When I was twelve, I asked my mother what she would do if I was gay, and she said, “I would love you and accept you as I always have, but I would prefer if you were not gay.” Okay…
Fast forward to when I was fifteen, and in a relationship with my first boyfriend. He and I had been having sex for at least a month when I tried to figure out a way to convince my mother to take me to the doctor to get birth control, without revealing to her that I was actually having sex. Very few circumstances warrant any gratitude for acne and heavy periods, but I was ever grateful for the excuse they provided me with for getting birth control pills. However, when I told my mother I wanted to go on the pill to clear up my skin and lighten up my flow, she said, “I just don’t know if I’m ready for you to go on the pill.” Translation: “I’m not ready for you to be having sex.”
I instantly felt guilty for having sex, even though I was crazy about my boyfriend and I LOVED having sex with him. The reality of it is that her comment did not stop me from having sex with him because those were her feelings about it, not mine, but it did make me feel embarrassed around my mother, and it prevented me from having the safest sex possible.
I eventually got on the pill, but I never felt comfortable talking to my mom about sex, or even relationships in general. To this day, I’m not sure if she knows I ever had sex with my first boyfriend.
He and I broke up when I was sixteen, and I turned right around and fell in love with a girl. My mother’s words from when I was twelve years old haunted me: I would prefer if you were not gay. That wasn’t even the worst of it. This was all happening at the beginning of my junior year, and a lot of my friends had just graduated, so I was looking to make new friends. I happened to fall into a small clique of lesbians at my school, which is how I met my girlfriend, and one night on my way out the door to hang out with them for the second night in a row, my mother said in passing, “Wow you are hanging out with them a lot–are you going to turn into a lesbian?”
I knew that fundamentally my mother did not have an issue with homosexuals, but she clearly had some internalized discomfort with the concept. Perhaps she had some internalized discomfort with all sex, and maybe the idea of me in a homosexual relationship forced her to confront the fact that I was a sexual being experiencing sexual relationships.
I do understand the discomfort surrounding parent-child dialogues about sex; I certainly never liked hearing about my own parents’ sexual endeavors–past, present, or future–but I think there were ways in which my mother could have changed the language she used, at the very least, to disguise her discomfort with my sexual activity. Stating opinions and preferences about another person’s sexual orientation and sexual practice will undoubtedly make them feel guilty if their own experiences differ.
This is true of everyone, not just mothers and daughters. If I were to define a sex positive person, it would be someone who understands that there are different sexual orientations, and a variety of sexual practices, and as long as they are consensual, they are all valid. This does not mean that to be sex positive you are always advocate for more sex, and the more experimentation. A sex positive person does not judge one way or another. If someone has a lot more sex than you, or a lot less, or a lot tamer, or a lot wilder, you do not judge if you are trying to be sex positive. The only thing a sex positive person advocates is consent and safety, because if you advocate for a particular practice or a particular orientation, you marginalize those who deviate from your standards. To use a language of sex positivity, you avoid setting those standards.
Now, if we go back and look at the things my mom said to me, how would we alter them to make them sex positive? If I asked my mom what she would do if I were gay, she would say, “as long as you were being happy and safe, I would support you.” When I asked to go on birth control, she could have just not mentioned sex at all, since I was asking about the pill for other reasons, but if she had to address it, she could have said, “It’s probably a good idea for you to go on birth control anyway, since you are in a committed relationship. That way, when you are ready to have sex, you will be safe.”
That’s all it takes to be sex positive, advocating for safety and consent when it comes to sex, and nothing else. Every person should feel valid about their sexuality, no matter what it looks like, so if someone is talking to you about sex, don’t tell them what you think their sex life should look like. Listen and support, and then you can tell them all about your own sex life and expect the same kind of respect, and we can transform the world into a happy, sexy, judgement-free place…eventually.