How did your mother’s teachings about sexuality affect you?

Shirley Kassman and
daughter Joan

I originally published this on Mother’s Day, 2013. I’m bringing it back on Mother’s Day, 2017.

Let’s do something different here for Mother’s Day: Looking back, how did your mother’s teachings about sexuality affect how you matured, interacted in relationships, saw yourself as a sexual being, enjoyed your sexuality?

I was born in 1943. When I came of age, my mother, Shirley Leshan Kassman, taught me nothing about sex other than a little about menstruation. The birds-and-bees talk was left to my obstetrician/ gynecologist father, who gave me a pamphlet about how women got pregnant accompanied by “ask me if you have any questions.”

Joan 1961,
senior year high school

Sure, I had questions. No, my parents weren’t the ones I asked. Since my father regularly saw girls my age who were “in trouble,” as unplanned pregnancy was called at the time, his point of view was decidedly and strictly a “don’t do it!” warning.

So when I started having sex at 17 with my high school boyfriend, I knew I would be in big trouble if I got discovered (I did, but that’s another story), and I knew nothing about pleasure.

Pleasure — or why anyone would do these strange things with each other — was totally omitted from my sex education. That’s a weird and dangerous omission! When kissing and “petting” got me aroused, I was surprised and thought something was happening to me that didn’t happen to other girls. What to do about that arousal remained a mystery, however.

In those days, no one mentioned the clitoris, not in the laughable “hygiene class” that was supposed to teach sex ed, not in any books I could find, and certainly not in the pamphlet that was supposed to ready me for adult sexuality. I had heard that women could have orgasms (no idea where I learned that), but how to make that happen? I had no idea — neither did my boyfriend.

I have two chapters in Naked at Our Age called “Unlearning Our Upbringing” — one with women’s stories, one with men’s stories. They’re poignant, provocative, compelling. At a certain point we either look at our upbringing and realize it doesn’t serve us any more, and we change — or we don’t.

I hope you’ll add your comments and share your own experience. You don’t have to use your real name (choose a first name of your choice instead of “anonymous”), but please tell us your real age so we can see how the era in which we were raised affected what we were taught about sex.

(A much shorter version of this post was published on Mother’s Day 2011.)


  1. rosevillelady on July 15, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    I was born in 1942 and have just recently learned of masterbation which was always considered something for men only and it was very taboo..I was married for 33 years and really never enjoyed sex that much just thought it was a duty to being a wife..
    Never knew anything about my clitoris, my mother never discussed anything sexual to me and I would talk with friends but never anything about self satisfying..
    This will be a hard thing to understand but I've never experienced a orgasim, watching kind of a film on virgins that have never had sex, I couldn't believe but for some reason it really affected me and suddenly I had an interest and it awakened me to feelings I'd really never had..
    I sent for my first sex toy and started trying it out in the bathroom and OMG I experienced really scary but great pleasure,It scared me so much I quit!!

    I now have been doing this everyday little by little and it's my little secret as my husband would think I'm crazy..

    How sad for me to dicover this at the age of 75!!
    I since bought several toys and also my doxy diecast..
    Happy days for me!!!

    • Joan Price on July 15, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Rosevillelady, I'm so happy that you're discovering your sexual joy. Happy days for you indeed!

  2. northierthanthou on June 2, 2017 at 7:15 am

    I recall I really didn't want to talk about sex with my parents. By the time I got a sex ed class, it was mostly redundant, and it was taught in such sterile language I learned nothing from it.

    Your comments about being surprised when you were aroused remind me a bit of my first experiences. I didn't even make the connection. Couldn't figure out what was happening and why. Can't recall how I figured it out, but it wasn't due to any conscious lessons by anyone.

  3. Joe Thomas on June 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I can't remember my mother teaching me any of sex health or something related… Maybe just some vague conversations without any specific information. I guess this happened because also she didn't got the right education when she was young. I learned from school, books, internet and of course friends. At least I became less ignorant in some aspects and as of today I'm still learning. (Joe, 34)

  4. Anonymous on May 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I remember my mother handing me a box of Kotex–some sort of starter kit–and telling me if I had any questions to just ask. Of course, I felt like I couldn't ask.

    I don't blame my mother for her lack of information, as she was a product of the times (born in '30). She was very uncomfortable when I began dating. I think she was worried I'd get "in trouble" (pregnant).
    She may have been abused by her stepfather, so that may have played into her discomfort as well.

    Although I became sexually active as a teen in the 70s, and I was definitely aroused by the foreplay and sex, I was completely ignorant of female orgasms. It wasn't until a college boyfriend stimulated me manually and I reached orgasm that I found out what it was all about. It was a shocking revelation, and very humorous to look back on.

    From that day forward, I made good use of masturbating, and gained a lot more satisfaction out of my sexual encounters.

  5. Anonymous on May 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Not a thing – nothing about any of it. The film in school, capped with minimal info from friends was it. I stole her pads and tampons for nearly a year before she know I had started my period – good grief.
    By the time I was married and had kids, we still never discussed anything relating to a woman's body – but emotional points of view were ok, as were responsibility and such.
    I did know that sex was an activity that was popular at our house –
    The result was I talked to my kids, answered questions and even grandkids have open doors.

  6. Dan, 65, Santa Cruz Mountains on May 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    At nine or ten, my mom caught me dozing on a living room sofa in a pose that said, "don't look but I think I'm doing an immobile couch hump here…feels good." She shamed me. Told me to knock it off. Yet when I asked if I could read a sex manual left at the door of my OLDER brother, she said, "sure" and offered no shame.

    What she taught me far more was who she was as a woman…showed me a cold frigidity that I overcompensated for my whole life, making for me I think a too focused type guy on love, sex, and relationships. Actually, I thank her now for making me an unbalanced sex/love geek! At 54 when dating again after a 28 yr dead marriage, I had to relearn it all anyway.
    Great relearn article here for older folk on dating mid 50ish; what mom didn't teach right.

  7. Vibrators on May 31, 2011 at 7:13 am

    The relation ship between a mother and her daughter is intimate enough and along with time it grows and matures.The mentality and thinking of a mother strongly pays impact on a daughter's growth and her mental status.This influences her characteristics as well.

  8. pokray on May 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    My mother taught me absolutely nothing. She bought me a set of Life Cycle books and I proceeded to read and teach the entire 6th grade at St. Peter's Catholic School during recess. I hated the fact that we knew practically nothing about our sexuality. She passed when I was 17, and having been so sheltered, immediately read "The Joy of Sex" … and that changed everything for me.

  9. Anonymous on May 8, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    My grandparents gave my sisters and me the book "Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask" – and my mom encouraged us to read it. That alone communicated quite a bit. (Laura, age 47)

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