Sex Lessons from Mom and Dad

Even when girls and boys get the same negative message about sex, girls seem to come out worse.

Many young people only get silence from their parents on the subject. But silence communicates: Sex is unmentionable, shameful.

Parents often worry that raising the subject will lead kids to have sex. Actually, when parents talk, their children are less likely to become sexually active, and more likely to behave responsibly.

“Don’t touch yourself there.” Another message linking sex and filthiness.

The advice doesn’t always work as hoped. Sex therapist Lonnie Barbach tells of one little girl who, “put that extraordinarily dirty place directly under the faucet of the tub in order to wash it more thoroughly and was pleasantly surprised to find that the water created a most intense sensation which culminated in orgasm.”

Other little girls aren’t so lucky.

Here’s the downside to the parental rebuke. Touching yourself is exactly what sex therapists advise when women have trouble achieving orgasm. Because they often don’t understand how their bodies work.

In fact, while parents may scold both boys and girls, the reproach seems to have a more negative impact on girls. Boys who don’t touch themselves, and who don’t have sex, will have wet dreams because their bodies need regular ejaculations to create fresh sperm. This clues boys in to how their bodies work.

Girls don’t always figure out how the clitoris works. It’s an organ that’s small and hidden, and girls’ bodies don’t force orgasms. Women can go their entire lives, having many babies, without ever experiencing one.

Most young men masturbate, but only half of young women do. Perhaps this is why.

But parents give boys more positive messages about sex, too. “Never waste a boner,” a male student volunteered when I asked what sorts of parental advice they’d heard.

Girls probably won’t hear anything remotely similar.

We’ve all heard how boys are told to sew their wild oats before marriage, while girls are encouraged to abstain. Some dads have even taken their daughters to “purity balls” and vowed “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” A little extreme. And the notion of “covering” a daughter seems a little creepy. But it reflects the larger society’s concern with girls’ “sexual cleanliness.”

Girls and boys get different messages on sexuality from parents. And even when they don’t, girls’ sexuality can be more damaged.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 29, 2011, in feminism, gender, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. My father past away when my brother and I were very young. I did not have a chance to talk about sex with my mother. I always think having sex with someone is a big deal. I don’t share the topic with my mother. On the other hand, it seems more casual for my brother. He doesn’t mind to talk openly about girls and sex. Now, I am married. I found my soul mate. My brother is not married, but has a son. He is not living with his son, and is not easy to see him. I wonder if my father was still alive, what he might talk about it with my brother. I think my brother’s life could have been different. It might be less complicated, I assume.

  2. I grew up with just my mother parenting me; however, she never talked to me about sex. I think that her not talking to me about it is something I never really gave much thought. I too learned about the basics in elementary school, and through my friends. I think that I was just as embarrassed to talk about it with her, like she must have been with me, so I didn’t care. I don’t think her mother talked to her about it either, because they never got along well. The good news is that I’m not shy to talk about it. I don’t have any kids yet, but when I have some, I plan to break the pattern of silence. I believe that kids will do what they want in the end, but I think that they will make better choices if they have the proper knowledge. I do think that by nature, people are curious about sex and their bodies. I don’t think handing someone a condom is what sparks this interest.

  3. I found this post truly fascinating. I grew up in a single parent household, and sex was something that was never talked about. When we had “sex education” in 6th grade, it was taught by our school nurse, who was older, she only told us what you would see in a pamphlet and everyone was too afraid to ask questions that no one really learned anything. Even as it got to health class in high school, it always seemed like sex was something to be afraid of rather than enjoyed. I think schools and parents are so afraid to explain sex, because of the notion “it will just give them ideas of what to do”, rather than the notion that knowledge leads to better decisions.

