I interviewed my mum about sex: here’s what I learnt
One of the best things about my job is getting to learn about sex from other people. Every bit of information I pick up helps me on my own sexual journey. This got me thinking about an extremely untapped resource I could seek out for some sexual enlightenment: my mother. Could I learn from her experiences? Does a 64 year old have exciting stories? How much, if anything, would we have in common? I’d only had one conversation about sex with my mum, when I was a teenager I mustered up the courage to ask if my boyfriend could stay over. She said yes, asked me if I was having sex, then got me on the pill immediately. I sat down with my mum, 18 years later, to finish the conversation.
How old were you when you lost your virginity?
Was it a positive experience?
Oh no, it hurt too much.
Did you have any sort of preparation?
I was too embarrassed to ask.
What about your views on sex in general?
I think it’s a very nice thing.
What do you think shaped that view?
I guess my experience (not from my first, but from other experiences).
That’s exactly why I wanted to talk to you, I’m sure there are things that you know that I am yet to learn.
Did your mum teach you anything about sex?
Did she ever talk to you about sex?
Yes, once. She said I think you know everything you need to know. . . I was about 10! (Laughs) And the rest was about virginity. “Never lose your virginity until you get married.” So, I grew up with this notion of virginity being the currency that will get you everything. And I was obsessed with it, because she was obsessed, and any girl who was not a virgin was a slut.
I’m not surprised then that your first sexual experience wasn’t great.
That’s one of the reasons, the person who I lost my virginity to who was actually your sister’s father, and he was quite big and didn’t do much foreplay.
I’m sorry to hear.
What did you learn from that experience given it was your first ever sexual experience?
Nothing! I did not learn what I should have learned. I was a very naive 21 year old and he was much older, and I just was in awe I guess, and so I just thought that’s how it’s meant to be.
It’s pretty funny because that was really similar to my first sexual experience!
Yeah, I thought ‘oh wow sex is so much better in the movies’ because there was no foreplay and it hurt like hell. This is why we probably should have had this conversation years ago, could have avoided repeating history.
So, why do you think it’s so hard to talk about sex?
Partly because I never learnt to talk about it from my parents. And partly because when you asked me if your boyfriend could stay the night when you were only 16, and I asked if you were having sex and you said yes. . . I was shocked because I didn’t think anyone that age was having sex, certainly not my child! (Laughs) On the other hand, I didn’t want to pry – which was really stupid, I wish I did!
There’s a difference between prying and providing education, but I also really understand that difficult to do if you were never given those tools by your parents.
But remember that I took you to doctor to go on the pill?
Yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s a conversation about sex, I’d say that’s a conversation about contraception.
Yes, that’s true but my mother would not have even talked about that! I was very proud of myself!
Hopefully I can take it the next step further with my children.
Yes, I sincerely hope so.
What is the most important thing that you’ve learned about sex in your lifetime?
How to masturbate!
And who taught you?
A book! Becoming orgasmic. That book and my therapist.
How old were you?
Forty-one! That hurts me a bit to hear.
I know, it was waay too late. Because of my religion, and also nobody tried to do it on me before that, so I thought it was something bad. At one point I went to see a sex therapist. She told me that I had to masturbate. I said, no, it’s against my religion and I walked out! So, I missed that chance, thankfully I was seeing a therapist a few years later who was able to encourage me.
What do you think about masturbation now?
It’s good, but for me it’s never been enough, every time I masturbated, I wanted more, and to me that became getting ready for love-making. I always enjoyed both.
So, would you regularly masturbate before you’d have sex with someone?
Not always, but it was really nice to do that yeah.
How else has religion has affected your experience and views on sex?
A lot, I mean it didn’t stop me from having sex before marriage obviously! (Laughs) It was not that strong! But in terms of masturbation, it was number one on the list of sins.
Why do you think that is?
I remember once a woman I knew through church was handing out a list of sins to confess, and that was top of the list. I based my confession from that list, and the priest said don’t worry about it. So, I realised how stupid the list was and just went back to confessing what I think are true sins, like if I broke the 10 commandments, or if I had not forgiven or talked badly about people, stuff like that. And of course, sex out of marriage after I got divorced.
So, you would confess every time you had sex out of marriage?
Well not every time I had it, otherwise I would have been in church every day!
Did you ever talk to anyone about sex?
Nobody. Until about 10 years ago when I talked to my girlfriends about a hilarious story of a sexual encounter in my twenties.
Go on then.
I was divorced and went on holiday to the coast. I took my mum to look after your sister, who was about three, so I didn’t go out a lot, but I did go to church. It was a little monastery, I was walking around with your sister in a group of tourists and there was this monk, obviously not married but not very monk-y. He said hello, introduced himself and offered to show me around because I didn’t have a car. I said, “Yeah that’ll be nice.” And I managed to leave your sister with my mum, so we went for a drive. We had a meal and then we went back to the monastery to his cell. And it happened! And the guy had such a huge penis that I was in pain! After having given birth and everything I was still in pain and when I looked down, I said, “Oh, no wonder I’m in pain!” With a monk!
