In a calm tone, my mom asked me, “Did you use protection?”
We were sitting on her bed when she turned to me with a knowing look, certain that I had had sex. After all, she had left me and my boyfriend at home alone for the first time earlier that day.
She, of course, was right. I felt embarrassed that she knew what I had done, but her calm, matter-of-fact tone made me feel like she wasn’t upset at all.
So, I was honest with her about my first sexual experience.
I could feel all of my nerves dissolve. I was expecting that she would scold me and I would have to defend myself and my desires. I felt like my mom was trying to have an open and understanding conversation with me, acting as a friend more than a concerned mother. I responded with, “Yes, I used protection. I took a condom out of your drawer.”
My mom sighed with relief and said, “I’m proud of you for making that decision.”
I could see the approval in her eyes that I used protection. The corners of her eyes wrinkled slightly into a smile. She told me to be safe before she left the house that day as she saw me cuddling with my boyfriend. She usually told me to be safe before she left, but in that particular moment it felt as if she was hinting at us having sex.
I expected my mom to scold me, but instead, she asked me in a soft, cautionary tone that you’d often hear from a therapist, “Do you feel like you were ready to have sex? Did you enjoy it?”
I felt so relieved that she wasn’t upset with me for choosing to have sex. As we talked about my feelings and my experience, I felt like I could truly be honest with her and tell her anything in that moment.
This was my first technical sex talk — and it happened after I had already had sex.
My mom didn’t try to shield me from sex or sexual activities, as there were hints of her sexuality hidden all around our house. When I was 14 years old, I remember looking into my mom’s drawer to borrow a shirt and seeing condoms for the first time. I was stunned to see that she had them.
It was easy for me to connect the dots: My mom was sexually active. I knew that she wasn’t planning on having another child, so I quickly understood that she was having sex for her own personal enjoyment. Seeing her condoms every time I went into her dresser normalized the idea that sex isn’t just about procreation, but that it can be for pleasure as well.
While she never explicitly told me that she was sexually active, she didn’t try to hide that she was having sex either. She had tried to keep the condoms hidden in a dresser drawer, but she didn’t hide them well. They were just simply put away, without further thought.
Despite my mom normalizing something that was natural, my family didn’t agree. My mom and I had always had a strong friendship rather than just strictly a mother-daughter bond. My family thought that us being friends first and family second was the wrong way to be raised.
They didn’t approve of my mom allowing me to have sex. I had once overheard my mom arguing on the phone with a family member over my decision to be sexually active.
They shouted, “She’s too young to be having sex, and she’s going to make the same mistakes you did.”
They feared I would have a child too young and that it meant I was making poor life decisions.
What my family didn’t realize was that my mom had already taught me about the importance of safe sex, getting tested and using birth control. They didn’t realize that she had already been preparing me to make safe decisions when it came to sex.
My mom never made discussions of sex feel inaccessible to me. She never told me that I wasn’t ready or that I should wait until marriage to have sex. I never felt like I wasn’t allowed to express my sexual desires. I understood it to be a part of everyday life.
My mom having conversations with me about having sex for pleasure signaled to me that she recognized I had bodily autonomy.
I felt that most parents couldn’t think of their own children as being sexual beings, but my mom recognized that I was an individual who had sexual desires, and she took them seriously.
From the very first conversation we had about sex and seeing how understanding and supportive she was, I knew that I could always go to her and confide in her. I trusted that she wouldn’t judge or scold me but rather listen to me and help me if I needed it, just as she had done before.
All of my sexual experiences have been positive and pleasurable because I know how to use protection, and I know what feels good for me, what I like and what my boundaries are. I’m proud to say that I enjoy having sex and love the pleasure it gives me. I love sex, and I am not ashamed to say it. I owe it all to my mom, who helped me become the sex-positive woman I am today.
Ashley writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].