Thursday, 1 November 2012

Secret knowledge

I can't for the life of me remember how I found out about sex. I mean, how you did it. What it involved. I picked it up somewhere obviously, but the actual source is lost in the fog of childhood memory.

It certainly wasn't from my parents. In those days, most parents were acutely embarrassed about the subject in front of their children. My parents would only refer to it in the most roundabout way, through double entendres and cryptic euphemisms.

In the 22 years I lived with them I never saw any evidence of their sex life. They kept it very carefully hidden, strictly confined to the bedroom and never shared with us kids. We knew "something" was going on, but what exactly that something was, we could only guess.

I didn't learn anything from my teachers either. At that time sex education was unheard of, and decent schools would never get involved with "that sort of thing". Maths and grammar naturally, but sex? Not at all appropriate for a school curriculum. And of course most teachers were as embarrassed about it as the parents.

Nor did I glean anything from other boys. If they were up to anything sexual, they didn't mention it to me. It was a guilty secret they kept to themselves. Even in the sweaty intimacy of changing rooms and dormitories, the subject never cropped up. Or was my sheltered and prudish mind simply blocking out whatever I heard?

Somewhere along the line I put two and two together and worked out what this sex thing was all about. But the when and the who and the how is lost to memory. No wonder my first sexual experiences entailed a great deal of fumbling and panic and semi-ignorance. I'd just about discovered the basics but there was an awful lot I still had to learn.

What a great advance it is that today's kids are brought up in a more enlightened atmosphere and can learn more easily and naturally about this very basic aspect of life without all the squeamish secrecy and sheepishness of an earlier age.

29 comments:

Roses said...

I was blessed with a mother who talked about these things with candour and was happy to answer any and all questions.

Nowadays, for children and teenagers the consequences of ignorance can be devastating. My Boy and I have always talked openly about sex and sexual health and he talks to his friends about it too.

Bijoux said...

My mother gave me a book or two about sex around the same time we had sex ed at school. It still seemed like a lot of euphemisms and technical words were used, so I do remember asking a friend EXACTLY what this 'intercourse' entailed, and she filled me in. I think I knew, but it was still shocking to hear it said aloud.

Personally, I think a parent's sex life should be kept quiet. I think it's over-the-top and disrespectful to the child if parents are loud in the bedroom, leave out their sex toys, etc. No one wants to hear or see that regarding their parents, no matter what their age is.

Nick said...

Roses: That's good that your mum talked about everything so candidly. And good that you're doing the same with your son. A very healthy state of affairs.

Bijoux: That's typical, that the books were so technical and euphemistic you didn't really understand what they were saying! Thank goodness for helpful friends.

Oh, you think children just don't want to know what their parents are up to in bed? I wonder if that's true....

Bijoux said...

I think there's an ick factor when it comes to kids thinking about their parents in the sack. I'm not saying parents should hide the fact or not discuss, only that details are TMI.

Grannymar said...

I know a few of my peers who when they got married, had no idea of what was involved sexually and had to depend on their new husbands to guide them through the process. Yes that is how they described it: a process! Thankfully we have moved on since those days and the children of today are more prepared for life.

John Gray said...

OMG
I couldn'T have COPEd if my parents would have mentioned sex....
I would have died away on the spot and would have asked to be adopted

Nick said...

Bijoux: Oh is there still an ick factor? I would have thought today's kids are more enlightened about oldies enjoying sex. But maybe not. Maybe they're the squeamish ones.

Grannymar: It's hard to believe nowadays that so many women used to go into marriage so woefully uninformed. And dependent on men who may have known nothing whatever about female sexuality.

Nick said...

John: Really, you would have been that shocked by the idea of what your parents were up to under the sheets? I don't think I'd have been shocked, just curious and asking lots of questions.

Wisewebwoman said...

I think there is always an ick factor when it comes to children thinking of their parents having sex - not about oldies having sex!

I will summarize my sex education in that I thought babies sprang forth from the belly button and that you could get pregnant from a toilet seat.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: Why is that though? Just why do kids think parental sex is somehow disgusting or peculiar?

It would have to be a very big belly button. Or a very elastic one....

Secret Agent Woman said...

This is funny - in a response to someone's comment on my blog, I mentioned the ick factor. It's definitely still there. And even developmentally appropriate, I think. It's fine for kids to know their parents have sex, but I don't think you should have sex in a way they can hear or be graphic about exactly what you are doing. My own mother was a little too revealing and it really creeped me out. I talk to my kids about sex but not about MY sex. They don't want or need to know that. My older son is very open with me about his personal life, though, and I'm glad he feels that comfortable. I think we've struck a good balance.

Nick said...

Agent: I don't know, it seems to me an odd failure of society's increasing sexual confidence that parental sex is still something to be hidden away and not mentioned, as if it never happens at all. It seems odd that there's still an ick factor about this when sex in general has largely lost its ickiness.

Secret Agent Woman said...

