Thursday, January 7, 2010


In a recent post I made a thinly veiled sexual reference and it got a reaction that I wasn't quite anticipating.  Specifically:

"Unless that car contained a pair of limber, red headed, voluptuous, horny identical twins I wouldn't even look twice."

The reaction was a bit of surprise that I would post something like this in my blog given that a number of relatives including my grandmother, various aunts and uncles and such were going to be reading it.  When I was making that post I didn't really think much of that comment but in retrospect it is pretty interesting.  The ways in which we talk about sex vary tremendously based on the company we are in, which is natural, but I think the denial and secrecy of sex in our culture don't fit well with my values.

Here is the thing:  Every relative (over the age of 35) who could possibly be reading this has had sex, most of them many, many times and yet the idea of such a sexually open comment was treated as a touch over the top.   This got me to thinking about how sex is discussed and how we have specific circles of people that are allowed access to that portion of our lives.  When I was young though this sort of topic just didn't come up.  Not that I was in a puritanical household by any means, but just like most kids sex was the sort of thing that you would get a talk about with a "Where did I come from" book but it would not be discussed at all in the sort of comfortable, casual atmosphere that adults reserve for each other.

I noticed a really substantial shift in the way the generation before me spoke around me right after I had a child.  They seemed to immediately include me in a sort of 'parents club' where talking about sex was allowed whereas before it had been taboo.  It isn't like suddenly we were discussing the latest issue of Penthouse, but there was a distinct change in the tone of conversations and it was clear that certain topics that before would not have been discussed if I was around were suddenly ok.  This change doesn't seem to be about age or marital status though, as I have not observed the same thing with my other cousins who are largely of ages similar to mine, nor did it occur when I got married.

Clearly there is some kind of bond that parents share, something that comes from mutually understood suffering I believe.  It is the sort of thing that people do for many other reasons, whether they be war, disease, discrimination or midnight feedings; we tend to hold people who have suffered in the same way we have closer and reveal things that we know that outsiders might not truly understand.   There is a feeling of tribe, of closeness and understanding that is different from the feeling of family altogether that people share after dealing with something harsh.  While there is a lot of joy in parenting too, there is certainly no shortage of frustration and exhaustion.

It is fairly clear that a lot of sexual repression comes from religion.  Certainly the cultural norm of not discussing sex with our relatives cannot completely be blamed on religion, but equally certainly there was an unambiguous and powerful message for many, many years from religious sources that said that sex is dirty, shameful and in many cases sinful.  The desire for sex was denounced and a natural consequence of that is a lack of discussion and acknowledgement of sex, particularly among those of different age and cultural groups.  

To be sure, I am not going to start off breakfast conversations with Elli like "So, let me tell you what daddy and mommy did last night..." so there needs to be some kind of balance between openness and repression.  Some part of me likes the idea of a completely sexually open society, where sex is no more taboo to speak of than a game of tennis, a hug or cooking dinner together.  A far bigger part of me is realistic though in that those sorts of changes take huge amounts of time and that my mind is simply not able to make that switch so easily.  I have been brought up amongst cultural norms that would make that sort of situation extremely uncomfortable.  I would be just as uncomfortable in a Victorian setting where sexual desire even for one's mate is frowned upon and the idea of bringing up that topic in discussion was outrageous.  I suppose I end up a little left of centre on this issue, wanting society (and myself!) to be more comfortable with sex and discussion of it than they are.  

Despite this newfound level of openness I experienced with the previous generation in my family over the past few years I still won't be leading off with "How about that retrograde wheelbarrow?  Eh?  Eh?  Pretty great!" I do hope that people in general and the people I deal with in particular (sue me, I'm selfish that way) learn to be more comfortable with themselves and sex in their lives, but realistically these things happen generation by generation, not year by year.  I do look forward to the day that I can let Elli into the club, though I certainly have no idea just yet what will trigger that change.  Perhaps it will wait until she has her own children or perhaps it will be when she has her first highschool crush; I just don't know.

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