Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why I don't talk about sex.

The question gets asked occasionally. The answer is truly simple. It's the kids. Mine, specifically.
Oh, the paradigm-shifting horror of discovering anything remotely sexual about a parent.

We're a lot alike on this, we humans. And Poppets have already figured out that once a bit gets onto the internet it's there to stay.

Perhaps in the far and barely imaginable future I'll care less about embarrassing my adult kids and more about the stories for the next generation.

Of course there are stories.

But enough about me. I'm just one human in the human sea. Back to the question. Why is it that the exploits of our grandparents are often highly entertaining, that notoriety brings a certain pride? And yet mostly we pretend our parents never had sex?

What is this then---this one-generation removed filter?

Poppets want to know, and I told them you might be able to help.

silly humans!


Syd said...

Interesting question. For myself, I think it boiled down to sheer embarrassment!

When I was...oh, in fourth grade, I think it was, my mom had one of her many parties. If I behaved myself, I got to stay up and help play hostess, passing around hors d'oeuvres and such, which I loved (and may account for the fact I was always more comfortable with grownups than with kids. But that's another story). I usually had to go to bed before the party ended, though, and such was the case this time. Some time after things had shut down for the night, I got out of bed to get drink of water in the bathroom...and caught sight of my mother and one of her guests--an east-coast manager for the same company my mom worked for here in LA; more, a man I knew to be married and whose wife and children I had met--in a fully clothed yet nonetheless passionate clutch at the kitchen door.

I decided I didn't need the water after all. Mom never knew I'd seen her.

Anyway, so that might be part of it re: parents and sex for other people as well. There's also the idea that sex is both cool and forbidden that older kids might pass down to younger ones, and the idea that our parents could engage in anything both cool and forbidden might be a brain-bender. Add the fairly schizophrenic way American culture views sex, not to mention the madonna/whore dichotomy that seems an outgrowth of numerous religions ("My mother?!??!?!?"), and it's no wonder some kids find the thought of their very own parents having a sex life anything from upsetting to outright grotesque.

Or I could be full of prunes, as my mother used to say. If the Poppets find this of any use, I'm glad to have been of service.

Neon said...

I have, what I have come to find, is a fairly unique relationship with my mother where we gleefully share details of our sex lives and have a lot of fun chatting about it.
Sex was never a bad or awkward word in our household, me and my brother were told quite young about how it all worked, mum was never worried about us seeing her naked in the bathroom or getting changed and as such I have grown up with a very relaxed attitude to nudity and sex.

I really appreciate the open relationship I have with my mother about sex and all the help and tips she has given me over the awkward years of reaching sexual maturity.
Thanks mum!!
Just so you know poppets- not everyone is embarrassed about their parents having sex!

lisa said...

Syd and Neon: Very cool. Two different views, good info. Thanks very much for being so frank about an often touchy (yikes!) subject.

From two different views then, why do you think a lot of people apply different standards to parents and grandparents? Or is this less common than I imagine?

Unknown said...

I, too, had a very open relationship with my parents, especially my mom, and so the idea that my parents had sex was never weird. I accidentally walked in on them a couple of times, and just closed the door and walked away again without making any noise. Mom loaned me my first erotica, too: Anais Nin's Little Birds.

On the other hand, I am weirded out by the notion of my grandparents having sex. Mind you, one grandfather died when my mother was young, so really what I'm weirded out by is the notion of that grandmother -- Catholic, conservative, never remarried, lives with another widow -- having sex with someone else and never letting anyone know (also kinda weirded out by the idea that she hasn't had sex in nearly sixty years). My other set of grandparents pretty much couldn't stand each other by the time I was old enough to notice -- they're both pretty awful -- and slept in separate beds and spent as little time as possible in one another's presence. So thinking of them havings ex is kinda weird. But it's all about the situation and not about the fact that their my grandparents.

I don't get it, in general.

Drinne said...

I have a very strict rule about talking about sex - "If you want to know what I'm like in bed you'll have to sleep with me. If you're not actually sleeping with me, then it's not really information you need to have."

Since I don't sleep with people who would actually talk about specifics, it does sort of drive people crazy. It's a mystery and that's one of the reasons I don't talk about it.

My mother, however does. I have friends in lifestyle communities built around sexual practices and they do. I lived in a McMansion development and ALL of the women talked a blue streak about their husbands in great detail. So I know a lot about them and would probably be able to identify their bodies from their genitalia if only pieces were found and no one wanted to put their widows through the ID process.

But they don't know any of that about me.

I worked in an advertising company where we had to sign a sexual harassment waiver to be able to work on our campaigns. The sex talk was thick and furious, we sold liquor, cigarettes and upscale adult shops in formal campaigns. I wrote to banks and convinced them to finance us in this endeavor. All of the young hip people at the agency were flabbergasted by my lack of personal specifics. They spent way more time thinking about my sex life than anyone 10 years younger than me should have if they weren't actually sleeping with me.

