For a society and culture that seems to be obsessed with sexuality — and why does the word sexuality sound so much less dirty than the word sex? — we sure are squeamish when it comes to talking about it.
As the mother of four, I was always squeamish when it came to having The Talk with The Kids.
Girl First and Only was always shy and soft-spoken and would turn red if I even mentioned s-e-x. Son No. 1 , who was four years younger than his sis, would wait until we were at the dinner table and ask matter-of-factly, “What is masturbation?” or “What is oral sex?” while his sister groaned loudly and buried her head in her mashed potatoes and peas.
I would answer Son No. 1’s questions the best I could and sneak into Girl First and Only’s bedroom and leave pamphlets with titles like, “Why does Alexandria’s Changing Body Need Supportive Underwear?”
I think it worked. They both had children after they married.
My two youngest sons were born 16 years after Girl First and Only and were 9 and 11 when I decided we would have The Talk in the middle of an Italian feast I had prepared for the occasion.
I explained that pasta should always be cooked al dente´ and that parmesan was always better when freshly grated while casually peppering the conversation with words like “condiments,” “penal code,” “Uranus,” “hoagie buns,” “gesticulate” and “titmouse.”
Both boys got that panicked-deer-in-the-headlights look, jammed their fingers in their ears, jumped up from the table and ran screaming from the kitchen — just as I was about to embark on a lively debate of the virtues of mascerating versus marinating.
Several times after that, I again tried to have The Talk with the boys, to no avail.
I resorted to leaving copies of books like, “What’s Up With Alexander’s Suddenly Hairy, Pimply Body?” on their unmade bunk beds and hoped for the best.
A few years later, Son No. 2 fell in love (again) and it became obvious that I had missed the window on having The Talk or taking them on those field trips to Intercourse, Pennsylvania and Bangkok, Thailand.
One day, I nonchalantly walked into the living room while Son No. 2 and The Girl were supposedly watching TV. The Girl — a pretty, coquettish thing — was reclining on the sofa and arranged across my son’s lap like an after church all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.
My son gave me a sheepish grin.
Remaining very calm, I wedged in next to them, forcing The Girl to sit up.
A few awkward minutes later, they got up and headed for the upstairs.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To my room to watch a movie,” Son No. 2 replied.
Visions of tiny, eager swimming sperm and coquettish, seductive eggs that I had seen in a grainy cartoon-version of “Health and Human Reproduction” in tenth grade flashed through my head.
Baby Boy — aka Son No. 3 — who was standing nearby, snickered.
“I prefer you watch it down here, in the living room,” I said calmly.
“Yeah, not in your BED–room,” Baby Boy sang while leering and moving his prepubescent pelvis suggestively.
Son No. 2 punched his brother, who punched him back while The Girl giggled.
The next weekend The Girl was back. When I peeked into the living room on my every-four-minute-sex-check-watch, they were locked in a lip embrace.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked, because that’s the only thing I could think of to ask.
Unlike Son No. 1 and Baby Boy, Girl First and Only and No. 2 Son had never quite mastered the art of the well-executed lie.
“Kissing. Why? Why did you think we were doing?”
Geesh. What did I think?
I thought The Girl’s cute, little belly button was hanging out of her too-short shirt and too-low pants and showing a little too much skin.
I thought that her mother had obviously also missed the window on having The Talk.
I thought that Alexander’s book should have included a warning about young, limber girls who practice yoga in the smorgasbord position.
I thought I should at least pretend to trust him.
But not too much.
I forced myself to go to another room, but not before slipping Baby Boy, almost 13, a crisp five-dollar bill with whispered orders that he was to stay in the living room and keep an eye on his brother and The Girl.
Later, Baby Boy came to update me on The Situation.
“What are they doing?” I asked.
“Just watching TV,” he said, then added, “Boy, is she hot! When they break up, I’m gonna ask her out.”
That’s when I snatched my five back.
I needed it to pay for my anti-anxiety drugs.