This holiday season, I dropped a bomb on my mother by telling her I wrote a sex column, thus, admitting to a parent for the first time that I am sexually active. Up until this point in life, I successfully avoided talking about sex with my parents like the plague. Given the fact that my mom could find out at any moment by going onto the Internet, I figured it'd be best that she heard it from me personally.
I came out to my mom about being sexually active, being bisexual, writing about sex for my college newspaper and then getting a ton of media attention for my column on having sex in the library. But did I also mention that I got straight A's this semester?
My mom took the news well. She didn't get emotional or hysterical at all, she just sat and listened. Once I was done catching her up on my entire sex life, she calmly started telling me her views about sex for the first time.
My mom isn't overly religious, but she is a pretty devout Christian. She is not a fan of casual extra-marital sex. She worries that I'll get sexually assaulted or emotionally hurt. She wants me to have sex only with people who respect me and care about my well-being -- all very reasonable and benign parental concerns.
But she also expressed traditional sexist views like men can have sex with multiple partners all their lives but for women, it's different, and that the future love of my life -- who is apparently a man -- won't want to marry me knowing that I've had sex with other people. Oh, well. I wasn't looking to marry someone who doesn't believe in empowered female sexuality, anyway.
My mom then brutally ended with "This is just how the world is and when you're older you'll understand and feel the same way." This is a statement that will make most 20-year-olds want to jump off a bridge.
Despite our differences, I accepted my mother's views and found them valid as I tried to understand where her beliefs were coming from. But everything I had to say was dismissed due to my young and less experienced state of being. As I explained my views about sex and relationships derived from my studies and experiences, she completely disregarded my perspective by leveraging her three extra decades of life in order to claim that her position is ultimately the right one. I couldn't help but feel extremely invalidated.
Because even though I have no idea what kind of person I'll be in 30 years, most of my mother's conservative and sexist beliefs are not the ones that I intend to live by. I'm fairly certain that I'll continue to endorse some of the beliefs that are important to me now, such as complete gender equality, gay rights and being sex-positive. Being told that I'm bound to internalize the exact same values and perspectives of someone else was infuriating.
20 is an age when parents aren't necessarily our favorite people. It's an age when we are looking to make our own decisions, but are also too young to be sure about what our life experiences really mean. There are many of us who are inclined to do exactly what our parents tell us not to, simply to prove that we know what we're doing -- despite whether we actually do or not.
Our parents mean well when they are speaking from experience and pushing us to make good decisions. But when they simply dismiss our point of view as being young and not knowing any better, it often feels like adults are blatantly ignoring young people's experiences. This isn't constructive for learning about other perspectives because there's no denying that people navigate different worlds depending on their age and generation. Discussion between "actual" adults and young "emerging" adults should be less of a power struggle to prove that one's views hold truer than the other's, and more of a sharing experience to relate to and understand one another.
Rather than jumping to how younger people will feel later on, it might be more beneficial for adults to share how they used to be when they were a certain age and how they became the people they are today. 20 is also an age when we can handle the truth and listen to the personal experiences of the adults we know and look up to. Changing the tone of dialogue to respect each person's individual experiences would lead to more understanding, better communication and solidarity between the young-and-reckless and the older-and-wiser. We should acknowledge the different worldviews that come with being in different life stages rather than being weary of them.
An unexpected thing I learned from this challenging talk about sex and growing up with my mom is to be nice to young people when I myself am three more decades into mishaps and life. Even though it's hard to fully understand and empathize with those who appear to have less experience and insight, being older shouldn't necessarily give anyone the right to impose personal worldviews on others. No one appreciates having one's opinions invalidated on the basis of age, no matter how young and stupid one may be.