True Stories: In Which My Parents Read About Me Having Sex On The Internet

The perks and perils of a very honest relationship.


by EJ Dickson

A few weeks ago, I attended a family party in Long Island. I was enjoying a latke and a bottle of Canadian beer when one of my uncles cornered me, demanding to know why I had published intimate details of my sex life on Nerve. The piece in question contained references to, among other things, me having intercourse in an elementary-school gymnasium, and wondering if I looked fat during sex with my boyfriend, and he wanted to know why my parents weren't embarrassed that I'd divulged such personal details. "I bounced you on my knees and sang 'Electric Avenue' to you when you were a baby," he said reproachfully. "How are your parents okay with you writing that?"

"How are your parents okay with you writing that?"

Of course, I knew exactly how my parents felt about the piece; after it was published, my mother posted it on her Facebook wall, where she'd once also proudly displayed a story I'd written about fisting and porn stars. And my father was the one who had sent it to my uncle in the first place, along with my grandparents, his college friends, and his colleagues, with the message, "This is something that my foul-mouthed slut of a daughter wrote" ("foul-mouthed slut" being something of a term of endearment in my family).

I didn't tell my uncle at the time, but I had faced similar questions before, from friends and fellow writers who couldn't believe how freely I divulged intimate details from my own life in my writing, or how almost comically supportive my parents were of such work. I suspect the question of how family members react to risqué content is one that many writers face on a daily basis, particularly those who use the first-person to often-uncomfortable effect.

Yet contrary to what most people would think, my writing about sex online doesn't embarrass or offend my family. I come from a family of loud-mouthed, ill-mannered, high-strung oversharers; we're like the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, except we're not Greek and we use the word "cunt" a lot more. If anything, my foul-mouthed sluttiness — or at least, my ability to write semi-coherently about it — is evidence that I'm carrying on an illustrious tradition of public inappropriateness. I don't have a problem with my parents reading about my personal life because I've been telling them way more than they needed to know for years; and even if I didn't, I know they would find out anyway.

Of course, our relationship hasn't always been like this. Like most teenagers, I spent my first years of sexual activity desperately trying to conceal the fact that I had a vagina from my parents, let alone what I was planning to do with it. I was going through what can only be described as a Giant Asshole period, which was kind of like Picasso's Blue Period, except instead of painting The Old Guitarist, I swigged vodka in class and fooled around with boys during camp bus trips to Cleveland. I spent most of my pubescence squirreling away all evidence of this phase in drawers and e-mails, text messages and shoeboxes, hoping my parents wouldn't notice that I was moving farther and farther away from them like the spectral line of a distant, angsty galaxy.

Of course, my parents did notice, and like most parents of rebellious teenagers, they had some trouble reconciling the bookish, quiet little girl they remembered with the sullen asshole stomping around their apartment, her angry little heart on her sleeve and her shoplifted thong hanging out of her pants. They reacted by embarking on a quest to unearth all evidence of my sexual activity, like archaeologists hell-bent on discovering the remains of an ancient civilization.

The final stage of their investigation was the discovery of an e-mail I'd written to my friend while I was at summer camp, detailing the loss of my virginity.

One by one, they found the condoms I'd hidden in a pencil case long before I started having sex; the 7-Up bottle filled with vodka at the bottom of the freezer; the instant message describing the Cleveland bus incident; the vibrator I'd purchased on a lark with my friends. Upon finding the latter item in a shoebox, my father spent a good ten minutes screaming at me, wagging the offending object in my face. "Get this fucking thing out of my house," he shouted over and over, as I sat on the floor, humiliated, finding only the tiniest bit of humor in the image of him brandishing a dildo like a parade-goer waving the American flag.

The final stage of their investigation was the discovery of an e-mail I'd written to my friend while I was at summer camp, detailing the loss of my virginity to my co-star during our performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. During intermission, we'd snuck off to make out against a tree on the side of a road in the Catskills; one thing had led to another, and he'd briefly entered me before we rushed back to start the second act. I'd written a graphic account of this experience to my friend, explaining that I did it because I "just wanted to get it over with." I was fifteen.

At the time, my parents had been sitting in the audience, waiting for the second act to start. They were unaware that the show was running late because their firstborn was being penetrated against a yew. By the time my mother unearthed a copy of this e-mail, however, they had learned that their little girl had evolved into a trollop who spoke brazenly about having sex in wooded areas. Understandably, they did not take this news well, and when my mother confronted me, she did not use the word "slut" as a term of endearment.

