The “S” Word

October 30, 2017


Growing up, the word “sex” seemed taboo; my friends and I (should we ever talk about sex in any way) would just refer to it as either “the s-word” OR spell it out; somehow or another, that made it even scarier. I’m not entirely sure when I actually realized what sex was and what it entailed, but I certainly know I had an idea about it in my head that was entirely untrue. I vaguely remember talking about private things with my mom, but rather than actually talking about sex, I think it was more of a conversation about periods and tampons…and I was mortified. When I started my period, rather than telling her about it to her face, I wrote her a letter. It wast something that we talked about…ever…so why would I suddenly talk about it with her now? Even as an adult, several years ago, she made a comment that chocolate she was eating was better than sex. WHAT?! We’re going to talk about this? Nope. On the other end of things, I work with someone who said when she was young, her father showed her photos of different sexually transmitted infections and (in so many words) made her believe that if she had sex with anyone, she was bound to get an infection that would rot her insides. I’m exaggerating, but she’s in her mid-twenties now and still remembers that talk (and those photos) and it has definitely left her anxious about all things sex-related.

But why?  Why is sex SO taboo?  Why don’t we talk about it?  ESPECIALLY to our teens?  I’m not advocating for broadcasting the intimate details of what anyone does behind closed doors or to have sex with anyone & everyone–rather, I’m advocating for making it okay and normal to talk about sex and ask questions–no matter how old you are.  

Sex and various forms of intimacy surround us constantly.  Not that anyone needs proof of that, but here are some lyrics of songs that I either listened to or knew of when I was growing up:

  • “Let’s make love, all night long.  Until all our strength is gone” I actually called a radio station and requested this song.  I was a HUGE Tim McGraw fan and was mortified when the radio DJ asked how old I was to be requesting a song like that–I felt like I had done something wrong, but didn’t quite know why.  
  • “If you wanna be with me, baby there’s a price to pay.  I’m a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way”  This was Christina Aguilera’s first big hit, and I definitely remember singing along to this with multiple friends any (and every) time it came on.   
  • “If you’re horny, let’s do it.  Ride it, my pony.  My saddle’s waiting, come and jump on it”  I admit I was in my 20s when I realized exactly what the words to that song actually said, but I’ll be the first to admit that I used to listen to this on the radio!

That’s just the first couple of songs that come to mind…and that’s what I grew up with–let alone the songs (that seem to be getting more & more explicit) that are played on the radio now.  I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at that.  Sex is also always in our faces in other capacities: advertising, social media, movies, TV shows…everywhere.  Knowing that sex exists, it’s a thing, and based on what we learn about it from things like: music, movies, and TV, it seems pretty cool…but teenagers don’t really know what it means or what it entails; which, quite frankly, leads me to the reason for writing about this in the first place .   

I had someone, a teenager, casually tell me she was raped.  The details of how the conversation and the event that happened that lead her to believe that was the case do not matter.  What does matter, though, is that (fortunately) this person was not raped.  Rather–a complete lack of knowledge about sex (after a sexual encounter with someone) left her confused and believing she was raped.  So what can be done to make sure situations like this are fewer & farther between?  We can talk about it.  

What Does Talking About Sex Look Like?  

Anything that’s age appropriate!  Regardless of the age that someone is, though, they need to know that consent is always mandatory…no if’s, and’s, or but’s.  If there is not consent, then whatever is happening should not happen.  People should feel empowered to know they can say “no” and that they should never have to do anything they don’t want to.  People have control over their own bodies and what they do or do not want to do to them.

Sex Is Not Going Anywhere.  

With sex being thrown in our faces all the time, people (especially teenagers) may get the idea that that they need to (or should) have sex.  In a young person’s eyes, sex may be synonymous with love–or even worse, people may believe that they need to have sex in order to stay in a relationship.  If you’re reading that and thinking “Oh, that’s ridiculous…why would someone believe that?”…keep in mind that sometimes young people (especially teenagers) get their information from: marketing, the media, and peers at school.  So if we aren’t telling them otherwise…how else are they going to know these things?  There is not a race to have sex–although some movies may tell us otherwise.  It’s important that people know they will have the ability to have sex when they’re in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on.  And with that being the case–why rush into things now?  And more importantly–nobody should feel pressured to have sex with someone out of love or to get someone to stay with them.  

Don’t Shame Your Children or Teens For Asking Questions.   

Someone I knew recently described children as “little scientists” who are curious and want to learn and know about things.  So if they ask questions–answer them.  Same with your teenagers!  As questions are asked–don’t go on an abstinence-only rant or pretend the conversation never happened.  Think of any time you were told specifically not to do something or act a certain way–while I can’t speak for everyone–anytime those words were told to me, it made me want to do it JUST to see why I couldn’t.  Keep that in mind when you’re thinking of having conversations about sex with your children.  Be open and honest and be appreciative that the conversation is happening–whether it was initiated by you or your child and help empower them to make appropriate decisions for themselves and their body.  

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT


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