Is possible to talk frankly about sex with your parents? In this episode of YR's Adult ISH podcast, producer Dominique French wants answers as she embarks on an awkward (and hilarious) conversation with her mother, who may have left some important details out of “the birds and the bees” talk back in the day. From sexual orientation to sex partners, nothing is off the table, including a mother’s insight into why some people are just bad at sex.
Plus, we get key insights from a bona fide sexpert, Karishma Swarup (Instagram’s @talkyounevergot). Like, how do we unlearn negative sex talks? And how do we get past the silence and the stigma that surrounds them? Not to mention the possible consequences of NOT getting a proper sex talk.
Resources for further learning about sex below. Provided by Karishma Swarup.
Find Karishma on socials:
Or email: email@example.com
Adult ISH (@yrAdultISH) is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia.
Nyge: Welcome everyone to Adult ISH, produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. Today, our very own Dominique, a.k.a Dom, producer extraordinaire is doing something totally unprecedented. She is volunteering to talk with her mom about sex. So Dom, why are you doing this to yourself?
Dominique: Believe it or not, I wanted to, and I wanted to have this conversation for a really long time and someone who did not get a sex talk, So I wrote a letter, sent it to Dear Adult ISH, and wouldn't you believe it got picked!
Nyge: What??? It's almost like you had like a a connection to the show.
Dominique: a connection to the top??
Nyge: Very picky about our selection process. I mean, I'm ready to get into it, If you're ready, I stay ready.
Dominique: I stay ready, so I don't have to get ready.
Nyge: Would you be so bold as to read the letter for us now?
Dominique: Hell yeah, I would love to.
Nyge: All right, let's get into it.
Dominique: Dear Adult ISH, when I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, my mom tried to give me the sex talk, emphasis on tried. It started with her asking, “Do I need to give you the birds and the bees talk?” And ended with me saying “No.” And the truth is I said no because I thought I knew everything I needed to know. What can I say? I was a bright kid. I ignored most of what are abstinent based Georgia Sex Ed had to say, and I found solace in the YouTube videos of a sexual health professional. I totally had it covered. That's not to say that my mother taught me nothing. I knew that most assaults are perpetrated by someone, you know, and the statistics for how many women are assaulted at some point in their life. I knew enough to be scared. Really, really scared. But now I'm 26, and I still don't talk about sex with my mom and I want to. Because she is one of my favorite people in the world. She's hilarious and insightful, and we talk about almost everything. We're like the Gilmore Girls, except I'm Black and there's slightly more dysfunction. Honestly, I think you have a lot to offer on the subject. Lord knows I could use the help, but because sex is this huge taboo and we never really broach the subject. I don't feel like I can talk to her about it. I often wonder what I could have learned if I hadn't told her no, or if she had tried harder. I'm confused and I'm upset that she did it. Surely I'm not the only one who feels like my parent dropped the ball on preparing me for the sexual world. But I also feel like it's not too late to have talking about this, be a part of me and my mom's relationship. Is it even possible to have candid conversations with our parents about sex? And is it too late for me to ask my mom the questions I've always wanted to ask her?
Nyge: Thank you Dom so much for sharing your letter. I really appreciate it. I think there's a ton of people who can identify with this.
Dominique: See, I hope that there are, but I think there are a lot of people who don't. And that's OK, too. I'm just not one of the people who doesn't want to talk to my parents about sex. So I thought, what better way to start that dialog than to talk about sex with my mom in front of all of our listeners?
Nyge: And we thank you for it. Definitely.
Dominique: But before I talk to my mom about sex, I wanted to ask you, Nyge, about the sexual education that you got growing up right. Do not think you're off the hook.
Nyge: For Sure,I knew it would somehow come out.
Dominique: What goes around comes around.
Dominique: So tell me, is this lack of having a sex talk something that you relate to? Or did someone give you a sex talk?
Nyge: Um, my parents kind of talked to me too much about sex for my own personal one wanting. But I do appreciate it now like looking back. But literally anything, any time like me or my brother, like made a joke like insinuating something about sex or anything, like my parents would just be like, “Oh, what? Wait, wait a second. Do you actually know that there is? That is actually,” it is like, Oh, all right, like,for sure, thanks, we get it. But I don't know if sex really wasn't taboo in my house growing up, especially with my parents. It might have been a little taboo for me and my brother because we didn't want to really talk about it as much as it seemed like they did. But I had a ton of conversations about sex growing up.
