"It feels like drowning," she told me.
"Really?" I said. "So it's frightening, then."
"No, not frightening. It's overwhelming. Like drowning, but in a good way."
Two hours and a few beers before this conversation, we'd been acquaintances, but now my fast friend was trying to explain what sex is like for a woman. Then she asked me to give her tips on giving a guy oral sex. She had a particular guy in mind - her boyfriend.
I balked, but she reassured me: "Who else am I supposed to find out from - a stranger on the street?"
It was the second time in a month the question of whom it's appropriate to talk about sex with had come up for me, the first brought on by the reaction to an excerpt of my recently published memoir. I had had an anxiety-producing experience during my first sexual encounter as a teenager and talked about it with my mother. She's a psychologist, so her response was predictably therapeutic. But, at its essence, it is an anecdote about a son talking with his mother about sex. The common response was that an adolescent talking to his or her opposite-sex parent was "creepy." Other than a general "ew," though, I never heard any specific reasons.
"Couldn't you talk to another guy?" a radio talk-show host asked me the next week.
My response: "Are you kidding me?"
First of all, a guy would never share any vulnerability or mishap in the sexual arena with another guy. But also, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that guys, at least on a practical level, have a generally bland and useless way of talking about sex with each other.
From other guys, you typically don't get the horror stories and you also don't get the "I did so-and-so and she loved it" tips, either. It's mostly: "You know so-and-so? We had sex."
One hetero guy did tell me, however, that he has one guy friend he can talk to - a gay one. "Whenever something particularly freaky occurs in my sex life," he said, "I tell him about it and then he politely pats me on the head and replies with a much freakier story from his much more exciting sex life."
I feel lucky to have one straight male friend who'll share the nitty-gritty with me - a guy whom I like to refer to as the Walking Wikipedia of Sexual Variety. He has slept with almost a hundred women, so when I need raw data or to compare notes, chances are he has been there and done that. He'll talk about it even if he doesn't come out looking so great. But this feels rare and pretty special every time - like opening a treasure chest, or like when I discovered my father's copy of The Sensuous Man when I was 15.
So after I had blown off the idea of talking to a guy - my father unfortunately wasn't an option as we weren't speaking very personally at the time - the talk-show host asked me: "What about a female friend?"
In high school, I don't know that I would have felt this was an option, but now, as I mentioned at the top, I do this sometimes. Asking around, I found out that I'm not the only one.
"There are things a person might not want to risk broaching with their lover in the early days," one female friend said. "And if the friend is a guy, you can ask, 'Honestly, would you find it weird if a girl did … fill in the blank?' "
Of course, the fact is, no matter what the friend says, the lover might still find it weird. But if that happens, at least the person doesn't have to feel alone and strange and can realize that it's just an incompatibility.
When I asked some friends about their "ew" response to the idea of talking to their parents about sex as a teen, I figured I would be confronted with examples of a mass confusion in North America about the difference between talking about sex and actually having sex. Their stories, however, revealed a truth more subtle than that, and more sad.
One female friend's experience was typical: At 13, she wrote - but never intended to send - a dirty letter to boy she had a crush on. It was discovered by her mother, who showed her father. "All I remember is my dad in utter despair, literally on the verge of tears, and my mom saying, 'We're just afraid you'll grow up to be one of those women.' "
Clearly, transitioning to adulthood means exploring your sexuality independent of your parents. But it also seems to me that parents need to figure out a better response to the first appearance of sexuality other than striking it down, which only serves to create an adult who has a hard time talking about sex - with anybody. That kind of shame can be overwhelming. And not in a good way.
Micah Toub is the author of Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks.Report Typo/Error