The Dating Game: Your Parents Know You Have Sex (A Memoir)

(Warning: the following involves sluthood, sexual assault and talking about either with one's parents.)

Sex in my family, like many things, was and is a fraught issue. I mean, I understand—it's weird to watch your daughter go from this asexual child into a (very) independent woman and sort of "know" that she's probably doing the shit you did once upon a time but that you think you're supposed to tell her not to do.

My parents, after one knock-down, drag-out argument near the end of high school about which of my dude friends I might or might not have been boning, didn't really talk about the fact that I was obviously boning dudes. When I brought someone home from college, even if he and I were semi-obviously frequently sharing a twin bed for more than just sleeping, we all pretended like it wasn't going on and he slept in a separate bedroom. Appearances can be important in some families, and mine was one of them.

But, when I was a senior in college, I was sitting in the basement of my parents' house with my dad, having a few cocktails and watching Law & Order: SVU. I was, admittedly, tipsy. It was, of course, a Rape Episode. And I made an offhand comment that my friend (in reality, the guy that I was dating) figured about two-thirds of his female friends had been raped. And my dad said, "Well, but you haven't been, right?" And there's that face you make, you know, when you're lying to your parents, the blank one, the one where you smooth our your forehead and the muscles across your cheekbones and you keep your lips straight? I tried to make that face and say, "No," only I was tipsy and I could tell I was failing, because I wanted, desperately, to cry. And so I said, "No, he means me, too."

I'm not sure I've ever hurt my father more.

He cycled through a hundred emotions in that moment, and I just watched. He wanted to know who he could kill, he wanted to know how... and he wanted to know if I was a virgin. He wanted to make sure that, at least, my first experience with sexual intimacy didn't come through force and pain and humiliation. And what was I supposed to do? Pretend that I was a virgin at 17, or tell him that I had known intimacy and tenderness and love and compassion before I ever known violation?

I told the truth. And I asked him not to tell my mother, knowing he wouldn't be able not to. They don't have a relationship where they keep much from one another. And then we never really talked about it again. I mean... what do you say? But we still never really talked about the ins and outs (or middles and ends) of most of my relationships unless it was absolutely, totally necessary—and we certainly didn't talk about any of the people in my life that didn't qualify for a parental meeting.

When I wrote at Jezebel, I once wrote a column with a friend in which she brought up the issue of penis size. And, knowing my father read my work obsessively (but my mother avoided, because I use "bad" language), I wrote into the piece: "DAD STOP READING HERE!" Ten minutes after it went up, I got an email from my father that read, simply, "I should have stopped reading." He and my mom decided to abide by the rule that if it looked like it would be about sex, they wouldn't read.

I thought that our implicit rule held, even as my mother friended me on Facebook and I began writing this column. I found out two weeks ago that it wasn't exactly true: my mother admitted that she'd been reading this column, recognizing the exes and the ways they'd hurt me and the pain I'd dealt with—even from the ones she'd liked and hoped I would stay with. And, admittedly, I froze. It was hard to write about dating (or fucking) knowing that my mom was peeping into an internal life I'd managed to convince myself I'd kept so very secret. But it wasn't ever really that secret—I've got a terrible poker face, even when I'm sober. We'd just all sort of put this curtain up so that we could pretend in ways that individually make us comfortable that the sky wasn't really blue.

And yet, it was all pretense. And not that I want to discuss the specific fucking bits with my parents, or get into the penis sizes of the dudes they liked versus the ones they didn't, or, really, any of it. But I got so used to hiding my sex life, of allowing the Emperor to have no clothes—something, too, that I did with my friends for a long time trying not to get tagged as A Slut—that I left myself with no one to talk to, no one to seek advice from, no one to hold me when I needed to cry over someone who rejected not my body but the more existential me (even if my body was a minor part of that).

But that's what the Slut tag does, I realize. It made me try (unsuccessfully) to hide a part of myself, to try to pretend that I wasn't doing what I was doing. The fear of that robbed me of support, of needed comfort, of understanding what was really normative behavior and what was not. So, I tried to stop pretending. I tried to be myself, more and more—until, probably, the idea that I was ever somehow else is probably hilarious to most people.

But my parents were, until recently, kind of the last people I really lived my truth for. And so, hey Mom! Welcome to Bitch Blogs. But, um, if you want to talk about this column, can we maybe not do it in front of Grandpa? There's still some people who don't need to know. Yet.