Dominique: That is so funny to me, because like as a person who is like a young girl or whatever, I feel like I've heard a lot of young women say that they didn't get a sex talk, and I haven't heard that as much from men. Do you think the fact that you were boys and like, there's this connotation about like boys being sexual aggressors or like, whatever, do you think that had any effect on your parents giving you the sex talk?
Nyge: I think they definitely felt like they, there was less of a stigma around talking to boys about sex. I definitely think that they just wanted us to really just be aware it was always like kind of talked about from a medical standpoint from the beginning, it was just like we would make a joke about something and they'd be like, “Oh, well, that's actually not true. So let's look up and figure out why that is untrue and why that is just a joke that people say.” And I used to not like that, but it really helped me actually learn the real things because like,
Nyge: I would always be at school and it would just be other a bunch of other like boys at school talking about things. And they would make all these super wild offhand comments about sex. And they would say, like, it was fact. And if I didn't have my parents to be that buffer to be like, “Nah, that's not actually true,” which a lot of people, a lot of boys who I did go to school didn't have that buffer, didn't have those people who they could fact check it with. I probably would be walking around here with a whole bunch of false knowledge that I wouldn't be realizing is false until my mid-twenties, when I've already like, you know, done certain things like wrong or are entered into situations with the wrong information.
Nyge: Like I have seen so many times having conversations with like other guys where I'll be talking about something and, you know, they'll say something and I'll be like, “Well, you know, that's not even true.”
Dominique: That's fully fictional.
Nyge: Yeah. What do you mean nah its true bro? And just like, “Oh, where is your source on this? Because I can cite something, I can show you that that is not in fact, the case.”
Dominique: I think that your experience may be more of the outlier than the norm.
Nyge: Oh for sure, I think if sex was this subject that you couldn't talk about, sex revolves and is involved with literally every subject out there, not literally, figuratively, that was the wrong use of literally. But sex is just such a big part of so many different subjects out there.
Nyge: And if you aren't speaking about it and your weaving and bobbing away from the sex topic in all these huge conversations that you're having with somebody, then I think it could feel like a huge elephant in the room.
Dominique: Oh, definitely. And it did. And I think that expression like, how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time? And me and my mom, we sat down and we like, ate the elephant one bite at the time until that awkwardness sort of slipped away.
Nyge: All right. Well, I think it's time to introduce your mom and let's let's finally hear this conversation.
Dominique: Let's go meet Dom's mom.
Dominique: Are you ready to rumble?
Dominique: We were talking about, S-E-X!
Mom: OK. Be careful what you ask.
Dominique: Notice your face! [laughter]
Mom: Are you ready for your mother to be like a full human being in front of you?
Dominique: Well, it's a little bit more about me.
Mom: Oh, well, that's cool. You need to know.
Dominique: I mean, but chime in if at any point you feel the need. We'll share some anecdotal hints.
Mom: I don't think you're ready. I'm just going to put that out there. So what about S-E-X? Do you want to talk about anything specific?
Dominique: Oh yes.
Dom: But first.
Dominique: We're going to start with the lightning round.
Dominique: Of questions.
Mom: Oh wow!
Dominique: In three!
Mom: Oh, wait, not ready.
Dominique: OK. One! When do you think I started having sex?
Mom: I didn't think it was until like somewhere around college.
Dominique: OK, well, we'll circle back. OK, bonus in what state, you think I started having sex?
Mom: State of mind or like a geographical state?
Mom: It was college then. I don't remember, but I remember you telling me about a particular incident.
Dominique: ERRRR wrong to both. I started having sex and it's a little bit of a trick question because I started having sex in Washington, D.C. when I was 21 years old.
Mom: See that's what I thought.
Dominique: Well, that's not what you said. Next question!
Mom: OK, sorry.
Dominique: How old was I when I learned what tossing salad means?
Mom: Mmmm, 14.
Mom: Last year?
