How I Learned About Sex: Jenny Lumet
Screenwriter Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married, The Mummy) did not have exactly a typical childhood. As the daughter of acclaimed director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of the film legend Lena Horne, she grew up in the world. But despite her ties to Hollywood glamor, Lumet's sex education experience was a pretty relatable one.
At home, sex was "not a super big topic," something Lumet attributes to her mother 's being. She did not tell me that she had a vagina until about 10 years ago, "Lumet says, laughing. "She had a Down There." Though her mother did not care for her, Lumet was mostly left to fend for her, especially when it came to the confusing emotional aspects of sex. ("The biology stuff, it's not rocket science," she says me.)
As a member of Generation X, Lumet came of age right as HIV was becoming a major threat. "My last year of high school was in the public consciousness," she tells me. "My stepping into sexuality was concurrent with this understanding that it could kill you." And everywhere she looked, there seemed to be messages. Enforcing the importance of safer sex. "Every movie at that time had the condom scene. It was random condom scenes in movies. That actually did help, push the idea of 'wear a fucking condom' into the consciousness. I remember thinking sex and condoms were kind of synonymous. "
We chatted a bit about it , and why she'll always associate sex education with chickens.
What's your first memory of hearing about sex?
I remember my mom giving me this book about reproduction, you know, like eggs and sperm , stuff like that. And in the book-first of all. It was so weird. But first they told you about [how chickens reproduce], then it was dogs, and then it was people. And it was a married couple in bed. And that's really what it was. We never ever had an actual discussion, but I got a book with chickens in it.
Did you feel like you could ever ask anyone questions about sex?
You have to remember, this was 1974. And my mom did not go to the place of buying a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves for a couple of years. Even when she did buy a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, she just put it in the bookshelf and never really said anything about it.
But there was a book. And my understanding from the book was that you were married to a white guy and you were sort of smiling and somehow under the covers but arm's-width apart, but still having some kind of procreational sex. There was never any discussion of recreational sex.
Did you have any sort of in school sex ed?
We did. I think it was seventh grade. It was much more informative than the book about the chickens and with the people arm's-width apart. It was a pretty standard biology course. This was a different time. My daughter has a book about a transgender kid and she’s 9. Sexuality wasn’t discussed, biology was discussed.
When you did start having sex, did you feel prepared?
I do not think there's any way to feel prepared. I think that's bananas. In the same way that you can read every book and you can talk to anyone, and you do not know what it is until you have to deal with it every day.
This is the middle of life, I understand how incredibly valuable sexuality is. I was completely unprepared for that dawning. I was not prepared for the emotional and psychic space that it took up. I had a glimpse of the power of it, but it was like looking at a very big ocean from a distance.
As you grew up up there were any myths you suddenly believed were totally wrong?
That in the very beginning sex was fun. Because it wasn’t. It was just, “Ow, get off my hair, you’re really heavy. Can you move your leg? Am I supposed to say this is fun? How am I supposed to act?" It was mostly a lot of confusion, but I was mostly with partners that were around my same age, they didn’t know what they were doing either. I probably just had more room to think “I don’t know what I’m doing” than they did, because I’m a chick.
You're a mom now.
Just head on. It's literally had a book about chickens, and then a copy of. 73 Our Bodies, Ourselves. And my mother had no vagina. I was of the generation where it was the mother’s job to educate the girls, and I assume it was the father’s job to educate the boys, so my dad left it up to my mom.
I'm obviously a different human than my mom. I'm pretty undaunted in this kind of stuff, because I'm like them to feel some sense of preparation emotionally. no end, there is no destination, it's just this endless road, which is great. It's this endless road, and it's going to evolve, and it's going to change. If you're fortunate enough to be able to travel it, it can be so many things. "
And yes, of course, biology, yes of course practicality. But there's a biology discussion and then there's the "what it is" discussion, and what it means, and how much it needs to be taken care of and valued. And that was really easy to talk about with my daughter.
Do you think it’s different to talk to a son versus a daughter?
The stakes for her will always be different and greater than the stakes for him. If you can get knocked up, it's a different fucking situation, and that's pretty much what it is. I do not think there's any way around that. If you can get knocked up, I believe your stakes are higher emotionally.
What would you like to see? be made very clear that sexuality is something that is part of their entire lives. If they are artists, it's part of their art. If they are mathematicians, it's part of their math. If they're athletes, it's part of their athleticism. It's as integral as your sense of humor, it's as integral as your sense of ethics, it's as integral as anything else.
I would like it to be made very clear that sexuality is something that is part of their entire lives. If they are artists, it's part of their art. If they are mathematicians, it’s part of their math. If they’re athletes, it’s part of their athleticism. It’s as integral as your sense of humor, it’s as integral as your sense of ethics, it’s as integral as anything else.
I firmly believe that you are the part of you, the more politically active you may be in your life. I think that that's important. To see how it connects to all aspects of life. / If you understand the integrity of sex, that will make you think it is very hard about the politics around it.
Lux Alptraum is a writer, sex educator, comedian, and consultant. Past gigs have included serving as the editor, publisher, and CEO of Fleshbot, the web’s foremost blog about sexuality and adult entertainment; editor-at-large for Nerve; a sex educator at an adolescent pregnancy prevention program; and an HIV pretest counselor. She's on Twitter at @ luxalptraum and pens a weekly newsletter featuring all the best in sex.