“Mom, there’s this girl in school, I think she is bi…what’s that word? The one where you like boys and girls?”
“Ya, that one. She is and she gets bullied for that, but we tell her it’s ok and try to be friends with her.”
I believe in open conversations. It may be unconventional but I believe that the best way to protect my child is to educate her.
My daughter knows words like bi-sexual, as well as sex, penis, vagina, etc. at the age of nine, but I don’t let her use the words amongst her peers and in public. She goes to an all-girl private school. It’s the same one I went to and, although I found the school constricting in some respects, it grounded me. My conservative Philippine Catholic private school experience plus my liberal public school education in California became the foundation of my somewhat dichotomous attitude towards sex and marriage.
In my youth, sex ed in the US public high schools was taught in the health and safety ed class (the class for sex ed and driving, basically). It makes sense given we had no classes on religion. And absolutely—if you can drive and need classes to make sure you are safe, you should take classes on mitigating risks of sex. Both have huge responsibilities.
The class was mostly about reproductive organs, how to put on a condom, and why we shouldn’t smoke. It’s the class where bananas were passed around and we were made to put condoms on them trying to keep a straight face. It is the same class where encased lungs were also passed around. One showing clean lungs and the other blackened. They sent us home with condoms, a fear of lung cancer, and driver’s licenses.
My daughter knows words like bi-sexual, as well as sex, penis, vagina, etc. at the age of nine.
Of course, my very Filipino Catholic mom would later find the free condoms in the laundry at home and my siblings and I had to explain why we had them at the age of 14 to 18.
Her reaction was understandable given that the sex ed I had also received in Manila (before moving to the US) was closely associated with our Christian Living classes. While reproductive systems were discussed, so were morals. They talked about how babies are made and abortion, but never touched the topic of contraceptives. To hit the point home, they showed us a documentary about abortion called “The Silent Scream.” The ultrasound footage of an unborn baby struggling to get away from forceps and its skull being crushed was deeply etched into my then 13-year-old mind.
Was it effective? Yes, but a little too much! I was so scared of having a baby and not being able to care for it, I barely engaged with the opposite sex.
In both hemispheres, they never taught us how to draw boundaries. How to say no. How to hear and respect the “no.” What is consent and when is it sexual assault?
As a single mom and a survivor of domestic abuse (the kind where if I said no to my partner, I was punished; the kind where if I didn’t agree to have his baby I probably didn’t love him enough), I absolutely must empower my daughter by having those difficult conversations the schools don’t cover. I want her to make educated decisions about her body. She owns it. No one can obligate her—not even society—to make choices she is uncomfortable with.
I must empower my daughter by having the difficult conversations.
I want my daughter to be authentic and to celebrate others’ authenticity as they explore their preferences and sexual identity, but within reason and with decorum. Just because you live freely and differently doesn’t mean decency goes out the window.
“Mom, you didn’t ask permission to start braiding my hair.”
“Oh… I’m sorry. May I?”
“Yeah, it’s ok. You can keep going.”
No matter how simple our exchange is, I am aware that it carries so many layers. My freedom ends where yours begins.
Gwendolyn Torres is the CEO of Pura Realty & Development Corp. and Co-Founder & CEO of Filiology. In her spare time, she consults companies on user experience design for educational spaces. Filiology is a passion enterprise, dedicated to her daughter (half Indian, half Filipino) and the indigenous people of the Philippines, whose main objectives are to Rediscover, Revive and Reconnect the next generation to Philippine heritage & sustainable culture through its products. She was born in the Philippines and educated in both Manila and the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her undergrad in Psychology at Ateneo De Manila, and Interior Architecture & Design at the San Francisco Academy of Art while pursuing a 12-year career in Sustainable Architectural Design for Public Schools in Silicon Valley. She returned to the Philippines in 2014 to earn her Masters, continue her family business, and start her own.
Shame + Sex Education
Feat. Andrea Barrica of Oakland, California
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