Commentarium (47 Comments)

Jan 23 12 - 1:36am
AN

I think it's sad that your father reacted the way he did to your having a vibrator. I would more likely have gone, "whoops," put it back and then been on my way. But then again, I wouldn't have been looking in the first place.

It's very possible to show that you care without violating people's privacy.

Jan 23 12 - 12:59pm
nope

I just... yeah. This whole piece made me slightly uncomfortable. I mean, it's great that she finally worked things out with her parents, and it's obviously wonderful that they don't shame her for writing (frankly, pretty mild) detailings of her sex life, but there's something unsettling about the fact that she seems to have totally bought into the line that the only way you demonstrate love is by having absolutely no boundaries or privacy. I can't help but worry that kind of thing will carry over to her life and, if she ever has kids, her parenting, and there are many studies on how damaging the helicopter parent phenomenon can be for children.

Jan 23 12 - 2:40pm
Hmm...

Agreed. My father and I talk about books, we talk about world events, we critique pop culture. We are close. But he'll say "I'm your friend. But I'm not really your friend, I'm your father." We don't smoke pot together, and we don't talk about our sex lives. I think there is real value in having different types of relationships with family members than you do with friends. If your parents raised you well, they need to trust you to make good decisions at a certain point. And they really need to keep their mouths shut about your vibrator.

"My foul mouth slut of a daughter"? I'm all for reclaiming certain words, but when you're talking about your daughter you need to be aware of how others perceive your comments - and, quite frankly, it would be all kinds of weird if my dad called me that. But that's just me.

Jan 23 12 - 7:34pm
Injest

AN, were your parents religious? Or conservative? Or both? I don't mean that as sarcasm, I'm asking sincerely. Because mine were, and even though I'm a guy, they were quite awkward and authoritarian about the issue of sex. I can imagine them having similar reactions if they found porn or condoms in my room. Nothing about that vibrator segment struck me as unusual.

nope: If there's a bell curve on levels of commonly accepted intimacy between parents and children, the author and her parents are definitely pushing toward the outer edges, but that doesn't make it unhealthy or dysfunctional. I can't imagine having this kind of relationship with my parents, nor do I know any friends who have a similar arrangement, but if they're all mature enough to handle it, there's nothing really wrong with it. And unless I'm ignoring some glaringly obvious subtext in this story, the author certainly seems to have benefited from the development.

Hm...same thing. I have the kind of relationship with my father that you do with yours, but I can't say I'd be deeply disturbed if I had a more permissive and open father. Parenthood is ever-evolving, as evidenced by the 180 the authors' parents made. I certainly can imagine the vibrator scene and I can imagine the "foul-mouthed slut" thing as well (I have girl friends whose parents are pretty casual about referencing their daughters' sexualities). It's the reversal that surprises me the most, but then again I guess that's possible too. My parents sure won't ever make that kind of attitude adjustment, but that's just them. Plenty of parents out there have to deal with their child's emerging sexuality and some handle it much more gracefully than others. You might not agree with their methods, but the author's parents seem a lot more comfortable with their daughter now, and the author herself seems a lot more confident and less ashamed now that this shift has occurred, so I have a hard time being bothered by it. You're entitled to your opinion, of course, I just respectfully disagree that this situation is unnecessarily transgressive.

Jan 23 12 - 8:00pm
nope

@Injest: I understand and appreciate the points you're making about how there is a spectrum of parenthood, and while this situation is a bit odd that doesn't make it wrong. And to be clear, the part that makes me uncomfortable isn't even specifically about the sexual nature of the sharing, but rather the sentiment of lines like: "I had friends with parents who didn't root through their drawers or read their diaries, but they also had no idea if their kids were trading blowies for crack on the G train, or if they'd even been kissed yet," which seem to imply that boundaries between parents and children are inherently damaging to the children, indicate that parents don't truly love or care about the children, and pretty much prevent any measure of communication. The idea that there could be a happy medium of respecting the privacy of a child while still having a certain level of involvement in their life seems to be non-existent. That idea -- the idea that love and affection require complete honesty and the absence of any boundaries -- is what made me uncomfortable. I think I would feel the same way if she was talking about academics or friends or religion or whatever -- she just happened to be talking about sex.

Jan 23 12 - 9:23pm
AN

@injest. My parents were not particularly conservative or religious.