Dominique: I was 22 years old. Bonus! if you can name what I thought it meant.
Mom: I don't know what did you think it was?
Dominique: I thought it was cunnilingus until I was 22.
Mom: Really? I can live with that.
Dominique: Alright, last and final question. How many sexual partners have I had?
I don't know why you are looking at the ceiling. It’s not going to tell you the answers.
Mom: Smaller than, see this is where I count, this is where numbers. Your numbers are smaller than a bread basket and definitely less than me.
Dominique: Are we talking the Olive Garden bread basket or?
Mom: What? 12?
Dominique: I just heard the second part of that where you said less than you.
Mom: 12 breadsticks come in a thing, I’m going to say less than 20.
Dominique: ERRR, trick question, I have no idea. I don't count. I like have, you know, like, I can get in touch with them within a certain amount of like time for, you know, logistical safety reasons, but I don't count.
Mom: Well, I think this very part of your generation that your numbers doesn't matter and it is what it is.
Dominique: Do you remember when you tried to give me the sex talk?
Mom: I think vaguely. Do you remember it?
Dominique: Yes, I do.
Mom: OK, I guess it worked.
Dominique: Did it?
Mom: I dont know.
Dominique: Did it? OK, I, this is what I recall.
Mom: Is this going to be one of your horrible mom anecdotes?
Dominique: Yeah, it turns out this isn't for work, it's an intervention. I'm actually recording this for my therapist. She doesn't think you're real.
Mom: No, sure I am.
Dominique: No, this is not that. This is just a conversation between two fun ladies.
Dominique: I regret saying that.
Mom: I feel you should.
Dominique: OK, this is how I remember it going.
Dominique: You said to me, I think I was like 10 or 11. You said to me, “like many, do, I need to give you the birds and the bees talk.” And I said, “nope.”
Mom: They did that at school.
Dominique: That was the end of the entire conversation and it never came up again.
Mom: Were we in my room and you're standing at the foot of the bed?
Mom: Ok. And then I did ask if that was something they had already covered at school.
Mom: I mean, I have no qualms about talking about it. I wasnt hesitant to talk to you about it.
Dominique Really? Because that's not the vibe I got.
Mom: Oh no, I’ve actually taught sex ed in a young person environment.
Dominique: Yeah, but I don't feel like I, so from my perspective, it felt like, that was the closest we ever got to broaching that subject and then like. It like put up like a little wall there, and we like never really came back around to it again.
Mom: And when I asked you if I needed to talk to you about the birds and bees, why did you just say no?
Dominique I don't know. I think part of it was that there was this one person on YouTube who was like a like a sex professional very sex positive and I felt like I got a lot of information from that. And I pretty much just deflected all of the sex ed from school, which
Dominique: I was 10 or 11, as quote-unqoute, as adult as I was I still didnt want to have a sex talk with my mom. You know what I mean?
Mom: Wow, I'm shocked by that, actually.
Mom: Yeah. You know, because I mean, I was, I mean, I'm probably one of the easiest people to talk to about it. I hate that. You wanna have one now?
Dominique: Oh. Yes! There were some things that you did make sure that I did know,
Dominique: And I want to ask you why it was important to you that I did know those things.
Dominique: So, I knew a lot of facts and statistics about sexual assault.
Dominique: Why was it important to you that I knew those things?
Mom: One, I think it was, giving you an opportunity to protect yourself. And it wasn't something that was talked about in my growing up, I mean, it was, I think, alluded to and some sort of ways, and there were just it, it was really about arming you with some level of protection and to give you some knowledge that you were not alone in advance of it happening, I guess. So.
Dominique: I appreciate it. I appreciate that you taught me those things.
Dominique Okay, so, There have been a few times that we have talked about sex in like detail. And two come to mind.
Dominique: One was in high school. When a person that I really liked and I had been planning to have like a friends with benefits situation, we were talking about, do you remember this? We were in the car. I was talking about the fact that I was never going to have sex because I was a yucky, yucky, repulsive person and that I just wanted to have sex one time and then I could just go back to being, I could go back to my cave where I belonged.
Mom: I took it more of a just get it out of the way, get it over with. Get it done.
