When I was about six years old I asked my mother how babies are made. She subscribed to the “tell them what they ask” parenting style when it came to talking about the birds and the bees. And so she told me that a mommy has an egg inside her and the daddy has sperm and when they come together they make a baby inside the mommy.
My poor mother—she thought she was homefree.
But alas, future sexual health columnist that I was, I immediately asked how the sperm gets in the mommy. Sticking to her philosophical parenting guns, she told me.
What followed in my sexual education matched the openness that my mother had shown in that first conversation—informative and honest but not overbearing. This attitude toward sex has followed my parents’ and my relationship into college—they read my column and kindly fill the prescription for my birth control. My mom is happy to hear what she calls the “broad brushstrokes” of my sex life while my dad, true to form, remains stoic and grumbles.
I’m grateful for how my parents have treated sex over the years—as something respected but not tabooed. I’m even more grateful that they have continued this approach into my college years. The thing is, sex education does not end at that first explanation of how parents make babies. Neither does it end at some kind of pivotal conversation before move-in day when a parent metaphorically tosses their offspring out into the “real world” of college.
When I began to write this article, I first took to the Internet to see what other, more learned souls than I had to say on the subject of parents talking to college kids about sex. Most of them seemed to focus on this “conversation before college” and then suggested briefly to “keep the lines of communication open.” But on a campus so concerned with sex and sexual politics why would we settle for merely keeping the lines of communication open with our parents? Shouldn’t we actively fill those lines?
I’m not saying that we should start sharing every detail of our sex lives with our parents (as my mom would say, “broad brushstrokes, people”) but if we discuss the details of our laundry woes and the incredibly dull subjects of our midterm papers with our parents, why do we not discuss topics such as heteronormativity and the culture of consent? If the basics of the birds and the bees defined our conversations about sex with our parents during our preteen years, then why don’t these complex issues define our current discussions? Why do we stop the conversation at new student orientation with a muttered “be safe” and a discussion about how to acquire birth control?
The truth is, we shouldn’t. That informative, honest, and not overbearing attitude that I was lucky enough to grow up with should continue through college. Additionally, it’s not too late to start the conversation—for parents or students— even if you’ve never talked about these things before.
We have the tremendous opportunity at our school to learn absurd amounts of information about sexual politics. Wesleyan is arguably one of the most progressive schools in the country when it comes to sexual politics and, by virtue of being on campus, we probably know more than our parents about the topic. Though our parents may have given us that initial talk about why parents snuggle at night, we can give them their first talk about things like dental dams and rape culture.
Yes, it might be awkward. But if our parents dealt with it when they gave us our first talk, then we can tackle these issues too. It’s time to recognize that, though we no longer live with our parents and maybe don’t even depend on them for most things, we can still do what my awkwardly precocious first-grade self did—we can keep asking, and answering, until we figure out the birds and the bees.