breathe shallowly into a paper bag. As I sat on the toilet with my head between my knees I tried to summon up everything I knew about teaching kids The Facts of Life.

Finally I settled on a strategy. I would answer her question with a question. Maybe she wasn’t talking about sex with a capital S. She probably wanted to know more age-appropriate information, like why her friend George’s underwear had a hole in the front and hers didn’t. I fervently prayed I’d be spared the mechanics discussion until she was old enough to drive.

Okay, deep breath. “What would you like to know about sex, sweetie?” I asked her in my mommy-calm voice, thinking longingly of the margaritas I hoped to have with my girlfriends once I had finished tucking her in.

“Well, what is . . . The Sex?”

So much for the pee flap in tighty-whities. Frantically I searched for a way to answer this question on a five-year-old level. “Sex is how two adult people who love each other romantically touch each other in private to make their bodies feel good,” I said.

I was in the midst of still congratulating myself on how I had answered her sex question in as vague a way possible when she spoke up again. “But how do you do The Sex?”

Oh boy. Those lucky straight people have it easy, I thought in a flash. They can do some clinical intercourse thing like my mother did and omit all mention of heavy petting. How does one distill the essence of sex into a digestible chunk for a five-year-old? What IS it, anyway? Does passion make sex, sex? If so, is passionate kissing sex? Does nakedness make sex what it is? Personally, I can recall a few instances of fully-clothed (okay almost fully-clothed) sex. So what the hell IS sex? And how could I get out of this conversation, anyway?

Suddenly five-year-old language for sex hit me like an inspiration.

“Honey,” I said. “Sex is when adults touch each other in the places that their underwear covers.”

I’d like to say this was the end of the conversation. It wasn’t. After asking more hows (how do people touch each other there) and some whys for good measure (why would people touch under their underwear?) she topped it all off with something more specific. “Do you and Claudia do The Sex?”

I want my daughter to be able to talk to me about sex. Honestly. But I had to draw the line when she started asking me HOW Claudia and I did The Sex.  Sex is a private thing, I told her, that adults do with the door shut. But, I reassured her, she could always ask me questions about sex, anytime. I shuddered at the thought of her living her adolescence the way I did, with no one to turn to about pressing questions like “Should I?” She kept asking me questions for a few days after that, but soon she turned her attention to learning how to ride her bike without training wheels.

It’s been years now. Occasionally she asks me a sex question, but they’re nothing I can’t handle. A couple of months ago she announced that boys can get pregnant, too. No amount of describing the difference between male and female anatomy could convince her otherwise. I began to long for the heavy book with the transparent pages from my childhood. But those questions are easy. I just fall back on my mother’s detailed teachings to my kindergarten self.

Until last Tuesday.

She was doing her nightly reading homework in the living room, lounging on the couch with a library book she had brought home in a stack that afternoon. I was cooking dinner in the kitchen around the corner. “Mommy,” she called to me, as she often does while she’s reading.

“Yes, honey?”

“What’s O-R-G-A-S-M?”

Oy vey. Any suggestions?