The Biggest Myth Parents Believe About Having Sex
words: Anthonia Akitunde
We spoke to sex expert Twanna Hines about why adults need sex education too.
Grown ups: We need to have “the talk.” It’s time we got real and talk about what it means to have sex—specifically how much more complex it becomes as we get older and add complicating factors such as demanding careers, children, and flagging libidos to the mix.
“Sex has such a bad rap in this country,” says sex educator Twanna Hines. "This has led to a generation of parents and childfree adults who don't really have any clue how to keep the fires burning in the bedroom year after year after year."
On October 6 we’re partnering with WNYC parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time for a live event that will hopefully help change that. Experts Hines and Dr. Hilda Hutcherson will answer real people’s biggest questions about sex and parenting. Consider it adult sex ed. (We hope to see you there! You can still buy your tickets here.)
We chatted with Hines to learn more about why sex and sexuality is so fraught with confusion, and why adults and parents need to be seen and treated as sexual beings.
How did you get interested in sex education?
I grew up in rural Illinois with abstinence-only education programs, which didn't offer any comprehensive education about human sexuality or about how our bodies work. As a direct result, I really didn't know anything about the reproductive system—or how to have healthy relationships that explored and communicated boundaries—as a kid. No one was talking to me about sex.
As an adult, I really became committed to helping us, as a society, do much better. That's been my career and that's why I started FUNKY BROWN CHICK®. Whether I was speaking to Harvard students, writing my sex column, or teaching about gender, for me it has always come back to promoting judgment-free, inclusive sex education.
When I worked for Planned Parenthood, I managed sex education programs for adults and teens, reaching thousands. You know, a lot of sex ed programming teaches children [about sex] and it teaches parents how to talk to their children about sex. But, parents are sexual beings, too! What's often missing is the adult conversation that teaches them how to maintain happy, healthy, sex lives. Even when they've been awake since 3:00 a.m. Even when they're worried what the kids will think or hear. Even when it feels like they don't have any time or desire left. So, throughout my career, I've made a concerted effort to reach parents and other adults. It's one of the reason's I'm really excited about this program.
I'm an educator, through and through. Before I worked at Planned Parenthood, when I lived in Chicago, I managed really great lifelong learning programs for adults at the University of Chicago. Before that, I worked and taught at Florida State University. Even earlier than that, when I was completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology, I researched and wrote papers [on] understanding and improving interpersonal relationships. I truly believe this is my calling.
What do you think has been lacking in sex education, and how has that affected the way women think about and talk about sex?
In particular, two things are lacking: access to adult sex ed [and] high-quality sex education programs for adults. Let's break those down.
First, let's talk about access. The reason sex columns exist is because adults don't really have anywhere else to turn when they have serious questions about fixing their sex lives. Maybe they'll ask friends or Google for advice, but that's kind of it. So, yeah, there is a severe lack of sex education that specifically targets adults. At The Greene Space, I'll share a few resources.
That aside, we need more high-quality sex education. I did a one-woman show in our nation's capital last summer, and I taught adults medically-accurate sex ed. It sold out. The Washington Post and others wrote super favorable reviews, and I'm very grateful for that. I was really proud of the show because it meant hundreds of people craved—and were willing to pay for—good sex ed. It's not just about getting it right for kids. We need quality education throughout our lives.
What is one of the top questions you get from moms about their sex lives?
I think a lot of it ties back to motivation. And not in that, "How do I get off my ass and do it?” kind of way, but in that really deep "How do I find the strength to carry on?" kind of way, [because you're] sleep deprived [or] bored with your partner. Plus, as most of us already know very well, life is just hard. Carving out space for sex can feel like a challenge.
What do you think surprises people the most when it comes to sex after becoming a parent?
That they have sex so infrequently. I think people often believe their sex life won't change as they grow older or experience significant life changes. There's this expectation that your level of attraction and desire for your partner won't change. We know these things are simply not true. So, the question is: What do you do about it? That's exactly what I'm addressing at the event on October 6.
Why do you think it's hard for women to talk about sex and parenthood?
Because the U.S, has this notion that sex itself is inherently vulgar, bad, or slutty. And that parents are good and righteous. You're either a slutty little whore or you're a perfectly saintly parent. All of that is reflected in our culture, on TV, in our policies and laws, and elsewhere.
Why is it important for mothers to talk about sex and sexuality?
Because sex is good and healthy and because mothers are sexual beings, too.
One of the reasons that mater mea and the Longest Shortest Time decided to partner together to have this event is because we believe in the importance of diversity and inclusivity when discussing maternal health and sexuality. What additional challenges do you feel parents of color face in these areas?
We live interconnected lives—it's not really possible to fully separate our existence as parents, as women, as people of color, and all of the other spaces we occupy in our lives. So, when you talk about black mothers, there are very particular barriers and stereotypes attached to that, regardless what any individual black—or Asian-American, Latina, or any other [race]—mother may think, hope, dream, and believe. That's why I love it that mater mea partnered with the Longest Shortest Time. This is exactly the kind of conversation we need to have at exactly the time we need to have them.
What do you hope people will get out of our event?
Practical, actionable skills and tips that will improve—or ignite—their sex lives. I am most interested in equipping the audiences with resources that will enhance their abilities to get it on in ways that actually make them feel really good ... not just exhausted, drained, or like they just finished a chore.