If parents, ministers and other responsible types wonder why teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease are a problem in our culture, all they need to do is ask women how they learned about sex. We did, and the responses make it clear that adults who complain about the aforementioned problems aren't giving their daughters the information they need to protect themselves.
Women were interviewed in person, responded to a post on a message board or submitted written responses to the question "How did you learn about sex?" Most wished to remain anonymous, underscoring that even in the 21st century sex remains a taboo conversation topic.
Wendy, 35, white, gay, artist
"My mother told me when I was 9 or 10 years old. It was her sweetie-pie-Catholic-mommy answer to my question, 'Where do babies come from?' She told me that sex was how 'men gave women the seeds for babies' and then the 'babies grew inside the women.' I remember starting to find generic-looking pills or maybe an unpopped corn kernel and wondering if that was a seed for a baby. I saved them just in case."
Melissa Mosby, black, Word on the Street writer for InkTank
"How I learned about sex?
The hard way, I'd say. I didn't have the luxury of a life with the Huxtables, so I learned about sex the same way I learned about my period — it happened. I was sexually abused by a family member. I wasn't (even) 8 years old and, unlike when I started my period, I couldn't ask questions.
"I don't recall thinking about sex before I experienced it. I'd asked my mom where babies came from, and after she said 'their mommies' I was satisfied. I learned a lot about sex after I had it. It was always done in secret, it was never talked about and whenever they wanted it I did it.
"I don't think I ever talked about sex with my mom except when she began dating my ex-boyfriend, but I was grown when that happened and of all the cool things about sex, I knew that wasn't one of them."
Tristan Taormino, 35, white, "equal opportunity," writer and sex educator
"My mom's approach to sex ed, which is just very my mom: There were explicit books about sex on the bookshelf in plain sight and, when they disappeared for long periods of time, nothing was said. So my actual first exposure to sex was The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort, and it was the first time I actually saw representations of people having sex."
Anonymous, 36, Hawaiian/mixed race, social worker, straight
"Well, I wasn't told by my mother — other than not to do it — and I knew about the scientific things, like testicles, in 7th grade. But probably I don't think I knew a penis went into a vagina until I was, like, a senior in high school.
"A guy that I dated said, 'Guess what?' and he took out his wallet and was (showing me) all these condoms. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what are those?'
" 'Those are condoms.'
"I didn't use them, because I didn't need to, until I was in college."
Anonymous, 29, Korean-American, social worker
"The first time I found out about sex stuff was when I found some of my dad's movies. They had pictures on the outside and they really fascinated me. I knew I would probably get in big trouble if they found out that I had found those. I didn't really know exactly what they were doing, but it seemed exciting because they were naked. I did not connect that they were actually having intercourse."
Jane Durrell, 79, white, straight, writer
"Helen Schaupp told me. 'You won't BELIEVE it!' she said. 'It's TERRIBLE. It's ASTONISHING. It's so, so ... I can't even describe it.' And then she proceeded to give a concise and pretty accurate description of what goes on. We said we didn't BELIEVE it, that it was TERRIBLE and ASTONISHING and wondered in our hearts if we'd like it."
Lynn, 48, white, straight, telecommunications
"I never had the 'talk' with my mother. I love my mother dearly, but we could never talk about anything personal. I first learned about sex from talking with my girlfriends. There was lots of laughing, giggling and comparing notes at slumber parties.
"Then when I was 17 I fell in love — well at least 'in love' for a 17-year-old. So I guess my first learning experience was trial and error. We were both just winging it. All I can say is, 'Thank God for Cosmopolitan.'