There's a big difference between pretending parental sex doesn't exist and being too graphic or demonstrative. And, speaking as a psychologist here, it is very disturbing to kids to be confronted with overt sexuality on the part of their parents. I'm not talking about seeing clothing on the floor or that sort of thing - I'm talking about hearing their parents moans or being told the details. I think the people who have a let-it-all-hang-out policy with their children are doing their kids a huge disservice.

Bijoux said...

This is just a thought, and maybe Agent could address it, but maybe the ick factor is an evolutionary carryover to prevent incest?

Nick said...

Agent: Your professional insight is useful. I know the sound of sex can be frightening to young children who can misinterpret it. I guess you're right about the distinction between knowing about it and actually being witness to it.

Bijoux: Funny, Jenny suggested the same thing. You could be right.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Oh my God - I was just coming back here to wonder aloud about the use of the ick factor in preventing incest! I think it is a really good think that kids don't perceive their parents as sexual objects and vice versa. And I also think that's why we find parent-child sexual abuse particularly disturbing. And actually, exposing your kids to pornography and overtly sexual behavior is considered to be a form of sexual abuse by many mental health professionals.

Secret Agent Woman said...

*thing, not think

Nick said...

Agent: I'm still uncertain about this. I mean, seeing your parents as sexual beings doesn't mean you're going to jump into bed with them. Surely that's a question of parental responsibility rather than sexuality?

Interesting that exposing children to porn and overt sex is seen by some as sexual abuse. I think that's a persuasive argument. Porn in particular gives kids a very warped idea of sexual relationships.

Leah said...

Exposing children to porn and overt sex, deliberately, IS BY LAW child sexual abuse. It's not just that some psychologists, or "some people," see it that way, it is every right-thinking person as well as the entire criminal justice system. It isn't very controversial really, it is just a psychological AND legal truth. I'm not sure why this is even an issue for debate?

Nick said...

Leah: I didn't know exposing children to porn and overt sex was actually illegal in the States. I don't think that's the case in the UK. But certainly the potentially corrupting and distressing effects of it are evident.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

You're right, although when my kids were at school I worried about what other people were telling them, about a subject which should have been up to me to discuss with them.

I guess maybe the only solution to the 'tell them early and upset the parents, tell them late and risk pregnancy and disease for them' conundrum is to 1) leave it till secondary school age, or they are literally corrupting the innocents, and 2) incorporate it into a wider biology and keep morals and ethics out of it.

The powers that be will answer that with 'what about the paedophiles who prey on youngsters below secondary school age', but we can never hope to take all possible dangers into account and I really do think that particular warning is best coming from parents.... except of course that parents are sometimes the ones doing the abusing. *Sigh*

Nick said...

Jay: That all sounds good to me. And whoever gives the warnings about paedophiles, children should be absolutely clear (a)that certain sexual approaches are utterly taboo and (b)that they shouldn't hesitate to tell someone else about such approaches.

Los Angelista said...

My husband and I had a book club with our boys--one of those age appropriate books about the reproductive system, body parts, and sex--and there was plenty of embarrassed falling out of chairs and laughing. I've also done a healthy does of STD education with my boys.

I also worry that so many young people are getting much of their informal sex ed from porn--it really does present a warped view of relationships.

Nick said...

Liz: Embarrassed falling out of chairs and laughing, lol!

Young men who get their idea of sexuality from porn must have a horribly twisted approach that not only damages them but the women they get involved with.

blackwatertown said...

Agree that more information at school is a hugely beneficial step forward. I think of myself as open to chatting about all sorts with my own two, but I have to admit that I tend not to initiate conversations in this area. Most recent one - prompted by a comment on X-Factor: Daddy - What's a vajazzle?
Dear oh dear.
I explained of course. But still.

Nick said...

Paul: I share your offspring's ignorance. I had to google vajazzle myself. And discovered there was a doula offering vajazzles as part of the service!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I think re Leah's comment that "deliberately" might be the operative word. There are a lot of gray areas. When I say "overt sexuality" I am not only talking about the more flagrant issues like allowing your child to see you having sex. I'm also talking about innuendo and such. It's not always as cut and dried a legal issue as we might like and many times social services isn't able to obtain adequate proof to actually remove the child. But at any rate, I was talking about emotional damage rather than a legal issue. And I have to say that you may be confusing healthy discussions with a child about sexuality in general and exposing them to your own sex life. Say what you will, but I have seen too many examples of people traumatized by it. And indeed, kids do act out sexually with their parents and others when raised with confusing sexual messages. You might see it a little differently if you had children, though.

speccy said...

Fascinating discussion :)

BWT- now there's an ick moment!

Nick said...

Agent: No, I totally see the distinction between conversations about sexuality and exposing kids to your own sex life. And that's an interesting point about things like innuendo.

I'm sure you're right that if I had kids I might see things differently, because then you can see the way kids actually react to certain topics and ways of behaving.