I've long felt that if I have a daughter someday, I would actively refrain from being the typical "shotgun at the ready" kind of father. Some can play the role well, but I already know I'm not one of them. I would no doubt do anything for a daughter (or a son), but one of those things would be to sit down and have a probably awkward but still important conversation where I say something to the effect of, "I know you're starting to think about having a relationship and maybe being sexually active, and that's okay. Just be safe and know that I care about you no matter what." Research shows that daughters who have good relationships with their fathers tend to become sexually active later than those women who did not have as good a relationship with their father.

I think it's so important to be respectful while still showing that you care. If you treat your child like an adult, I think a majority of the time they'll appreciate it and pay you back by being responsible. Not all the time, I'm sure, and errors happen as a matter of course in youth. I'm just not on board with thinking that your daughter is some kind of angel who will never have a sexual thought, let alone a sexual relationship. Young girls grow up to become women, and the more faith people had in them when they were younger, the more faith they're likely to have in themselves when they're adults.

Jan 24 12 - 9:07am
Injest

Hah well it looks like nobody disagrees on anything then. Hell AN, I think you might even me, because your thoughts on the issue are practically identical to mine. Thanks for your time, all.

Jan 25 12 - 2:41pm
Hmm...

@Injest, I understand what you're saying. I totally agree that it's not for me to judge happy familial relationships in which nobody is hurt. If the author says she gains strength from these relationships, then she gains strength from them, and that's great. I think I was just bothered by how many people in the comments (especially lower down) think "closeness" is synonymous with "share intimate sexual details with one another", or that "progressive" and "open" parents discuss details of their sex lives with their kids, while the other type of parent holds a "shotgun" when a guy comes to pick up their daughter for a date. My father doesn't fit into either of these categories, and I'm grateful for that. I don't think there is anything puritanical about keeping "sex" and "blood relations" far apart. Of course I'm not suggesting the author is engaging in some form of incest. I'm just saying her point of view is unusual. But to be clear, I do respect it.

The cross-cultural taboo on incest (though of course I'm not suggesting that discussing sex is comparable to incest) suggests that thinking "ick" when "blood relations" and "sex" come within a certain proximity to one another is not so strange.

Jan 25 12 - 2:45pm
Hmm...

Oopps. My second paragraph was an earlier response I meant to write to someone below. It kind of deflates my "I'm not being judgmental" comment. Perhaps I should say off message boards until I learn to use a computer!

Jan 26 12 - 12:58am
...

why as a society, we think that if a parent(s) and a child are close, then it's weird? I'm 22 years old, and have close relationships with both of my parents. My mom is my best friend. More power to people who can have healthy relationships with their parents.

Jan 23 12 - 8:57am
Doofus

"detailing the loss of my virginity to my co-star during our performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream"

These avante-garde performances of Shakespeare are really getting out of hand.

Jan 23 12 - 10:14am
NN

What is strange is that the author never discusses what compels her to share her private life with strangers and family alike. And why not a pseudonym?

There is something vaguely unseemly about the whole thing, I imagine some of your partners are left wondering if they are real to you or if they merely make a convincing stage partner for your next act.

Jan 23 12 - 10:43am
Beth

If you're going to judge writers negatively for sharing their private lives here on Nerve, then why are you a consumer of their stories?

Jan 23 12 - 1:41pm
NN

I object to being thought of as a consumer. You act like the only reason to read a story is entertainment - how shallow. Some of us are interested in critiquing, questioning or, yes, even judging.

In any case the old canard of if you don't like it dont read it only applies to those who read for entertainment. I object to the ideas in play and find them somewhat repugnant. As such I want to see them exposed for what they are, not merely placed outside my field of view in an act of self-censorship.

Finally, if you are going to judge comments negatively for sharing their views, why are you a consumer of these comments?

Jan 23 12 - 7:43pm
Injest

I'm not sure what exactly about this you find unseemly, NN. Writers very often use events from their own lives in their writing, fictionalized or directly autobiographical. One of the first things aspiring writers learn is "write what you know," and if that means your sex life, then fire away. Hell, this piece even gets a bit metafictional with the author writing about writing about her sex life. That's pretty damn sophisticated, if I do say so myself. And far from just tawdry overly-divulgent softcore porn, if that's what's bothering you. I could be all reactionary and say you're bothered by the idea of a woman publicly and shamelessly discussing her sexuality, but that seems a little too primitive of a judgment for you to make. Penny for your thoughts?

