Category Archives: Friends & Dating

The Three-Year Sex Ed. Seminar: Reflections on my mother’s approach to the “birds and the bees”

sex-ed-blog-picPrepare yourself. If you know my mother, this may come as a shock. But I never got “the talk.”

That’s right. For all her preaching about the importance of having “frank conversations with your daughters about sex” my mom never actually sat her own daughter down and said, “Here are the facts of life, Jen.”

Now, I can just see all of you avoidance-loving parents getting excited, so I’ll end the gag. I didn’t get “the talk.” I got a whole damn lecture series.

Between the fourth and sixth grades, I had the unique privilege of attending three sex ed. classes—all taught by my mother. She didn’t tell me ahead of time that this was going to be a new annual tradition. It was just that every time I walked into a sex ed. class, there she was. And every time, I would close my eyes and pray for a dissociative episode.

Each course was tailored to the appropriate age group. During her visit to my Girl Scout troop (fourth grade), we only made it to the period talk. I have a vivid memory of my mother holding up a tampon and asking the group, “So, girls, where do you think this goes?” You think it’s an easy question now, but to a nine-year-old, it’s definitely multiple-choice.

The fifth grade course was similarly circumspect. I attended public school in Tennessee, so there were clear boundaries as to how much she was supposed to tell us. When she explained how babies were born, a freckly boy was skeptical: “But how does something as big as a watermelon come out of something as small as a lemon?” I felt strangely validated by his question (odd, in retrospect, as I’ve only ever been the “watermelon”).

A few weeks into sixth grade, I was looking through kitchen drawers for 3×5 notecards, needed for a project. I finally found a set (shocking, as our house was never very organized), but when I flipped the first one over, I saw it had already been written on. Scrawled, in all capital letters, was:


I slid the notecard back in the drawer. And—I hope this gives you an idea of how desensitized I was by this point—I forgot about it.

Later that week, I found myself seated in a large circle along with the rest of the middle school population of my church and their parents. Everyone seemed kind of twitchy. I really should have recognized where things were headed.

Our church was a lefty-liberal, anything goes kind of church. If I had to guess, I’d say this was her favorite class to teach because she wasn’t supposed to hold anything back.

Mom began by asking everyone (“parents too!”) to write down a question they had about sex, dating, and/or the body on notecards which were then deposited in the only available vessel: a collection plate. Then we passed the plate around and everyone took out a card to share out loud so that we could have “an open conversation about each.”

When it was my turn to share, I unfolded my card. Scrawled, in all capital letters:


Well, of course.

Mom smiled. “Now that’s a good question!” Oh, I was onto her game now.

In the car, after the class, I told her, “The all-caps handwriting was a nice touch, Mom.” My mother’s handwriting is distinctly old school—I mean like people used to learn, in old schools. It’s easily recognizable. She laughed, and offered me a banana leftover from the condom demonstration. And then we went home.

So, if you have any questions, please, send me a notecard. I’ve got all the answers.