The magic of media: How I learned about sex

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I live in an Americanized South Asian household, which means my parents are generally progressive with how they treat me and the things they let me do. I was able to stay out late, and they were never on my back about schoolwork; I was trusted to handle it myself and could always ask for help when needed. But when it came to lewd material that makes us so undeniably human, I was barred completely.

Sex was the taboo subject my parents refused to talk to me about. They wouldn’t even let me watch PG-13 movies until I was 14; they considered LGBTQ+ people strange because they were sexually liberated, and they told me to look away every time we drove by an adult store. As I grew older, I’d poke fun at them for being bothered by these things, but there was always still an air of unnecessary awkwardness perpetuated by my parents. Nowadays, my parents assume that I know most of what there is to know about doing the nasty, but it took quite a lot of work on my own to get there.

The only body-related concept my mother ever discussed with me was my period. She probably assumed it was best to get it over with since it was inevitable (unlike sex, she believed) and the time for my first period was slowly creeping up on the both of us. It also likely stemmed from my uber-traditional grandma who considered the few days of blood a “sin” and grounds for isolation, and from my mother not wanting me to go through the strict traditional standards held upon her. So, I knew about periods well before I got mine.

I took standard health classes starting in fifth grade and every year until ninth grade. In health, my peers and I learned about anatomy, hormones, puberty, attractiveness and all that fun stuff. And like typical health classes, they weren’t the most helpful. The teachers remained civil and tried not to say things that would make teenagers crack up, but it was very clear that they simply wanted to get this over with. The one exception was my ninth grade health teacher who was genuinely helpful and serious about the topic. But then again, she was accredited in teaching health, while the other teachers taught it as a side job.

As lame as it sounds, in seventh grade, I discovered the beauty of R-rated movies. I would go behind my parents’ backs and watch all the movies I had been previously restricted from. The first R-rated movie I ever watched was “Love at First Hiccup,” particularly because I was obsessed with reruns of “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide,” and the main character was in that movie. It was purely about a teen boy wanting to hook up with a popular girl at his high school. The first genitalia I remember seeing that weren’t mine were Katherine Heigl’s fake vagina in “Knocked Up” and Ben Affleck’s dick in “Gone Girl.” I then graduated from typical raunchy comedies when I watched Sacha Baron Cohen’s series of satirical films.

It wasn’t long before I began to watch cult classics such as “Superbad,” “Hall Pass,” the “American Pie” series, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Animal House.” All of these films are extremely sexually explicit, but they gave my unimpressioned mind at least an idea of what to expect. Of course, movie sex is movie sex — it isn’t a mirror of real-life sex. I am and was fully aware that a high school senior attempting to fuck a warm pie isn’t normally what high school seniors do to release pent-up sexual tension.

The way I learned about sex wasn’t from my parents, nor was it through health classes in secondary schooling. It was through the magic of media. While movies gave me an idealized version of sex, I relied heavily on journalism to inform me of the more accurate complexities. I learned about sex through first-hand accounts written and published in Cosmopolitan and Refinery29. I learned about sex from Vice, the Bible of modern sex education. I read guest op-eds written by sex workers, dominatrices, sugar babies and your everyday working adult. A woman wrote about going a month without sex and how it was the hardest month of her life. I couldn’t relate, but it was still an interesting read.

To this day, my parents haven’t brought up sex much and neither have I. Most things having to do with the human body’s reproductive nature led to awkward and uncomfortable conversations. My parents and I have, however, somehow reached the point where we can very briefly talk about sex or make dirty jokes and laugh about it without feeling strange. Regardless, I’m glad I had the opportunity to get creative and conceptually explore sex on my own terms.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected] .