Dominique: So what I remember you saying that really stuck with me. You said having sex once doesn't make you want to have sex less. It makes you want to have sex more.
Mom: That is true, I do remember saying that and it is true. I think. I think!
Dominique: I think so, too. I think it's a very...
Mom: Well, yay me one, right?
Dominique: I think it's a very wise thing to say. Oh, and another time that we talked about sex in detail was the sex injury that I had.
Mom: Tell me enough so that I remember.
Dominique Lets just say it was kind of a square peg round hole situation. You don't remember this?
Mom: Well, it wasn't my square peg in someone's round hole or vice versa.
Dominique: How dare you forget my first sex injury? But I literally, it was like, I have to talk to my mommy about this.
Mom: No, I don't remember this.
Dominique: Oh well, you were very helpful. You were like these things happen, you know, the vagina snaps back. It heals. Been there. Done that. You will be OK.
Mom: Yeah, I mean, it's amazingly capable. I mean, if you can spit a head out of something.
Dominique: Do not describe birth as spitting a head out. Ewww. That's not a miracle. That's….
Mom: I use that word. I mean, you know, children are great and all that.
Dominique: But OK, so anyway, next question. Why are all the men I'm having sex with bad at sex?
Mom: Oh, Jesus. Most men are bad at sex, and the ones that aren't are usually extremely self-absorbed. Some, jeez, what's the word for it? It isn't so much that they're interested in pleasing you. It's that they're interested in knowing that they are amazing.
Dominique If you had the opportunity to go back to the birds and the bees day and change anything, would you alter anything?
Mom: Just from knowing what I learned here today after you told me, nope, I would probably say, you have information, but here are some things that might not have been shared with you and or I'm going to say some things that might make you uncomfortable, but that I think you need to know, even if you've heard it from someone else, you should probably hear this from me.
Dominique Yeah, Well, thank you for talking with me, mom.
Mom: Well thank you for asking me 20 questions. It's kind of cool to see you in your environment. You're awesome. I've always thought that.
Dominique: You're awesome, I thought that for like….
Mom: last year and a half.
Dominique: Yeah, last two years, really.
Mom: Well, I love you very much.
Dominique: I love you. With my whole heart.
Nyge: So, Dom, how did you feel about the conversation with your mom?
Dominique: I felt like it was surprising how awkward I felt going into it. And it was shocking how comfortable I felt going out of it.
Dominique She surprised me, she really surprised me with her candor, with her honesty and with her telling the truth about the fact that she would go back and she would change things.
Nyge: Do you feel like you, like you unlocked a whole different part of your, of the things that you can talk to your mom about, like a whole different part of your guys' conversations moving forward?
Dominique: Oh yes, I definitely feel like that video game analogy, where you BOO BOO BOOP, like level up. I feel like we have unlocked a whole different side of what it's like to have a parent when you yourself are no longer a child.
Nyge: Yeah, I think that, I hope you'll inspire other people to do that as well, because I think, does it, I mean, does it like fill in some, some gaps for you?
Dominique: Yeah, I mean, it definitely helped me understand why she didn't give me the talk. It honestly, it satisfied something in me that has been like nagging at me since I was a kid.
Nyge: I'm curious if you all have talked about sex since.
Dominique: OK, so..
Nyge: Was it a one time thing or is it is now a reoccurring conversation?
Dominique: Nooo, At the end we were like, Is this something that we can do again? And my mom was like, Definitely. And so since then, we've talked about it like a little bit here and there. But like one funny example is like, you know, that moment when you're watching a sex scene in television with like your parents?
Dominique: And you're like, I want to die. Dear God, smite me right now.
Dominique: Like that has melted away a little bit. And so we've been able to have conversations like, “Oh, well, that would never work” or “Man, that room looks very cold!” And things like that, and it's just something that we can, I don't know, broach. And it feels a lot more comfortable.
Nyge: I'm glad. I'm glad. I'm glad y'all are getting to watch these things in peace now. You didn't stop, though, with your, with this conversation with their mom.
Nyge: You talked to a sexpert also. Why was that important for you?
