“Listen, honey, you’ve got two holes down there. They both feel good, and only one of them gets you pregnant. You do the math.”
This is typical Monday afternoon conversation with my mother, Tina. If you can’t do the math, she was talking about anal sex. My mother is a huge proponent of anal—and not in the Christian “you’re-still-a-virgin-in-the-eyes-of-God” way, either. She just likes it in the ass. A lot. She’s told me herself, her friends have told me, my friends’ mothers have told me. I went through high school with half the neighborhood knowing that Ms. Tina prefers if you enter through the back door.
Tina didn’t only preach the gospel of the unholiest hole. Her unique brand of sex-ed included screening the Titanic sex scene for me at age five. When I turned 17, she advocated for a gynecological examination as the must-have birthday present. My friends may have been unwrapping their first iPhones, but I was learning how to touch my own uterus. She sprinkled her parenting with her own brand of sage sex advice. “Never forget that oral sex is more intimate than sex,” she warned thirteen-year-old me, who was more interested in sucking Cheetos dust off my own fingers than sucking anything else. “I’d much prefer you have tons of protected sex than start giving out blow jobs.”
At sixteen, I’d just broken up with my first boyfriend (who hadn’t taken my virginity yet, much to my mother’s amusement.) In tears and in bed, I sought out motherly comfort. Instead, I got, “Oh, honey, what’s the point of a relationship at your age? Can’t you just sexually experiment with your friends?”
For my businesswoman mother, sex was not an emotional endeavor, and men were just tools in service of our orgasms. Maybe it was because she was a divorcee, or a child of the 60s, or because her work schedule didn’t leave her time for more than a quickie. Or maybe she just loves sex. Regardless of why, she never hesitated to articulate the kind of sex she thought young women should be having: no-strings-attached, female pleasure-oriented, and, preferably, in the butt. She didn’t waste time letting me know that sex wasn’t such a big deal, often disappointing at best, and had nothing to do with love.
It was surprisingly great advice to hear as a young girl. There was no stress of waiting around for the one perfect guy to lose my virginity to, or even any expectation it would be enjoyable. It made the idea of sex seem almost boring, not the rebellious thrill it is for most teens. (Impress your friends and piss off your parents, all for the price of one quick fuck!) For me, sex was about as illicit as watching Seinfeld. Before I had ever even seen the gently wrinkling skin of a ball-sack, I knew more about sex than my friends who had actually had it.
But then I turned out to be a lesbian.
Now my sex life was something that even Tina’s unconventional roadmap could not have prepared me for. Sex was her language, but I was speaking a new dialect she couldn’t understand. While she enjoys the “extra feminine energy” my dating women apparently brings, she doesn’t really want to talk about it. I became the one forcing unsolicited sex information on my mother as she tried her hardest not to plug her ears and hum. And when I finally needed her advice, she clammed up like a nun on Sunday.
My sexual odometer was set back to zero as I treid to apply my mother’s old lessons to my new life. According to Tina’s teachings, it was okay to treat men like Kleenex (“use ‘em up and throw ‘em away!”). Was it okay to treat women the same way? Men were always going to cum, (“the lucky, selfish bastards!”); it was myself I had to worry about. Do I have to care about hers now too? Knowing how elusive the female orgasm can be, I wasn’t sure about doubling my accountability. I was taught to have sex before going down on a guy, but people call lesbians carpet-munchers for a reason. Was there an order I was supposed to follow? I had condoms bursting out of every drawer, but dental dams and latex gloves? I’ll pass.
After I came out, I felt guilty about wasting all the condoms Tina bought me, using them as balloon decorations that 4th of July. I felt even guiltier about forgoing her “get-in-and-get-out” philosophy for a series of serious monogamous relationships. I still hear Tina as I take off my girlfriend’s thong, her brash Queens accent blaring into my head. Aren’t you tired of that ass already? I take off her bra, Tina gets a little louder. Good tits in LA are a dime a dozen! I whisper, “I love you,” in my girlfriend’s ear. Tina rolls her eyes and throws her hands up in defeat.
My mother’s tune began to change during a recent visit. “So what’s the deal with strap-ons?” she asked, while inventorying my toilet paper supply. I seized this rare return to our once habitual openness and delved deep. Not just about strap-ons, but about my romantic life in general. Thinking I would impress her, I parroted back her words, the ones my imaginary version of her so often repeats. I told her I was too young for a relationship, I should be out sowing my proverbial oats. Screw other people’s emotions. Screw my own, for that matter. After all, my tits will never look as good as they do now, right?
The same woman who once told me it was “not a big deal” to hook up with my friends’ boyfriends looked at me like I had just grown testicles on my chin. “Jesus Christ, I did a number on you, didn’t I? You sound like a real ass. Gay, straight, I don’t care. What bozo breaks up with a pretty girl to screw Starbucks baristas?” (along with WNBA players, the only occupation available to lesbians, in my mother’s world view). “You’re in a committed relationship, so commit! If you don’t want to, at least be honest with her about it, right? And your tits won’t sag for about another nine years, relax.” Breaking her silence on strap-ons was a development of Tina’s I could understand, but advising me to be honest and communicative about my sexual and emotional intentions? I was stunned.
I looked her in the eyes, checking for signs she had been replaced by a pod-person. It was the most shocking thing she has ever said to me, and that includes her long, overly graphic speech about nipple sensitivity.
I realize now that Tina’s “use ‘em and lose ‘em” attitude is a result of growing up in a time when men were the only ones allowed to be assholes. She only became one in response. Maybe it took me talking about another woman like an insolent frat bro to change her perspective, or maybe she’s just going through a midlife crisis. Whatever it is, it dawned on her that just because gender relations today allow both men and women the agency to be assholes to one another, it doesn’t mean we should be. Praying Tina’s still alive by the time I procreate (if I procreate) that’s the message I want Grandma Tina’s voice to sear into my children’s brains.