Facts of Life: Grounding Lessons for Sexual Health

A recent survey of 2,200 women found 35% of them admitting that fitting into an old pair of jeans after losing weight was “better than sex.”  The study was related to Special K cereal and weight loss.

But I can’t help but ask—who are their partners?  How can weight loss replace intimate human contact?  Maybe there’s something wrong in their overall perception of sex.  Or to take it further, maybe there’s just something wrong with the sex information that people in general are getting at the start of their sexual lives.

Each person’s introduction or discovery that sex exists is far different.  There can be the gentle instruction and revelation from a parent to an innocent child—the absolute opposite of which is the terrifying introduction through childhood sexual abuse.  Hopefully there are many in-betweens—the neighbor kid’s incorrect information, the health class in school, the almost accurate answers given to the child or teen asking a series of questions.  Enough said.

Many people in today’s culture learn about sex and sexual behaviors through visual images.  Obvious ones: TV, movies, the web, and renditions of sexual behavior in people around them.

The later was the way my student, F.S., learned about sex.  He was 17 in 1970 when he stood at my desk protesting a story I had made his class read in summer school.  It contained moral platitudes and condemned sex outside of marriage.  F. S. was a high school student—and I a brand new teacher, merely following the curriculum.  But F.S. liked me; he was bright and articulate and he realized that in return for my efforts, he could teach me, a very naive and young teacher with a totally different background from his, the true facts of life.

“I have sex whenever I can,” he told me. “Sex is good.  There’s nine people in my family.  My parents and seven kids.  No space.  We sleep in the same room, all of us.  So my whole life I am hearing my parents have sex.  Nice sex.  This story you are teaching me?  Says nothing to me.  Nothing.”

What could I say to that?  I’m sure I said something, probably mentioning that my life was the exact opposite, being raised by a widow there was no sex in my home at all.  I didn’t mean to put forth a puritanical agenda then—and I don’t now.

I do think ignorance about sex and sexual behaviors and the side effects from unprotected sex, violent sex, and even casual sex always need to be considered.  If all a child learns about the facts of life are images on film or at the extreme pornography:

  • either he or she is not going to have a very realistic idea of sex in a regular relationship
  • or they are not going to understand that sex between human beings contains a mental and emotional component
  • or they will fail to understand human sex involves choice
  • and that sexual behavior becomes part of a person, regardless of alcohol and drugs affecting memory; something remains at some level.

Actually F.S.’s early experience with sex was probably more positive then that of children left alone to discover things through the net or by watching TV.  The images today’s children might see make sex super-sized like everything else. Sex is portrayed as a fast-moving, tension-filled dance that always ends in quick orgasm for both partners.  Or it’s a pivotal moment of a storyline that blocks out every other concern a person might have about an entire life—it is heightened, overblown, overdone, over-fantasized, blasting way beyond the borders of reality.

So when a woman experiences sex in real terms as opposed to heightened images, trying on jeans might be more fun!!

But seriously, as mothers and grandmothers we need to teach our offspring about the goodness of sex and stress the emotional bond, the commitment and love that sex can bring to two persons.  Sex is the glue in a marriage my own mother always said.  It can be the glue in a long-term relationship.

I think F.S. in his cramped rooms back in the 70s saw exactly that—his parents were together caring for and bringing his siblings into the world.  That made him know that sex was good.  If he resented the circumstance of his living situation, he never said.  And I don’t think he and his parents discussed what he was experiencing—it was just their life.

I hope F.S. found the right woman and experienced great love in his life.  His parents gave him the only beginnings that they could; those beginnings, that introduction to sex, that knowledge was heightened in a very real way, complete with emotion and commitment—because what F. S. experienced were the true facts of life.