Dominique: Even though me and my mom talked a lot about sex and we have open those lines of dialog since. There was still this like feeling for me that there was a lack of an outside perspective on why these conversations are so, so difficult. So I wanted to loop someone in whose profession is literally talking about sex. Who better to ask? So I sat down with Karishma Swarup.
Karishma: I'm Karishma. I use she, her pronouns. I live in Calcutta, in India and I’m a sexuality educator. I do a lot of my work through Instagram, using the virtual format of webinars and things but also I have worked with a lot of youth groups in, across India. Also in the U.S., that's a little bit about me.
Dominique: Amazing. Thank you so much. So as I as we talked about a little bit at this stage in the process, I've had a conversation with my mom like one big conversation with my mom about sex, but I did not get, you know, quote-unquote the talk when I was, you know, in my formative years. And I've noticed that since we’ve had that talk, we had like little baby mini-talks about like sex things here and there. But it's still very awkward, even though we've kind of got over that one major like first talk a couple of weeks ago. And so I wanted to ask you in your expert opinion, why do you think it's so awkward to talk about sex in general?
Karishma: I think it's because it's something we just don't know how to talk about, when it comes to other things. We see scripts everywhere. We see scripts about how people talk about their grade or how people, how people talk about food. When it comes to sex, we have nothing and that is the loudest script that we have out there. That's where, like in a culture of silence, it becomes a kind of mystery, shame and stigma. And I think that's why we find it so awkward because we've never seen anyone have a regular to casual conversation.
Dominique: I think what you said about silence is so poignant because that's what it feels like, like there have been years of conversations that have just been silent. That we're now trying to, you know, offset with conversations, using our words. And that's really, really hard, especially when it comes to talking about sex with parents. Do you have any idea why? Like you said, scripts in general for talking about sex are missing. But when it comes to talking to our parents about sex, why do you think that can be so awkward and complicated?
Karishma: So when I said the thing about silence right? It's usually silence from the people who are directly in our lives. So silence from the adults in our lives, maybe even our peers, depending on where you grew up, depending on which friends you had. But however, like, we still get so many messages about sex. As a young adult, we've already been exposed to and fully internalized all sorts of messages about sex. And those messages seem to exist like, in this completely different world, almost. We have these entirely rich, I say rich in terms of like complex ideas about sex. Even at that age, even in your teens, you've been exposed to other people's opinions, maybe even like your peers being sexually active. But all that happens in the shadows and happens without the adults knowing, without the adults being involved for most of the cases. And I think that's, it makes it even weirder because we're like not only trying to jump over this huge societal body of silence that we've lived with growing up, but also we just don't know how they're going to react. We don't know what we're signing up for when we talk about all these things, and I think that's what makes it really awkward.
Dominique: Yes, absolutely. Purity culture is so. One of the few scripts that is readily handed out around sex when you're in your formative years and I, in my own school because I grew up in the south of the United States, abstinence was what was taught at school and they actually had an experience where they handed out V-cards, like virginity card.
Karishma: Oh no! I’ve seen pictures of that! Oh my god.
Dominique: Yeah, like, they separated us by quote-unquote gender, and all of the girls got V-cards and this was in middle school and I refused to take one because I was like, this is wrong! This is not OK. This is so messed up. And I remember getting so like ostracized and bullied about it because everyone assumed that that meant that I had already, you know, started having sex, and that's why I wouldn't take it. But it could have gone so many ways for me, emotionally, that moment, but it actually was like, I felt like very forged in it. I felt very secure in the fact that I was like, “I know I don't know all of the stuff, but I know this isn't right and I'm not going to get done with this.”
Karishma: And you were definitely the exception, I'm sure.
Dominique: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Which is not to say anything about the young people who maybe also didn't feel OK about it and still took one. It was, we were like, you know, young women, and fem, so often are when it comes to sex and sex education set up to fail in that scenario, no matter what you ended up doing. So I guess where I'm at right now is that I am in the process of unlearning, this sense of stigma and shame and this wall between me and my mother when it comes to talking about sex. And I know that that's, you know, possibly like sort of a singular experience. I know not everyone wants to be able to talk to their parents about sex. But I do. And so I guess that leads me to my next question, which is what did you do or what can I do? To continue to unlearn the things that have been, you know, forcefully handed down to me when it comes about my notions of sex?
