by Karen Kreps
Having read two thought-provoking columns about the sorry state of sex education in our schools in the October 2007 issue of The Good Life magazine, I got to mulling over the question: How do we learn about lovemaking?
In her column about healthcare, Darline Turner-Lee rues how schools, at worst, emphasize abstinence for teens—despite studies that show it doesn’t work—and, at best, focus their sex education curriculums on pregnancy and disease prevention.
American sex education is fraught with negative messages such as these: Sex is dangerous. It can bring sexually transmitted diseases that will dog you for the rest of your life or that can even kill you. It can saddle you at a young age with a baby and a spouse, limiting your educational and economic opportunities. If you let your emotions be ruled by raging hormones, you are likely to make stupid choices.
Turner-Lee urges parents to “talk to your pre-teens and teens about sex. Share your personal values and experiences along with sound information covering the emotional aspects of sexual relationships, health responsibilities of both partners, and the responsibilities that occur if a child results from the sexual encounter.”
How can we educate kids (not to mention ourselves) to be able to discern love from lust and to be prepared for the emotional attachment that accompanies sexual play? Having no children of my own, I discussed with a friend I consider to be a good parent how the proverbial “facts of life” are presented. She’s a well educated woman with a liberal outlook. What did she do, I asked, to prepare her kid for his initial sexual experience?
She said, “I think most parents don’t want to think of their children as being sexual beings. It’s very hard to discuss with your kids. When I tried to have ‘the talk’ with my son, he just rolled his eyes. In response to whatever I told him, he’d say, ‘I already knew that.’”
So from where do we derive our carnal knowledge? How do we learn how to give pleasure, to enjoy our libidos and to be sensitive, caring and responsive lovers? How to achieve intimacy is not normally taught at the dinner table, let alone in most school systems.
Everyone’s coming of age is unique and there is no accreditation process. Being a good lover is something learned through trial and error. You can’t learn if you think that you know what a woman wants instead of letting her show you what she wants. The same applies to her loving you in return.
To some degree, we may be hormonally hardwired to perform sexually. My first sexual experience was with another virgin. When we disclosed our desire and agreed to spend the night together, we laughed nervously over our mutual inexperience, conjecturing about if we would be able to figure out what to do. Somehow, we did just fine.
A girlfriend confided in me, “Our first experience was pretty conventional—we did it missionary style. He kept saying, ‘I’m going to take you. I’m going to take you.’ I wanted to be taken, and thought that meant we’d have penetration. But he kept repeating the phrase after we’d passed that point. It was only after climax that I realized what he was referring to ejaculation as the moment of taking.
“The next time we slept together we tried out different positions. I remember the novelty of being on top for the first time, and then trying other positions and oral sex. There were things I found I liked and things I didn’t. It involved a lot of experimentation.”
Some people learn from only one partner to whom they are loyal their entire lives. “At times I’ve wondered what it might be like with other men,” confided one woman who had been married more than fifteen years. “My husband has much more experience than I had when we engaged. But over the years, we tried so many things I couldn’t imagine what else there was to learn.”
A young man told me, “I have learned versatility by being with different girlfriends. After thinking that it was all about sexual gymnastics and humping someone, I’ve been with a few women who showed me that there can be a whole lot more going on.”
“Do you mean communication and caring?” I put the words in his mouth and he agreed.
Young people are more apt to discuss sexual behavior with their peers out of their great curiosity and enthusiasm. Older adults, it seems, grow more inhibited. They are more concerned about their privacy and want to protect their reputations and not offend anyone. Grownups, I suspect, are hesitant to reveal any sexual naiveté in casual conversation.
It is the rare adult who turns to a professional sex therapist for guidance, and that tends to be when there is a problem that requires fixing. Fortunately, popular media now offers abundant home schooling. If we’re curious about how to enhance our sexual experience or how to be a kinder, more loving partner, we may find that books, movies and the Internet provide an inexhaustible supply of advice and inspiration, some of it tawdrier than others.
You can get ideas and insights from literature, from talking candidly with your partner and from your own inner muse. I believe that sexual skill is a lifelong learning process.