When I was young and my head was filled with fanciful, romantic ideas of my first time and how wonderful losing my virginity was going to be, television was still a pretty highly censored domain. That was mostly how it had been depicted to us through movies and television soaps. If only I’d seen Puberty Blues when it was first released in 1981 and not years after losing my virginity. Which was so not the fanciful romantic ideal in my head.
My parents’ idea of sex education was handing me “The Little Red School Book” circa 1970s (this was in 1986) and telling me to read it and ask any questions if I had any. My step father also referred to the first boy I ever had a crush on as a wog and asked what was wrong with the Aussie kids and “accidentally” put on a porn cartoon in front of my younger siblings and me when I was 11. From the start sex in our house was treated as something that was shameful. Talking about sex was even more shameful than the act itself. So I read the book wide eyed and fearful but I never asked any questions.
I spent my teenage life waiting for Prince Charming to turn up on his white steed and whisk me away from the wicked witch and her mangy toad and we’d flee to the castle and live happily ever after. I’m one of the few girls from my low socio economic suburb and disadvantaged high school of a single parent family living in public housing, to graduate from high school with her virginity in tact. However after 6 months of dating Prince Charming I decided it was time but there was nothing fancy about it. Maybe a tad of romance until I stated my surprise that there was no blood like I had been told there would and he looked at me weird and I said I’d been told girls bleed a little when they lose their virginity and he freaked out cos he thought I wasn’t a virgin even though I thought we had a clear conversation when I said I was a virgin and he said it was okay cos he was too.
No time for shattered dreams for this Princess though cos the second time I not only did bleed but it hurt so much I couldn’t walk properly for three days.
I hated it. I seriously could not understand what all the fuss was about because it was not enjoyable. Whether or not it was curiosity or my own damn lack of confidence at the time that if I didn’t give him sex the relationship was over but yeah eventually it got better. And then worse. And then better. You know. Life’s like that.
All of this was a distant memory hidden in the dark past I rarely resurrect until I was watching an episode of Home & Away (the kids like it, don’t judge me), with my son who turns 12 in a few months.
One of the female teenage characters, Skye, sits down with excitement to tell her friend Olivia all about how she’d just had sex for the first time. She’s all giddy and cheery and describes it as wonderful and how he was so caring and gentle.
I watched the blank face of my preteen and realised this right here was the same sex education I had as a kid and I needed him to know the truth. The ad break came and I turned to him and said, “Don’t let this show give you any delusions about sex and relationships buddy. I can’t tell you what losing your virginity is like for boys, cos I’m not a boy. You will have to have that discussion with your Dad.” (Preteen made a face indicating that would just be gross but I continued). “I can tell you from a girl’s perspective though, that we do not walk away skipping and starry eyed and tell everyone how wonderful it was. We probably sit on the floor of the shower for an hour and then go back to bed with a hot water bottle. It’s not really all that nice. It can be awkward and painful.”
Naturally Mr preteen wanted to hear none of this! “MUM! I DO NOT want to hear about your sex life. At all. Ever.”
I tried so hard not to laugh. “Well I don’t really want to share it with you but I want you to know the honest truth. It’s important. You need to know these things even as a boy, because one day a girl may lose her virginity with you. I want you to understand that it might be weird and awkward and she may not be filled with delight about the whole event. I don’t want you to feel like you did something wrong. Cos it’s just the way it is. I also want you to understand that it’s just another reason NOT to pressure a girl to have sex with you. Cos even when we think we’re ready, it’s still not an entirely positive experience. So if a girl isn’t really ready, it could be even worse. Do you understand?”
The ad break was over, he nodded and said, “Ok mum, can we please stop talking about sex. I don’t even want to think about it.”
I know that will change. I know that I will eventually sit him down and we’ll watch Puberty Blues – or maybe the more updated TV series – and I hope that somewhere along the line I will give him the opportunities to learn the realities of sex and not just the Sugar Soaped versions that romance sells to us.
Please script writers…. if you want to know how to express real life situations in your soap dramas about teenagers… maybe you need to get in touch with your teenage self again. It’s two thousand and sixteen. We’ve come of age now and it’s perfectly okay to talk about sex.