That’s amazing – I’d be telling everyone I could if it happened to me! Since that story have you been more open to talking about sex?
Not really, because people didn’t talk to me, so I wasn’t going to be the one to open up that topic. And the only people I could have talked about sex would be my partners, but I never wanted to because almost all of them had a bit of insecurity about my huge experience.
What do you mean huge experience?
I have had a few partners.
Oh dear I have lost count, probably 20 to 30.
I think that’s a pretty healthy number!
I don’t know if it’s a healthy number. . . for a person of faith, it’s not! (Laughs)
Look, it’s all a perception, right? As long as you got something from them it’s good. If you never had any education, the only place you’re going get it is from experience, right?
Or books! (Laughs)
You said that a lot of your partners were insecure about the number of people that you slept with, how did they find that out?
Well, it wasn’t a conversation, but just the number of marriages is enough! Even some of my short relationships (not one night stands, more like ten night stands) were insecure about it.
How has your sex life changed throughout the years?
Well, I was learning all along. I always enjoyed sex more with someone I was a bit in love with, so for me it was about intimacy with the person that I loved.
Do you think you’re still learning?
No, I stopped in August two years ago.
Because I haven’t had any sex since then!
So, you’re not stopped, just paused?
Yes, I guess so, just paused.
Has your sex life gotten better with age?
I think it was just a continuous enjoyment over the years, apart from a couple of experiences where I didn’t enjoy anything because it was the wrong person. So, I can’t say that I became an expert, I certainly would not earn a lot of money as an escort! Not at my age anyway.
Did you have a sexual prime?
In my experience (and from what I was told by men) woman reach their full potential in their forties.
Great, something to look forward to!
Yes, because I had discovered masturbation. And I was able to be more open to talk to your dad and later partners. I was getting more confident and if I didn’t know something, or if I wanted something, I was vocal about it. And I felt fine if I asked for something, which wasn’t the case for many years. So, for lots of women it’s a very beautiful period.
Why do you think you were afraid to vocalise your needs before then?
I felt that if I asked for something the man would feel insecure.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry because I can relate to that too – the male ego trumping female pleasure.
It’s such a shame because when two people can do things together and help each other have more enjoyment, there’s nothing more beautiful than that. Especially in relationships, I’m not talking about fleeting sexual encounters because to me, that kind of doesn’t count.
Do you have any tips for any lessons on pleasure?
I can lend you those books. One is The New Joy of Sex, which is actually designed for a couple, and the other one is Becoming Orgasmic, which is for people who can’t orgasm or masturbate or don’t know their body very well. But it’s not just about becoming orgasmic, it’s about learning about what your body likes and what you can do to yourself. You’re most welcome to borrow them and lend them to your brother.
What do you wish that you had known about sex when you were my age?
I didn’t have sex when I was your age. I had a very long period between my marriages, and I was suffering physically and mentally because I wanted to, but I didn’t for maybe four years.
I was a divorcee which was bad enough in that environment where I lived, and I didn’t want to get a reputation.
So, was there anything that would help you if you had known back then that would have helped deal with that situation?
No, I could not imagine anything that would have helped. The only way to deal with this is to fuck around and not give a fuck, and I was not in that position because I had a child.
What do you see as the biggest point of friction when it comes to sex?
Psychological – until you’re post-menopausal, when it becomes a bit physiological, you need some help.
Are older men better at sex than younger?
Older men are probably a bit more self-confident, but I also think it’s individual, and it is about how confident they are in sex and to what extent they want to enjoy it, rather than thinking about, ‘What does she think about me?’
So older men are better at being in the moment?
Yes, but I wouldn’t generalise that, it’s a lot more individual. There are older men who are hopeless, and there are older men who are very good, and then there are younger men who are very, very good. So, I don’t think age has a lot to do with that.
Do you watch porn or read erotica?
I did during those years when I was ‘finding myself’.
The masturbation years?
Yes, I had a collection (laughs). I remember I once went to a library in Springvale where they didn’t know me, and I was borrowing Nancy Friday.
I remember finding those books in your drawer.
Yes, and one day one of those books, Women on Top, disappeared!
Well, it wasn’t me!
I continued reading those after the masturbation years and I think it helped me with a lot. It was helpful to read about other people’s experiences, other women’s experiences, and their fantasies.
That’s the whole point of drip(feed). The more you understand about other people, the more your perspective expands. Even if you’re reading about things that aren’t your cup of tea, you feel better about your sexuality by seeing what else is out there.
That’s right – for me that period was about self-discovery, and it was very useful. And after a while, I kind of stopped reading, I guess I thought I knew everything (laughs). But I did learn what was very important for me: fantasising, to help the moment, and just being open.
What’s the craziest place you’ve had sex (apart from a monk’s cell)?
I was on a walk somewhere in Victoria, at a conference. My partner at the time and I were there in different roles. We were walking with a group of people, maybe only fifteen metres ahead of us, and we had sex behind a tree.
When I was writing these, I hoped you had interesting answers, so it makes me feel so nice that you have some good stories.
