Growing up, my parents and I spoke candidly about everything.
From as far back as I can remember, they’ve spoken to me like an adult, rarely sugarcoating anything when talking about politics, societal issues or current events. For much of my life, they were also my outlet for the pent-up gossip I wasn’t able to share with my friends at school, gossip that might encourage unwanted drama. My mother and I would fervently discuss who liked who, who was having family problems, who was failing their classes and my father would sit and listen, occasionally contributing his two cents.
This dynamic between my parents and I lasted for the majority of my childhood and one I always appreciated. I felt like my parents understood me and my life better than most other parents.
But as high school progressed, I found my relationship with my parents suddenly changing. As my friends and I found ourselves (and others) involved in hookup culture for the first time, I also found my parents had little to say for the first time.
In the earlier years of high school, I occasionally brought up the topic of sex to test the waters, and each time, I’d watch my parents noticeably cringe and quickly change the subject. At most, they would quietly tell me to recognize my worth and that laying with a man before marriage would only devalue that worth. I quickly came to learn that the “s-word” was something to tip-toe around at home, something we acted like didn’t exist, that was fully off-limits.
Even for the current generation, sex remains a taboo topic in many Asian cultures. It is largely censored in the media, schools often provide little to no sex education and many parents instill in children from a young age the understanding that any premarital relations are shameful.
As a result, no matter how exciting the hookup drama at school or how eager I was to discuss it, I found myself sharing less and less at home as I grew older.
At school, my friends and I would more freely discuss sexual encounters. But many of my close friends led similar home lives as me, and out of fear for word traveling back to our parents through a blabber-mouthed guy or a careless white girl, our defense against the rest of the world was to deny, deny, deny.
Now in college, beyond the watchful eyes of parents, I suddenly find myself no longer living with that constant fear. And I find my friends — both new and old — expressing similar sentiments. For the first time, my Asian friends and I are able to discuss sex as candidly as many of my peers did throughout high school.
Though I can understand the common Asian belief that the less children know about sex the less likely they are to make sexual mistakes, that same naivety can also lead to mistakes of far greater magnitude. Openly discussing and learning about the subject with a variety of different people, through a variety of different approaches, has been more enlightening and practical for me than avoiding the topic ever was.
Here at UC Berkeley, I’ve come to recognize the drastic difference in how Western and Eastern cultures approach the topic of sex. It’s still often shocking to me.
Last semester, I took a history class with multiple units being surprisingly focused on sex, whether that be through the discussion of lesbian sex, sexual assault or hermaphrodites. Through that class, I learned about signs to look for in abuse victims and the many alternatives to traditional sex.
Last week, my friends debated the overall best form of birth control. From that, I learned that Yaz might make you gain weight but gives fewer mood swings compared to other pills, the Pill Club will provide you with free monthly subscriptions and copper IUDs can cause irregular periods for almost a year.
Just last night, I listened as one of my friends FaceTimed her mom and openly discussed the problems of her relationship. I learned from her that, sometimes, it’s beneficial to get this type of advice from someone older, and that this type of conversation doesn’t have to be awkward if both parties are comfortable with it.
Sex is a topic I’ve never openly or fully discussed with my parents, and something I don’t foresee us talking about anytime soon. Having grown up with a stigma around sex at home, I’m honestly grateful my parents don’t expect to talk about the subject with me — I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with it even if they wanted to.
But having experienced both the Eastern and Western approaches to talking about sex, I can say that I do see the appeal in both. I’m grateful I get to channel one or the other based on the situation I’m in. Because at least for now, I’m satisfied with only having lengthy conversations about sex with my friends.
As for my parents, I think I’ll stick with taking a “see no sex, hear no sex” approach.
Manya Zhao writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected]