Updated: Mar 17, 2021
On the windowsill of my breakfast nook, there lie about 15 books. Most are memoirs: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert…. And the Holy Bible that we were gifted while visiting Charlotte in the Billy Graham’s Library.
Then there is Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, leaning to the far right, against the wall, in blue and white.
I remember at one of the Rotary Club meetings many years ago, we invited a speaker. I was shocked to learn that kids as young as 12 years old were engaging in group sex. I remember thinking, “Where were the parents?” I was not a parent yet and had no clue how challenging it would be.
In a few months, my son will be 12.
When my daughter was about 12 years old, a freshman in middle school, two of her closest friends came for a sleepover in our house. After Fish, dumplings, Tofu, and Bok Choy, Serena invited me to her bedroom. Here I was facing these smart and curious girls. “My mom teaches sexuality to businesswomen in China. You can ask her any questions.” She proudly announced. The young ladies’ first question was about oral sex.
Fast forward, at the age of 14, Serena loved Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, a book I recommended. Peggy, a journalist, interviewed hundreds of teenage girls and young adults on the topic of sex and their personal experiences. Serena then ventured on her own and read Boys & Sex.
“Mom, I think you and Daddy should talk to Norden about this, especially these pages.” The page numbers were written on an aqua blue sticky note, neatly posted on the first page of the book.
“Awesome. Thanks! I will share with Dad.”
A week later, Samuel told me that he had finished reading the sections that Serena tagged.
“Do you want to read the book with Norden?” I asked.
“No, I don't think reading the book will work with him. I will find the right moment to talk to him about it.”
Two nights later, enjoying a delicious dinner made by my husband, our dinner conversation started with a Trinity, a Brag, a Gratitude, and a Desire -- a tool we use sometimes.
Remembering the blue-covered hardback book was due to the library in two days, I decided to give reading it a try. I picked up the book from the windowsill behind me.
“The sticky note got lost but I remembered the page number. 180.” I stated as I smiled.
“Why don’t we read together and maybe have a discussion if you all want to?” I said playfully. The white letters are bold and gigantic, Boys & Sex -- they simply couldn’t be ignored.
All the eyes were on me and they gave quiet consent.
I flipped to page 180. ‘I Shall Call This Girl and Apologize’ was the title of the chapter.
“Liam never did tell anyone about what happened at the camp, including -- and maybe especially -- his parents.”
“Oh, this one is a sad story. I remember,” said Serena.
Norden appeared to be interested.
I read along….
“I love my parents. They have taught me a lot of things. But when it comes to sex. They haven’t. Just about nothing.” In the book, Liam shared with the author how he wished that his parents would talk to him about sex and gave him some advice. He knew “nothing except from a couple of classes in school and from watching porn”. He "resent[ed] them a little bit for that”. His parents weren’t aware that “he’d been engaging in oral sex since age thirteen and vaginal intercourse since fifteen”.
“What is oral sex?” Norden asked.
“Um…” I have never explained this to an 11-year-old boy. While I was trying to find words to explain the concept, my hands moved in a grabbing motion. What an awkward moment. The kids started to laugh.
“Wow, whatever oral sex is, mom, that doesn’t look good.” Norden frantically shouted. I started to laugh with them. It really was funny.
“Oral sex is when a partner uses her mouth on your sexual organ, your penis.”
“The partner doesn’t have to be a she. It could be a he too.” Serena rebutted.
Maybe my reading was too slow because Serena started to give advice to Norden based on the book.
“You must treat girls with respect and ask for consent,” she said. “You have to ask a girl for consent not only once, but continuously. Because a yes to a kiss doesn’t mean a yes to other things. When a boy pushes a girl’s head down to give him a blow job, it would be sexual assault if she didn’t consent.”
“Oh, I learned what a blow job is with mom on the boat,” Norden announced.
“What? When?” My mind went blank for a second. This statement was very unexpected!
“Remember I read a book with you when we were sailing?” Norden reminded me.
Oh, yes, how could I forget that!
I was reading Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Untamed on the deck, sailing back from my birthday celebration in the Bahamas. The ocean was smooth and calming.
Norden had come and sat on my lap. Putting his back against my chest, he started to read my book with me. “Mom, what is a blow job?” He pointed to the title of the chapter that I was reading.
“Well, it is….” I didn’t expect to give a sex talk on the sea. Nevertheless, it went well.
Just like the reading on that sailboat, 10 minutes into Boys & Sex, Norden lost interest and we moved on to a new exciting topic and our post-dinner conversation and laughter continued.
With all the reading and research I’ve been doing, the self-examinations and reflections of my own life, I look at these conversations as a continuation of my own education. And I guess sex education could happen anywhere, in any place, for any duration.