Jan 24 12 - 2:05am
NN

She is reveling in her own inappropriateness. It isn't even incidental to another goal. It is the main point at every turn. What else does unseemly mean except this -taking pride in one's own transgressions for their own sake.

Jan 24 12 - 10:08am
Rutherford B. Hayes

Maybe, but I think you could argue EJ's piece is advocating for a less polarized idea of transgressive vs. appropriate.

Jan 24 12 - 10:26am
NN

I don't know ho9w you can see advocacy here at all. She doesn't suggest it would make my or your life better to be more divulgent. The idiosyncrasies of her family are the only compass points in the whole article. Advocacy means relating the idea to someone else's experience and ideally it should speak in a universal way. This is just a tawdry kiss and tell.

Jan 24 12 - 11:07am
sheila

if you're not into tawdry kiss and tells, what the hell are you doing reading the love and sex section on nerve?

Jan 24 12 - 11:24am
NN

Sheila - see above. Isn't there a disconnect in equating love and kiss and tell in your question?

Jan 24 12 - 4:39pm
Rutherford B. Hayes

A tawdry kiss and tell, NN? I'd call it a personal essay, one that happens to involve female sexuality. Your willingness to reduce Dickson's essay to tabloid status isn't quite slut shaming; but it's exactly this moralistic tone that I think EJ is arguing against, albeit indirectly.

Jan 24 12 - 5:58pm
JH

I think NN should marry me.

Jan 24 12 - 10:55pm
NN

Look expressions of sexuality are fine and important but their value is hardly sufficient to overcome any ethical objection. I asked if it wasn't possible that her partners feel exploited and if her mode of expression didn't have to come at the expense of her family's pride and you accuse me of be moralistic? That is insane. I use the term 'tawdry kiss and tell' to describe a woman who describes herself as a ""foul-mouthed slut"" and some how I am the one who has crossed the line? Pull your head out of your ass and embrace and ethics that places value on something other than one's genitals.

Jan 23 12 - 10:21am
JCF

Or you could just lie to your uncle and say of course you're still a virgin, and you just made all that stuff up because Internet writers get paid big $$$ for sexy stories, and it's not like anyone who doesn't read your parents' Facebook knows who "EJ" is, anyway.

Jan 23 12 - 11:14am
craig

hahahhahahah, internet writers getting "big money"

Jan 23 12 - 12:57pm
Dogbotherer

Whilst I must admit this story is incredibly entertaining and well written, I must confess that I feel a slight sadness for the author. The very thought of approaching every situation with a view to potentially writing something outrageous about it in order to shock and entertain, hardly seems a way to live a fulfilling human life. Now I'm sure she doesn't write about EVERYTHING (well, at least I hope she doesn't) but I must confess that I would think very hard about forming a close emotional bond with such a person. Having one's personal life up for inspection (even by one's own choice) seems a rather unhappy existence. I think she'll likely reach a juncture in her life when she decides that enough is enough. I imagine this will be at some stage in her late 30s. I'm sorry if this seems like a negative rant (lord knows the blogosphere is overloaded with these). In response to the commenter referring to us as 'consumers' of candid anecdotal literature, why yes of course we are, however I must confess I prefer a contributor who is a little more relatable. This contributor writes exceptionally well, as I have mentioned, but one can't help feeling that its all a little superficial and forced.

Jan 23 12 - 1:00pm
Dogbotherer

Holy shit I said 'I must confess' 3 times, i should have read before posting. I apologise for the appalling stylistic faux pas. Hope this doesn't detract from the value of my opinion.

Jan 23 12 - 4:57pm
Litsa

EJ, I think you're an incredibly talented writer and I look forward to your upcoming work. I've written for Nerve several times and I, too, am close w/ my family. (My mom shares my work on her FB page. My dad--god love him--is proud of all my writing but we agree that he should skip any pieces on sex and focus on, say, my interview w/ the Black Keys.) So, I relate to much of what you reveal here.

A bit of unsolicited advice from one who is slightly older than you: you can remain a truthful writer while not actively mining current relationships for material. (I'm not using "material" in a pejorative sense. I think you know what I mean.) All of my Nerve essays have been about past scenarios, i.e. no one I'm interacting with now feels as if they're under undue scrutiny. (What some commenters might not understand is that everyone in a writer's life understands what we do. And that good writers "take" permission in an ethical way. But we can't worry about whether our uncles, to use EJ's example, will approve or no one could write anything, ever.)

