“Mom, do you and Dad do the sex to this song?”
My daughter shouted this question over the blaring music during a recent spontaneous dance party. The song in question was “Push-It” by Salt-N-Pepa. At the age of 12, she has cultivated a love for music from the ’80s and ’90s thanks to her newfound love, the TV show, “Glee”.
I never imagined I would be that mother who allowed her child to learn about the birds and the bees or other important life lessons from television. Nevertheless, here I am trying to figure out how to turn “Push-It” into a teachable moment, but I can’t stop laughing.
I have never been shy about talking about sex with either of my girls. I used the anatomical names for all their body parts, much to my mother’s horror. The first time my mom heard me say “vagina” when referring to my daughters “private spot” she nearly fainted. My mom never spoke to us about such things.
Mom wasn’t a prude per say. To her credit, she did try to engage me in “the talk” during one very uncomfortable walk on a spring day when I was about my daughter’s age. I remember feeling my heart race and my hands become moist with nervous sweat as I anticipated the words about to spill from Mom’s lips. I knew they were going to be about puberty and sex. My pace increased from a casual stroll to a speed walk. Not able or willing to keep-up, my mom got the message and dropped the subject, never to bring it up again.
Fast forward three decades: I am the mom that must have those potentially uncomfortable talks with my girls. Stories of girls and boys engaging in oral sex on the school bus as early as fourth grade propelled me to be open and upfront on the subject of sex with my girls from the moment tampon dispensers existed in public women’s restrooms.
My ploy was to start early so I could ease into the taboo subject while making them believe that talking about sex was as normal as talking about what we might eat for dinner. Of course, my penchant for making everything into a joke with carefully placed sarcasm made this goal a challenge.
My older daughter took sex talk in stride and seemed to grasp the concepts. Now, well into her teen years, she understands all the innuendos my husband and I can’t resist using. We love the “that’s what she said” phrase and use it often. She laughs with us, feigning understanding of our more obscure sex references.
My younger daughter has remained more innocent and unaware. She gets that we are talking about “the sex thing,” but has no idea what we are really saying. While she knows the anatomical names for all things related to sex and sexuality, she refuses to utter them. She insists on referring to her period as “the thing.” Vagina and penis are referred to as the “girls down there” and the “boys down there.”
Of course, being the obnoxious, instigators we are, as soon as she uses these invented terms, my husband and I chase her around the house saying “penis, vagina, period” over and over as she runs, covering her ears, and screaming in mock horror. Ahh, the good times we have torturing our daughter with sex words.
Wait, who is the child?
To complicate matters more, my daughter does not just have an aversion to talking about sex. She has trouble reading and understanding social cues and accessing and using her language skills appropriately. We suspect she may be on the mild end of the autism spectrum. Though she is immature in these ways, her body is in full bloom.
Like so many girls, she reached full puberty early. Her body is curvy and lovely. If she ever realizes how attractive she really is and starts to dress and groom herself in such a way that others will notice, too, we may be in trouble. Big trouble.
Recently, we visited a developmental pediatrician who expressed the same worries. He instructed us to talk with her about sex openly and often. He spotted the same characteristics in her we recognized as worrisome. Only after knowing her for a few minutes, he became protective of her, which was sweet. We have taken his advice seriously (well, as seriously as two sarcastic, silly adults can) and talk about sex, a lot.
While initially I was hesitant to allow her to watch “Glee”, I realized she was learning things that mere conversations could not impart. Like many people on the autism spectrum, she is a visual learner. She also learns with repetition, lots of repetition. Music and movement, her greatest loves, aid in her ability to comprehend and remember. Watching these shows over and over (thank you, Netflix), which she is motivated to do thanks to the musical component, teaches her way more about sex than my words and explanations ever could.
Many important themes and scenarios are played out in “Glee”. She watches as a teenage girl struggles with pregnancy and the boys who are the “baby daddies.” She has learned about people using sexuality to entice and hurt others. She has added to her knowledge regarding homosexuality. She has learned about birth control. She has learned about broken hearts. She has learned about all the good and the bad about being a sexualized adolescent.
Inevitably, she is filled with questions about what is happening between the characters. She relays the scenarios to us, asking pointed questions. These questions lead to in-depth conversations about choice, love, birth-control, and saying “no.”
Even the less often heard topics of knowing that sex should be enjoyable, that woman should gain as much pleasure from the sex act as men, and that having sex to make a boy like you is not the best choice become fodder for dinner table conversations. My husband likes to point out that teen “boys don’t think with their brains” which is the only thing he knows for sure about the topic of adolescent sexuality.
The male lead, Cory Monteith committed suicide, which allowed us to talk about depression, substance abuse, and drug addiction. The homosexual themes have helped her understand the diversity of sexuality in the world. The show addresses marriage, bullying, and other topics that can be hard to bring-up in casual conversation.
So now, we blast music from “Glee”, and spontaneous dance parties to songs like “Push-It” break out. As my daughter claps, laughs, and dances her way through the soundtrack, she often hits the pause button as the song reminds her of a question she had about the show. I think she is starting to understand her sexuality and, better yet, her right to control her body.