The sex talk.Unexpectedly, I found myself illustrating precautionary measures before she walked out the door.
“Let me know when you’re home and be safe.”
“I will, don’t worry! I love you,” she assured me – a genuine attempt to appease my anxiety.
Like most parents, I swallowed mixed emotions that brew when a daughter goes on a first date: proud of how beautiful and independent she’s become, but restlessly suspicious of the man she’s with.
But I wasn’t a parent. She was my divorcee mother, and I, her overprotective daughter.
In the last decade, the traditional parent-child relationship with my mother has been upturned, embellished with anecdotes that rival cumbersome remakes of Freaky Friday.
It’s not because I’m habitually controlling. It’s because of the real dangers facing dating divorcees: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have more than doubled amongst middle-aged and senior adults from 2002 to 2012, according to the medical journal BMJ.
Thankfully, mother waited years until after her divorce to start dating. She was a selfless, devout Catholic committed to her children, providing any additional comfort when she could to me and my brother. So when non-biblical male names suddenly dropped in conversation while I was in college – my deeply furrowed eyebrows fashioned stern gazes of concern and distrust.
It was time to have ‘the talk.’
I wasn’t worried about my mother’s reaction the first time I initiated the topic of sex. She assumed I was inexperienced due my fear of STIs and pregnancy – so any thoughts of my irreverent acts escaped her. Nonetheless it frustrated me as she laughed off my ‘safe’ sex concerns as unimportant.
But I became more persistent and unavoidable – trapping her like bad elevator music. The chorus was consistent: have any man get tested to understand the mutual risks, use a condom to minimize them, and rid yourself of him if he brushes off the logical trepidations.
Eventually my mother welcomed my unabashed approach about as warmly as she would a backseat driver on a 12-hour road trip. It was clear I had finally worn out the subject.
However I wasn’t defeated – nay, I was chuffed. By now (whether she liked it or not) my mother knew the many risks associated with being physically intimate should she choose to do so; she understood that getting pregnant is no longer the worst perceived consequence of sex. There was no reason to initiate the taboo topic any further and it’s been years since we spoke of the matter.
As I wrote this column from my Hong Kong apartment tonight, I phoned her as she was beginning a Missourian day. I wanted to hear her thoughts – many years later – of my insistence on safer sex in hindsight.
“Look, I didn’t know what ‘safe’ sex was – doctors don’t tell us these things. But I’m glad you did, it showed that you really cared,“ she said warmly.
But then she challenged: “However I thought you’d at least eventually get around to telling me some ‘how to’ tips on pleasing a man!”
Stunned, I screeched, “Ma! What? Nooo!” She let out a hearty laugh as I contested once more before I surrendered to the wide-eyed newlywed.
And from there, a new talk began.