Anyway, best of luck w/ all future endeavors! Cheers, EJ!
Litsa

Jan 23 12 - 8:49pm
E

It's writing like this that makes me love Nerve so much!

Jan 24 12 - 2:14am
Mikhail

I absolutely love the title of this piece, particularly its amusingly dissonant likeness to Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh" stories. I can't be the only one who picked up on that?

Jan 24 12 - 5:59am
Greg

I would like to know if each of her "conquests" knows that he is fodder for public consumption? I might be a little appalled if my encounter with this seemingly lovely lady were something I came across (pun intended) whilst drinking my morning coffee and riding the train to work.

Jan 24 12 - 7:38am
Kokonoe Rin

Thank goodness I didn't have online sex.

Jan 24 12 - 7:42am
Yakuza

How can they have sex on internet? I can't get it.

Jan 24 12 - 10:02am
Pam

Honest and humorous piece. This is why I look forward to writer's posts.

Jan 24 12 - 11:44am
nancy

great piece. for all the naysayers above, you all sound puritanical. ej is who she is, her parents are proud of her, they appreciate her, and she's a talented writer. no one has the authority to judge this close relationship she has with her parents. she described how it had evolved and is now in a good and loving place. isn't that the important thing? why should we hide ourselves from the people who love us and accept us for who we are? she's lucky to have this closeness in her life.

Jan 25 12 - 2:22pm
Hmm

Uh, by using the word "puritanical", I think you're kind of missing the point. Nobody is suggesting that sex is bad or wrong or that the author of this piece shouldn't engage in orgies on a nightly basis if that's what she wants. We are just posting our knee jerk reactions to the idea of having our fathers call us "sluts" and know all about our sexual experiences (which is to say - ick). "Closeness" is not synonymous with "share intimate sexual details with one another". People have different types of relationships with different people in their lives. The cross-cultural taboo on incest (though of course I'm not suggesting that discussing sex is comparable to incest) suggests that thinking "ick" when "blood relations" and "sex" come within a certain proximity to one another is not so strange.

Having said all that, if the relationships are happy ones, and nobody is hurt, then who am I to judge? I just don't think "puritanical" is the right word.

Jan 24 12 - 3:34pm
Sam

Why is it so strange to have a super close relationship with your parents? My parents are my best friends. They know everything about me, and my sex life. The lack of conversational boundries has also helped me relate to my parents more, and I grew up knowing that, sometimes, it's okay to fuck up. Since we can talk about anything together as a family, we're all very close and respect each other more for who we are.

Jan 24 12 - 10:49pm
Mike12345

Obviously she's not from Long Island or she would have said the party was ON Long Island, not in Long Island.

Jan 24 12 - 11:07pm
Sami

From someone who knows you quite well...I know that you have a sister. I think it is really awkward that you write articles that- while they are, understandably, in first person- detail your family life as if there was just one child in the family. NOT TRUE!

Jan 25 12 - 4:06pm
Agreed

Agreed. You might also find occasion to mention your best friends, who have been with you through thick and thin and just want to get their names dropped on a fancy website.

Jan 25 12 - 6:17pm
musclehead

Maybe you should've kept some of the sex stuff on the QT. Just sayin'.

Jan 26 12 - 10:26am
Gia

Then what would this be about?

Jan 26 12 - 5:40pm
GTO

"conceal the fact that I had a vagina from my parents"

Funny, I got a penis from mine.

Jan 27 12 - 6:19am
bookmole

I knew when my daughter (age 25) had a Friend with Benefits, I knew when she got an implant to control her fertility, I knew when she got drunk and slept with someone who couldn't handle being a Friend with Benefits. I did not pry for this information, I just made sure that I never judged her for telling me stuff. Same with my three sons (though only one of them is forthcoming about sex!)

Every family is different - I treasure mine. And it sounds like EJ's family treasure her. Who is to judge?

Jan 29 12 - 3:54pm
crawlkill

I never got the whole "can't cope with the idea of my parents/children fucking" thing. I mean, I hate my parents, but not so much that I wish a life of notgettinglaid on them.

Feb 05 12 - 11:41pm
Charlie

I explained to my daughter some years ago (she is 22) that I did not consider it healthy for a father to be interested in his daughter's sex life, so she could spare me the details. She tells her mother about that.

May 23 12 - 6:18pm
bengia erat

i've never been like that by my parents but it will be worse for teenage want to have sex