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How Did You Learn About Sex Growing Up?


Jul 17, 2023
How Did You Learn About Sex Growing Up?

normal people

When you were growing up, how did you learn about sex? This weekend, I finally watched Dirty Dancing, so omg the topic is FRONT OF MIND. My mom was super open about sex when we were growing up and straightforwardly answered any questions we asked; and I’m trying to do the same with my boys. But people’s experiences vary wildly! Here are a few friends’ stories…

“My mom and I had The Talk. I was 12 or 13 and very sheltered. We were on a family vacation in Vermont. My mom and I were hiking together, and she said, ‘So! Do you know what sex is?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s when naked people lie next to each other in bed.’ She then explained the very basic mechanics, and I remember thinking, ‘AHHHHHHHHHHHH, that is so DISGUSTING!’ I walked around in a haze all day because I was so grossed out. I was like, that CANNOT be what it is. My mom never mentioned anything again. I didn’t know you actually moved during sex until I was an adult in college. We would always fast-forward sex scenes when I was growing up, so I truly had no idea. I had to google ‘orgasm’ in college to figure out what that even was.” — Sienna

“One time my (otherwise very liberal Jewish) mom sat my sister and me down in front of the VCR when we were maybe 10 and 12 and put on this PSA video sponsored by Tampax that was supposed to teach boys and girls about puberty. It was one of those ‘you might ask why there’s now hair in places there wasn’t before’ short films. After we watched it, my mom asked if we’d learned anything, and I said ‘Yeah, how to put in a tampon.’” — Joshua

“My mom took me to Barnes & Noble and went to the sex section and said I could pick out any book. She was like, ‘Sex can be a wonderful part of a committed loving relationship. You do need to make sure you’re emotionally mature enough.’ It felt very permission-giving. And the book helped teach me, oh, go have an orgasm or whatever.” — Emily

“Growing up in a Christian family, we had this device called Covenant Eyes that connected to the closed captioning data on the TV, and any ‘bad’ words — like swear words — would get replaced by softer words. The word ‘sex’ was replaced by ‘hugs.’ One time we were watching a movie and the main character said, ‘We found out the HUGS of the baby! It’s a girl!’” — Katie

“My four older sisters didn’t tell me anything, but I learned everything from reading their diaries — two of them, specifically. Everything else I picked up from my friends. The details were piecemeal, but I got a good enough picture. By the time I was in high school, my mom tried to have the talk with me, and I was like…let’s not do this. Nowadays, my 10-year-old son asks me so many questions, and I flat-out answer him. I’m like, I can’t imagine having access to this as a kid. I had four sisters and not one of them could I go to and say, please tell me about this.” — Mary

“My parents were divorced, and my mom was a therapist, and her therapy office was underneath my bedroom. One time my high school boyfriend and I were sex, and she came up and knocked on the door and was like, ‘My clients and I can hear you guys, you have to keep it down!’ That’s the closest we ever came to talking about sex. Oh, and she gave me that book when I was six: Where Did I Come From? I actually still have it, I’ve have moved apartments with it for the past 30 years, because I’m like, this book is crazed, it’s so funny with these two animated people who are completely naked.” — Zahra

“We talked about it once. My older sister and I were going to bed, and the lights were off, and we tried to get my mom to tell us what a blow job was. My mom was really uncomfortable. I can still picture it exactly. She answered very factually and got out of there.” — Emily

“Because I grew up in a very religious Texas suburb, the shame of sex really clung to me. When I was 13, I searched ‘boobs’ on our family computer, and then I felt so much shame that I told my mom, ‘You have to block me from Google or I’m going to hell.’ She was like, ‘No, you’re obviously curious about your body and about sex and it’s totally natural.’ She tried to have a conversation, but I was like, ‘No! I’m disgusting!’ And I had her block from our family computer. (My poor brother was looking up porn at, like, Ask Jeeves.) And I went to a public high school that was still very religious; in our health class, we had a whole week about how you had to check your shoes in case there’s a spider in them, but nothing about sex. They were like, don’t worry about it.” — Sara Ruth

normal people

What about you? How did you learn about sex growing up? How do you talk to your kids now?

P.S. Talking to kids about sex, and sex-positive parenting for prudes. Also, teaching kids about consent and periods.

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