Hey mum, when did you lose your virginity?
My kids ask me all sorts of questions, including the priceless, “If you did a handstand when you were pregnant, would I have come out your mouth?”
But the one that’s surprised me most was from my 11-year-old: “Mum, when did you lose your virginity?”
It’s not that I mind discussing this stuff. Eighteen is a respectable (some might say belated) age for deflowering. Rather, it’s the questions that follow: the inevitable who, what, when?
So I told her. About the Catholic boy called Paul and our summer of love spent lying in the grass listening to REM.
About holidaying with his family and sitting naked under a waterfall. About his eccentric dad and his lesbian sister checking we were using contraception. How his is still the sweetest smile I’ve ever known.
After a bit of probing as to why I didn’t marry him (honey, life is a box of chocolates, and besides, he dumped me for his cousin’s best friend), my daughter drifted off to sleep.
As I watched her, I wondered what stories our children might tell about their first loves. Will there be any room for romance in their sexed-up, waxed-down, booze-fuelled, porn-driven and Facebook-recorded coming-of-age?
Truly, I’m not the prudish old bag my husband has just told me I sound like. I hope they enjoy sex. But I want them to experience something soft and tender; to lie in the crook of someone’s arm and feel loved. Trouble is, I’m not seeing it. Or hearing it.
Instead, I see girls shaved, siliconed, hooker-heeled and glammed up to within an inch of their lives. Who can forget the Melbourne teenager who posted pictures of naked footballers online, then lied that one of them made her pregnant? And I hear the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt tell how she “vajazzles” her “precious lady” with crystals.
Then there’s Katy Perry singing about being tanked, having a ménage à trois, blacking out, waking up with a stranger and – woo-hoo – the pictures ending up online.
I hear of boys’ bingeing on steroids and replicating sex seen online so they can rank their conquests on websites. While singer John Mayer says he prefers a night in with internet porn, rather than a real woman.
And I cringe at ‘bralettes’ for six-year-olds; Supre using topless models to sell to tweens; and T-shirts showing a bound and gagged woman with the message: “Relax, its just sex.”
It’s sad and corrosive and won’t do anything for sexual equality and mutual understanding, but how can you blame kids when popular culture is so stripped of romance?
When I asked my friends for their coming-of-age reference points, there was a collective sigh: “Happy Days, Grease, Philadelphia, Dirty Dancing, any movie with Molly Ringwald or Rob Lowe, mix-tapes, roses given out in restaurants, the slow dance at the disco.”
“Making love” may have gone the way of leg warmers and perms, but surely underneath the bravado and peer pressure, teens are still drawing love hearts in steamed up showers and practising kissing on the inside of their wrists.
“Oh, they still crave old-fashioned romance and connection as much as ever,” says Dannielle Miller of Enlighten Education, while Dolly magazine’s editor says her readers are as inquiring about romance as they were 20 years ago.
Perhaps they’re right. We just need Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart to do a remake of Ghost and Adele to pen the soundtrack.
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