When I was 15 years old, I asked my dad about the birds and the bees once again and he finally gave the correct reply, “Go ask your mother.” My mother then proceeded to tell me how kids don’t come from storks.
It was uncomfortable and I couldn’t look my mom in the eye for a few days after. But things changed as they were more comfortable watching Sex and the City and Will and Grace, the sex comedy sitcoms at the time, with me. In between commercial breaks, they even asked if I really understood the jokes, educating me further on other stuff like blow jobs and sex toys. I know, my parents were quite liberal that way.
But don’t judge them too quickly or affix them into a certain stereotype. My parents were both university professors so they approached sex education as a continuing process like any other topic. Think about it. Does education truly stop? Can you ever really be a master of one topic?
At 18, I remember my father giving me his version of the sex talk. I grumbled as he brought up the topic. “I know it already. And no I haven’t done it, Papa, as no one is even asking me out on a date.” My dad was of course relieved that at that time I hadn’t lost my virginity. But instead of going on about my value as a woman being tied to what I should do or not do in bed, my dad’s sex talk was all about agency and responsibility.
By the last few years of my dad’s life, he was widely reading Zen Buddhism books. He did still pray to the Catholic God every night. He told me that various religions have opinions about sex. He pointed out how my Catholic school had a weird way of contradicting itself in saying sex was both sacred and vile. I was probably confused by the many opinions of society: how men with multiple partners were lauded while women who slept around were slut-shamed. “No matter what all those say, sex is one of the most personal choices you can make,” he said. My dad further emphasized that it is my body and no one else had the power to decide for it other than myself. Not even him, not even my mom, not even any of the partners I would have, or even the one I would choose to spend my life with. He also told me that whatever I choose for my body, to keep my virginity till marriage or not, to sleep with every man I fancy or not, I should just always be prepared to face myself in the mirror. “If you can do something and still look at yourself in the mirror the next day, then that’s all that matters.”
I didn’t really fully understand what my dad had meant in giving me that talk. Perhaps because at 18 you have this weird idea that not processing what your parents said was cool. Now that I’m 26 years old, and I’ve heard so many accounts of slut-shaming, I have understood how rape and consent are still so hard to grasp for others, and how we are continuing to withhold birth control pills for women under dated notions, I think I get it.
When I lost my virginity, it wasn’t “ideal.” It wasn’t with a man who loved me and vice-versa. But it was the decision I made freely. I did what felt right and I literally did what my dad told me, I looked into the mirror. From then on, I understood that having agency over your body is an important thing and you shouldn’t let people take it away from you.
Every time I would find myself with a potential new partner, I always ask myself if sex was something I wanted to do or if I felt it was something I should do. Sometimes, we use sex as a weapon, to keep partners on a string. Sometimes, our willingness to have sex is also used to manipulate our feelings. I always think back to how regardless of what creed we follow in life, respect for human bodies should be the first instinct we have. So is respect for what they want to do with their bodies.
Sex is a form of freedom. People are free to have the sex life they want or no sex life at all. There are many ways that freedom is impeded upon, from how we judge those who prefer several partners or how we use the word “prude” with venom. All of this is how we try to force our beliefs on other people’s bodies—something that can never be right or justified especially if we believe in equality between sexes.
Art by Lara Intong