Karishma: So keep it nutritious. Anything that is giving you negative messaging, please throw it. And when I say anything with negative messaging, I also mean your own thoughts and values like there is something.
Dominique: Oh wow.
Karishma: There's something about the way that you have been brought up, the way that people around you have been saying things. If their like making you feel smaller, if they are somehow invalidating what your experiences, then it's highly possible, something's wrong about those ideas, which is not to say Feelings are always 100 percent accurate. Question mark. But like feelings are data. Someone said that to me once and it changed my life. Like feelings are data. You’re feeling discomfort.
Karishma: Of any form because there is a boundary being violated. And I use the word somewhat loosely I’m meaning when I see discomfort, it could be like a big red flag, like in your face that this sounds so how you were given a V-card and you were like, “that sounds wrong.” But maybe, maybe it's also just a feeling, you know where you're just like, you can't name it. You don't know how to verbalize why this doesn't feel OK. And sometimes you can’t name those feelings and we just have to trust that, you know. That's the crux of unlearning. It's not, this is not a super concrete answer other than feelings are data. I'd write it down, underline it like whatever you need to do.
Dominique Yeah, I think I'm going to get a tattoo, you know, on my forehead that says feelings are data. I've never heard that before. And that's like such a, affirming way to say trust your intuition that feels like you could say it to someone else who maybe doesn't believe in intuition and sort of be able to stand on that and say, like, no feelings are data now.
Karishma: Yeah, I mean, you wouldn't be feeling what you're feeling unless there was a reason behind it. Even if that reason is you being triggered and you like having a disproportionate reaction because of some like past experience, that is still a real feeling like that doesn't diminish what you're feeling and you still need to do what needs to be done to take care of yourself in that moment. Especially, like when people around you go like, “Oh, but that's just the way it is,” like, No, it's not.
Dominique: No, it almost never is.
Karishma: I think something that's really important about unlearning is like really testing ideas and values. Testing the theories that exist around you is a really important way for you to feel conviction in what you are thinking, but also to build stronger relationships with the people around you.
Dominique: Well, Karishma, thank you so much for all of your wisdom and your big, juicy brain. And everything that you, all the light that you've shed in this conversation. I appreciate it so, so much. Is there anything that you would like to plug or any place that you'd like for people to be able to find you?
Karishma: Yeah, absolutely. You can find me on Instagram at talk you never got, or email me at talk you never got at Gmail dot com.
Nyge: So what would you say your big takeaways are from this episode?
Dominique: I think my biggest takeaway is that I'm so glad that I did it. I feel very brave. I feel closer to my mom. A huge takeaway is that parents are imperfect, and I feel like that's something you continue to learn as you grow up or re-learned over and over again from my conversation with Karishma. I got the wonderful piece of advice that feelings are data, that you should consider them, that you should pay attention to them when it comes to talking about sex or acting on sexual things. I think that's one of the smartest things I've ever heard in my whole life. And lastly, just that, in order for sex to become less taboo for us to have better talks about sex and more open perspectives about sex, We have to start the conversations we want to hear in our society.
Nyge: Yeah, I completely agree, and thank you so much for diving into this topic for us and I feel like you, you've gathered so much great information and so many beautiful takeaways for everybody listening. And for yourself, I hope it really helped.
Dominique: It really did. And if it helps anyone else, that will just make my heart smile too.
Nyge: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. We're produced by Georgia Wright, Dominique French and me, ya boy, Nyge Turner. Thank you to our Executive Producer, Rebecca Martin. The young people at YR who contributed art and music for this episode. If you haven't reviewed our show on Apple Podcasts yet, make sure you do. However many stars you think, you know, hopefully around five-ish, nothing lower. You can follow us on all the socials at YR Adult ISH or personally, I'm on Twitter @nygelt. That's Nygel, with a Y, a lot of people spell it with an I, that's not how it's spelled. Georgia is @georgiafrets. If you want to hear more of Dom’s voice, check out her other work at dominiquefrenchpodcasting.com. We're also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX an independent, listener supported collective of some of the most creative shows in all of podcasting. Find them at Radiotopia.fm and on that note, we out of here. See you next week! Bye!