I’m in sixth grade. I’m tall for my age so none of the boys in my class have caught up to my growth spurt yet and won’t for several years. I have no game at all except for the fact that I’m an above average looking female human. That’s really all it takes to have game when you’re a twelve-year-old girl. I have big blue eyes, long blonde hair and my boobs are starting to come in like flowers in spring but less graceful. A twelve-year-old has no business with boobs. Seriously. But there they are. And I have no idea what to do with them, so I spend a lot of my free time at school — between classes, during recess, after lunch — putting boys in headlocks just because I’m big enough and strong enough to do it. All the boys in my class are just around boob height, but I don’t really notice this because I’m twelve and clueless and think it’s fun to flirt in the most aggressive way possible. My stepdad is in the middle of teaching me that I can’t play co-ed sports anymore by challenging me to afternoon games of basketball in our trailer park where he fouls me over and over again by elbowing me in the chest and saying, “See, this is why you can’t play ball with boys. It’s too tough and they’re just after one thing.”
I remember receiving three lessons about sex from the adults in my life before the age of fourteen, but this moment playing basketball with my stepdad isn’t one of them. It’s just a lesson I learned about what a big asshole my stepdad was.
One of the sex lessons came from teachers at my school and two came from my mom. They were all very tame, society sanctioned events.
The school lesson was the most boring and useless. The boys and girls were split up. We watched a video about our body parts, and then we were told about how periods work. Lame.
Around seventh grade, I was invited to a swimming party at a classmate’s house where there’d be boys and girls. For some reason, this was very controversial to all of the adults involved. My mother sat me down and said, “Jaime, I want you to have fun today, but just keep this in mind: there are only two reasons to ever have sex, to bond with someone you care about very much and to have children.”
Even at the time I knew there was something wrong with this logic. To bond with someone? Umm…I wanted to bond with all sorts of people, so thanks for giving me permission to go “bonding” with dudes all over town, Mom. Geez…
But I also knew what she was getting at. Kids aren’t stupid. I knew that she was worried about me and that she didn’t want me to go too far with a boy. So, okay, I wouldn’t. At least not yet.
Maybe a year later, right around the time I started seeing my first serious boyfriend, my mom gave me a cassette tape titled something like, “Righteous Love, Godly Sex.” I took it to my room, laid on my bed, and played it in my stereo while the most boring man alive explained why the missionary position is the one God approves of most and why you should really, truly love the partner you choose to have sex with and wait until marriage to do it.
I couldn’t take this shit seriously. I couldn’t even finish listening to the entire wholesome, Christian message about my nonexistent sex life. In a way, I felt bad for my mom. She didn’t know how to talk to me about this stuff. Her mom, on the day she got her period, gave her a box of pads and told her to “take care of it.” That’s the closest they ever got to talking about sex. My mom was pregnant at sixteen.
I’d understood a lot more than I should have about sex for a long time because, like about 20% of the women in this country and 5-10% of the men, I was sexually molested as a child, multiple times by multiple people. I don’t share this to get sympathy or to make you sad or anything like that. I’m actually pretty okay with it now, but for a long time I wasn’t. For a long time, I was completely broken over it and no one around me seemed to notice or care or know how to help me. And the kinds of messages I was getting from all the adults around me were so far from reality that I just stopped listening.
By the age of fourteen, after falling head over heels in love with a boy two years my senior who went to a school across town (and who was — thank god! — taller than me), I made a very deliberate choice to lose my virginity with him in his friend’s basement after his homecoming dance. I was so careful. I made him wear a condom. I made him go slow. Afterward, he stayed by the bathroom door while I shakily cleaned up my bleeding, broken hymen. He was nice. He took me home. My mother was none the wiser.
Over the next two and a half years, we had sex in his truck, in his church, in his parents’ bed when they weren’t home (of course). There was no stopping us. We had lost our minds. Sometimes we used condoms. Sometimes we didn’t. We didn’t care because our brains were not part of our decision-making process, and nothing in our young lives had prepared us for the kinds of emotional choices we were making and their potential consequences. All I can say is that I’m very lucky I don’t have at least one grown child right now.
But despite all the messages from my mom and from school and all the practice I got in with my high school boyfriend, none of that prepared me for the years and years to come of crazy, sometimes scary, sometimes fun, often ill-advised sexual encounters I’d have later as an adult, which is why I’d like for you to picture a slightly different, probably way more awesome hypothetical coming of age experience:
My mom takes me across town to a class full of other twelve-year-old girls and Amy Schumer, our fearless sex ed teacher. (The boys are in another room hanging out with The Wonderful World of Boning co-creator Kevin Avery.) We meet with her once a week for four years. Each week we spill our guts about our insecurities, our crushes, our questions, and Amy answers everything without judgment or getting weirded out by us. Because she’s a pro and she’s not afraid to be honest with kids. She knows it’s the only way to be a good teacher and to protect kids out in the world.
Three or four times a year she brings in guest speakers: Sarah Silverman, Louis CK, Gloria Steinem, a friend of hers who’s transgendered, a forty-year-old virgin, a married couple in an open relationship, men and women who don’t ever want to get married or have children, a woman who’s just had a baby who tells us what it feels like and what it does to her body, gay and lesbian couples who’ve been together for twenty or thirty years, someone who’s assexual, a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse, folks who love sex toys, folks who love S&M…
For two hours each week a bunch of pubescent girls and boys sit in circles and learn about our bodies, dating, communication, love, heartbreak, being safe, being ourselves. When it’s over, our moms pick us up and ask us what we learned about today. “Oh, nothing,” we say shyly. Or maybe, if we’re brave, we tell her, we give details, she learns something, too, and we all stop being so afraid to talk about sex. Instead, we grow a confidence in our bodies and feelings and decisions. We all grow a little more powerful and loving.
Wouldn’t that be nice?