I learned about sex when I asked about it, I know a lot about all sorts of subcultures ( many of whom have the BEST clothing). My mother talkes about the desirability of men and ranks and rates them and proudly told me about her full reading of the Marquis de Sade, but sort of became flustered when seeing pictures of men in bondage gear kneeling in front of me for a masquerade.

Basically, although she accuses me of being a prude, when I offer HER access to something that she has spoken about, she becomes uncomfortable.

Because she doesn't really know what i do or don't do? I'm not sure. She does like to shock people.

But I will discuss any sexual practice in the abstract. It's the specific acts between two people I actually know that bother me. Because I think that there are things that are actually private and that the act of intimacy requires some sort of private space whether it's simply running your hands over someone's face, or having mad passionate sweaty sex.

But no, I don't want to know about your specific play-by-play of last night's mad passionate sweaty sex. And having seen sex, I must be honest, I don't thing much of it as a spectator sport. It's really rather silly looking. I think it's the kind of thing that really works best as participation and stills are much sexier than moving pictures as far as I'm concerned.

What I do not understand is why this apparent dichotomy of mine drives people crazy and there are people who've spent a lot of time trying to get me to say something or conversely try to shock me.

Perhaps it's a simply as I think there should be a little mystery. Perhaps I think that when we lay all of our actions bare we are doing it for things that are outside us and perhaps I think sex is something that should be laughing and treasured and mind-shaking but for the inside of us.

However, I have warned the children, sex with someone you love is fantastic, but sex by itself feels really good too and no one really warns you about that when they're telling you things. So just remember that sex doesn't equal love and can still feel like something great.

I've seen a lot of relationships get confused because people don't remember that.

Drinne said...

Grandparent sex is a completely different post. Personally, I think it's the idea of having sex with all the period clothing that makes it more acceptable. Or possibly sexier. Grandparents are also Mysterious Figures. So stories about their "improprieties" or "adventures" actually add to the mystery instead of take away from it.

We live with our parents - we already know too much about them and measure ourselves against them. But grandparents functional or dysfunctional have a certain romance about them.

I prefer the mystery. I wish we had some back.

K said...

I have never felt particularly yucky about the idea of my parents having sex, that I can remember. In fact, I remember finding some condoms when I was very small and getting a perfectly good explanation of what they were for which made it all seem rather unexciting. Which is pretty much how I still feel about other people's sex lives. It's lovely that you're having one, but I'm not really that fascinated. (Fiction is different, though.)

It has never really occurred to me to wonder about my grandparents' sex lives, but then I hardly wonder about my parents'.

The Scots are still rather reticent when it comes to nudity. More so than the English. My husband is most amused by the notices in our public swimming pools asking people to keep their swimsuits on in the shower. I have never seen my parents in less than a swimsuit (and in the past twenty years, not that).

Neon said...

I guess I wouldnt discuss sex with my nan in quite the detail me and mum do but I've never been shy about discussing it with her. She has always had a rather practical view on sex -as a means to an end- rather than something you do for fun- maybe its a generational thing (she has just turned 91).

For such an old lady she is very cool though, when I broke the news to her that my friend in heels and a dress was actually a guy who wanted to be a woman she took it all in her stride and just offered her a pair of high heels she didnt want any more! Bless her!

Carl V. Anderson said...

"The question gets asked occasionally."

Seriously? :)

You're certainly right in your assertion that once something is out there, it is there to stay. While I've stayed away from the subject more or less, there are still things I've written that I occasionally think "oooh, do I really want my parents, my kid, my kid's friends reading that?".

Grandparents certainly have it easier than parents. If they are even remotely interested in a relationship with you then they end up being the cool ones. Parents can be cool, but you still don't want to think about what they were doing in the room next door when you were a kid. Why? Not sure. It is very interesting that being one step removed makes certain subjects seem less taboo than others.

Loraine said...

As much as I feel that sex isn't something humans should ever feel ashamed of, I still consider my sexuality a very private part of who I am, and I share that information with very few people.

As far as parents and grandparents go...
(WARNING: Geek- Out Ahead)

A scientific study a few years ago measured male and female reactions to pheromones secreted by strangers vs. family members, and found that immediate family members' smells were rather repelling, whereas strangers' pheromones were more attractive (or at least not completely repulsive). They theorize that it could be an evolutionary development that prevents incest and, therefore, offspring that may not survive as well as non- inbreds (for lack of a better term). There was a shift, however, in pregnant women- their male family member's pheromones were more attractive, and that (they theorize) may be another evolutionary survival development as male relatives are likely to be protective of a pregnant woman.

No idea if pheromones get more repulsive in relation to the closeness of the relative, causing grandparent's sexuality to be slightly less gross to some folks, or if has much more to do with cultural indoctrination (as previous comments may suggest), but it's food for thought.

I hope the Poppets aren't snoring after all that...

lisa said...

Thanks for interesting and frank discussion. It seems I can count on our group to step up and speak out even when it's not completely comfortable.

lisa said...

Thanks for interesting and frank discussion. It seems I can count on our group to step up and speak out even when it's not completely comfortable.