[Image via The Gifted Photographer on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed. Not actually my mother, who is younger and doesn't like her picture published.]

by Megan Carpentier
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7 Comments Have Been Posted


This is a great, dead-on post, Megan. I've also lied, point-blank, to my parents regarding sexual assaults (and probably would have done so even if it hadn't been in the midst of a horrible How Did You Get This Gayness Thing conversation) but did not come clean. My parents are adamantly anti-sex-before-marriage, and while my father in particular seems to have come to understand that, yes, his kids may drink alcohol, and, yes, they may have tried pot, ye olde Sex Issue still feels taboo when he asks if I'm making healthy choices. Maybe it always will, though I hope not. I sometimes use pseudonyms as a way to overcome the freezing effect that happens when I imagine them finding what I write.

Telling the truth

This is an issue that I feel like I'm constantly dealing with-- how much should I tell people? I know my parents read my blog, too, and I try to keep it clean most of the time. There are certain topics I will probably never post about because I don't want to hurt my parents' feelings, but perhaps posting a disclaimer is the solution!

Extrapolating beyond the sex

Extrapolating beyond the sex part, which, yeow, I know exactly what you're talking about, so awkward! But I find that parental sharing is one of the hardest things about being a writer for the public. Feminism has long been about writing the political, and we as a community value sharing our personal experiences, sometimes no matter how private they may seem. But when our parents are proud of us and want to read what we're writing and producing, well, that can become an insta-mess.

And it's such a fine line to walk, at least if you have a semi-good relationship with your parents, because it's not like you're blatantly trying to hide things from them. At least not in my case. More that, as you very ably expressed it above, well, it's just not that comfortable sometimes. I will never forget the first time I told my parents I was sleeping with someone. I got a one-line lecture from my mom along the lines of someone getting the milk for free...and I've never seen my dad look so uncomfortable in my life. And that wasn't even a truly difficult topic of conversation, it was pretty benign as far as it goes.

So how do we share our writing, and let our parents be proud of our writing, and not share the bits we don't really want them to read? A conundrum, I tell you.

"When I brought someone home

"When I brought someone home from college, even if he and I were semi-obviously frequently sharing a twin bed for more than just sleeping, we all pretended like it wasn't going on and he slept in a separate bedroom."

This seriously resonated with me. I've been with the same man for nearly seven years (november marks our 7th anniversary) and we dated throughout my entire five years of college. We've lived together the past two years, and got engaged last year.

Up until we got engaged, we had to sleep in separate bedrooms at my parents house. Even though he'd visit me at college, I'd visit him (it was long-distance), even though we took a vacation to Hawaii together, and even after we moved in, we still had to sleep in separate rooms. I even had to persuade my parents into letting us share my room after we got engaged.

And the part where you told your father, I experienced kind of the same thing. When my mom visited me my 5th year of college, I opened up to her about being sexually abused at church camp when I was 15. And she listened, and finally understood why I didn't want to go to college anymore.

But I think the worst (and embarrassing) part of your parents (or one parent) knowing about your sexuality is having your mother 1) lecture you about the importance of being on birth control and 2) having your mother lecture you on the *importance* of having sex in a relationship when you and your boyfriend/fiance are going through a dry spell. However, it makes me glad that I can finally talk to my mom about my relationship and that I don't have to hide the fact that I'm not a virgin, and that I have been in a sexual relationship with him for 7 years.

I really enjoyed this blog a

I really enjoyed this blog a lot. As a college student I can relate in a lot of ways. Talking to your parents or guardians about sexual behavior is seen as taboo and your parents dread the sex talk back in high school or when ever you had it. Sometimes parents don’t even have a sex talk with their children and expect school and society to teach them about it, which in my opinion, is a lack of responsibility on the parents fault. Talking about sexual abuse with anyone is a very sensitive subject. The individual might not even know how or where to begin if they were sexually assaulted and most of the time they just keep it to themselves, even though if they talked to someone about it and get help recovering from the event or to locate that person for punishment, its still releasing this emotion inside of them. I do think that your class and race has a little affect on how open your family is to topics that concern sex, abuse etc. from a recent class I took the more higher class a family is the more conservative they are towards these kind of topics which also is a let down because they still need to educate their kids about sex and the risks it has.
Popular culture is taking a slow turn but I think it’s becoming oblivious to us TV and movie watchers that high school TV shows are showing more intimacy and sexuality like in glee and true blood the hbo series. I think its becoming a less strictly talked about topic these days.

I loved this post, I thought

I loved this post, I thought it very insightful. One thing I want to point out though; though it is negative to hide things from people, I think it's okay to not completely indulge and tell people, who don't really need to know, every little detail.
I am open about my sex life with my friends and my boyfriend regarding number of partners, genders, ect. But I think it's perfectly fine not to say to my mom "Hey mom, I've had several fuck-only buddies and a total of 30 partners all together". There are some things that parents [and other family members] don't need to know.

Yes - although we shouldn't

Yes - although we shouldn't share the details, the sex talk with the parents is a pretty important part of having a healthy life. Being about open this stuff has only resulted in better relationships with parents from what I've seen in mine and my friends' experiences.

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