Not Your Mother’s Sex Column (Or Is It?)

My mom and I have talked about sex before.

Our first discussion of sex is now just a hazy elementary school memory that involved a lot of scientific terms like “fallopian tube” and “cervix,” which I assumed was because she is a nurse. I was a precocious youngster, so I got the point pretty quickly. She didn’t say much after that, and we proceeded to sit through the sex scenes of seemingly tame movies just a little less awkwardly. Today, she remains a (usually) painfully unashamed person who will bring up the topic of sex every once in a while, but not often. Those instances were always fine, and I was always pretty comfortable with it.

Except for this one time…

I come home from one of the three places I go during school breaks—the library, the local Michaels craft store, or the Panera across town where the cashier sometimes compliments my hair. My mom is sitting on the couch, staring intently at her phone. This is her preferred way to read—it allows easy access to any book, and the screen is small and portable. I cannot see the book. I willingly engage in conversation.

“What are you reading?” I ask.

“This new book a friend from the gym recommended to me,” she replies.

“What book?” I say.

Fifty Shades of Grey. Is BDSM a real thing?”

All the organs in my body feel like they are about to spill out of my mouth. I want to run upstairs, but something about the way she asks about it—”is it a real thing?”—is so earnestly curious that I am rooted where I stand.

She continues to tell me about how the book is so easy to read—how Anastasia Steele has such a nice name, how Christian Grey is kind of scary, but she understands why her friend read it because it’s just so “sexy” and “fun.” She pushes me to explain if BDSM is a thing and if it’s the same as in the book. I collect my organs from the floor, stuff them back into my body and tell her that BDSM is real, but this book is fiction and isn’t really about that in a terribly accurate way.

Instead of saying what I want her to say (“I’m so sorry I brought this up, go upstairs and forget we had to talk about this because I am the woman who birthed you and conversations like this will always be inherently awkward”) she asks me what real BDSM is. She asks me if people really like whips. I feel like I am the one giving her The Sex Talk. It is worse than I ever imagined.

Like any good millennial, instead of answering her questions, I direct her to a specific website and promptly run upstairs.

I think about how I would be a horrible mother.

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