  4. It is defiantly more accepted and expected for boys to have sex before marriage, where as for girls it is better for them to not have sex or to have the least amount of partners if they do. I thinks that parents tend to be way harsher on girls than on boys for sexual relationships and I think it is because girls can get pregnant. I know that the boy is still having the baby too, but he is isn’t pregnant for nine months and then has to heal from labor. Even if the boy is really supportive, he wouldn’t have to take time away from school to have the baby where as a girl would have too. Also if the girl chose to have an abortion, then again it would be happening to her and her body, even if the boy is involved, which is why I think there is a difference in the way girls and boys are treated.

  5. I watched this movie starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore called, Because I Said So. In the movie, Diane Keaton’s character plays this divorced mother of three adult daughters. In one of the scenes, she loses her voice and spends the night over her daughters place, played by Mandy Moore, where she confesses how she has never had an orgasm, writing in a little notebook for communication to Moore’s character. At that moment her daughter was completely shocked by her question, “Whats an orgasm feel like?”, and I was just as baffled. I thought, how can a woman have three kids and never experience an orgasm? Keaton’s character responded as to why she never experienced one with her husband at the time, “He said he didn’t have all day. And he worked nights.” So when I learned in class that women can go their entire lives without experiencing an orgasm, I felt surprised and bad at the same time. Women have been and are seen as these sex objects for men, yet experiencing that out-of-body feeling we call an orgasm doesn’t apply to a good chunk of women in this world. Ridiculous!

  6. I really liked this article. I have a son who is only 2 right now but I’ve been thinking for as long as I can remember, “How am I going to have sex talks with him?” At the same time when I think about having more children I think, “I hope I have all boys so I never have to have the sex talk with my daughter.” I guess it goes to show it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have the “sex talk” with their children, boy or girl but it is even harder to have it with the daughter. I think it’s harder for a parent to talk to a daughter because over all its a more emotional experience for a girl. It’s pretty apparent that between boys and girls and men and women the females always see sex, relationships, and their bodies different than men typically do. Women may see sex as special, their relationships exclusive, and their body sacred. A man may see sex as getting laid, their relationships casual, and their bodies as machines. So given the differences in which men and women see things it’s always going to be a different conversation you have with your daughter than your son. But I believe the most important thing is to have the conversations and don’t congratulate your son and restrict it from your daughter. Give them the same standards that men and women need to respect each other. Always be open for your children to talk to you about the awkward (for parent and teen) conversations.

  7. Many parents feel very embarrassed to talk about sex to their children. Especially in Asian countries, sex seems to be a taboo. Teenagers then lack of knowledge in this area. When they have no idea on this topic, they will be interested in seeking out what is it. Without considering the consequences, girls may result in unwanted pregnancy or sexual disease.
    Today, many girls “sell” their virginity through internet. They make a post to see if any man is interested to have sex. In return, some may get money. This trend may due to lack of sex lessons from parents. Teens may not realize the risk of promiscuity. They just do it when they want to. The value of sex seems to be twisted.
    To nurture an appropriate attitude to our future generation, parents have to be open-minded to talk about sex with children.

  8. I completely agree with this article, I remember when my mom talked to me about sex. She literally said “don’t do it or you will get pregnant”. For so many years I trully believed that I would get pregnant if I had sex, which resulted in waiting a long time to finally experience it. The only good thing that I think came out of it was that I actually waited until I was in love. If I wasn’t the type of person who did reaserch and basically taught myself the essential of sex this could have gone entirely wrong. For my son I plan on having an honest talk with him. Whatever he wants to know I will tell him. I do realize that If I ever have a daughter I will be completely embarrassed to tell her things since we have the same body parts, but I’d rather she hear the answers from me than for her to get untrue details of sex from her peers.

  9. As a girl i can totally relate to the blog, why is is that its so bad for a girl to have sex where as for a guys its OK. When a girl talks about it or does it “she’s a Slut” but for the guy ” he’s a Stud”. Generally , not only for sex but when it comes to any thing women are just judged at every point of their life no matter how serious a girl must feel about the guy if she sleeps with her its a shame but for a guy “its ok, cause you like the girl”. But when is it gonna be enough and when is it gonna be ok for women to something which is considered as normal as when a guy does it!

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