It makes me feel nice I can talk to you now.
I don’t know if I could have asked you these questions in my twenties, and certainly not in my teens. You just don’t want to think about your parents having sex. But when you get to your thirties you see the bigger picture and think, of course I want my parents to be happy, and having a healthy sex life is a part of having a healthy life.
Absolutely. I also want to tell you that the best times are ahead of you. And that is a beautiful thing. You know, teenagers, they don’t know enough about the whole thing, about themselves, and they often have sex because they’re curious, and to please the boy, or because it feels nice. But as you get older, after you’re thirty, you’re discovering more about yourself, and your best years are ahead of you. My best years were between my forties and fifties.
That’s comforting. Do you have a favourite position?
Depends on who I was with. I think my best position with the best person I’ve been with was from the side, when I was lying on one side, from behind.
What was the best sex you’ve ever had?
It was with a long-term partner, the one I met after my. . .
Yes, I was ripe, and also after my second divorce I was looking forward to it. But it was also because of the way he was, he was very good, he was really the person who would not think about his own pleasure. It was about giving me pleasure and I appreciated that very much. Of course, I was very much in love with him but part of being in love was also that sexual compatibility.
What’s sex like after menopause?
Depends on who you’re with. It can be fantastic, it can be miserable, or it can be non-existent.
What do I have to look forward to?
I would say being more and more confident about yourself and not ever thinking about what you look like in bed or out of bed or in general, I think accepting yourself the way you are is very important and just enjoying it and being in the moment. And I think if you have a partner who is also interested in learning new things, that’s really great.
Do you have a sex hack?
Masturbating before sex, it gives you ten times more pleasure.
I guess it helps you connect with yourself before you can connect with someone else right?
I don’t know, I think it could be that, but it just naturally gives you that flood of hormones, and lubrication that nothing else can replace.
Any advice for me?
Talk about sex with your partner. Be comfortable with yourself, and think about the other person and the pleasure, not about your hang ups. When both people in a sexual encounter think about pleasuring the other person, they both benefit, and they both get what they should get from it, without thinking, “Oh, what do I look like?” or, “Is this the right thing to do?” If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it, and be open about it.
Communicate, in a loving way, in a respectful way.
Any advice for people who want to talk to their own parents about sex?
Well, they shouldn’t wait until their child gets a job in an industry where they have to interview their parents about sex. (Laughs)
Good one. Anything else?
I would just like to say thank you for this opportunity. Maybe it will inspire some people to talk.
It’s nice isn’t it, feels like it breaks down some of those walls that religion and your mum built up.
Absolutely! I think it’s really beautiful. For me, sex is the wholeness of things, being there fully, physically, psychologically, physiologically, and being with someone you love, you care for, and who is going to reciprocate.
That’s interesting you talk a lot about sex in relationships, I personally found it really liberating to have sex with someone I didn’t have feelings for because I didn’t care about anything except for the physical experience. I’ve had some really positive moments with casual hook ups because I wasn’t caught up in the emotional, so I felt in control and in the moment in a different way.
Actually, I did have a relationship that was pure sex. For a few months.
And how was it?
The sex was fantastic and there were no strings attached. He was young, only 26, I was 25. He knew his stuff, and he was very open about it, and for me it was a revelation. I almost forgot about that! Also, I was technically still married to your sister’s father [they had separated after he cheated on her]. It was very empowering.
You choose your own destiny, called the shots for you and no one else. That’s inspiring.
When I got kind of bored because he was not a very interesting person, I just stopped seeing him.
Because you were in control.
We have more in common than you think. I feel quite connected to you and really empowered and positive about my own sexual journey. If you can relate to anyone it’s your parents right, even when it comes to sex
I’m so grateful. It’s healthy to break down the barriers and to do things that encourage individuals to remember that this is a part of life.
I mean, the World Health Organisation has classified sexual pleasure as a human right, so it’s frustrating that it’s so difficult to get sex education in a healthy way without feeling judged or shamed. But that makes everything that you do to educate and empower yourself and others so worthwhile.
Exactly! I’ll give you another story. I was going to Canberra with a partner because he went every year to the Hellebore flower festival. We drove so we could take the dogs and we stopped on the way at a hotel. And we were right into it from my favourite position when my mum rang! So, I was trying to end one or the other or both, and after I’d somehow got rid of her, my partner said, “Have you ever spoken to your mother while having sex?” (laughs) I said, “never”. My poor mother, she would have been shocked.
Well, there’s a first for everything isn’t there. Do you think that you have any sexual similarities with your mum?
No, thank god.
How can you think that if you and I have so many?
She never had a proper, enjoyable sexual life.
Do you think that motivated you subconsciously?
No, it didn’t, I just felt sorry for her and given that both my parents were sexually frustrated in a way, and very prudish, I am actually very, very grateful that I am where I am.
Me too. I really wish that everyone could do this with their parents because I feel really confident and supported in my sex life, which is a weird thing to say after talking to your mum.
Yeah, I think it is beautiful darling. You’re still my baby, though. My baby is having sex!
Well at least I’m not on the phone to you.