The relationship between sex and the Brits never ceases to amaze me. It is all or nothing: they don’t talk about it, and suddenly you can’t stop them. This week, I witnessed such a behaviour again, in an odd and slightly creepy way. Let me explain: at 14 (almost 15, actually) my teenage daughter is getting more independent by the day. Seeing her starting to spread her wings is a pleasure, apart from the occasional panic attacks when she arrives home later than expected. It is hard to let go, but it is part of being a mum, I suppose. A few months back, despite being in an all-girls school, she told me that she had a boyfriend. He is the same age, and from a similar school. They seem to enjoy each other’s company: they keep texting and snap chatting all the time, they meet up at the tube station, and once or twice a month they see each other with friends somewhere in London for a couple of hours.
The other day, she was with him and other classmates on the Tube. His arm was on her shoulder, and one of her teachers saw her. The following day, her form tutor asked to have a quiet word with her. She explained to my daughter that she had been seen ‘fraternising’ with a boy, and that she needed to be careful ‘because boys might want other things’.
Does she mean, like, sex? That’s what she meant, right? I still can’t believe that she said this. In fact, I find it incredibly creepy: right now, all my daughter is risking is to have her young heart broken when the relationship ends. She is still at a stage when holding hand and kissing her boyfriend makes her happy for days on end. Bless her. Why would the school get involved? Let her enjoy her life! And for the records her school is not a faith school.
In short, you might think that I am a progressive mum, but I am not worried at all. She is trustworthy; she knows what her priorities are. It might be my French side, but I don’t think that I should forbid her to see him. I also believe that what she will learn about friendships and relationships now will be useful later in life. After all, we all learn by experience, right?
Now let’s talk about sex. I am sure that she wouldn’t let a boyfriend coerce her into having sex, if it were the issue (which, once again, it is not). We would talk about it obviously, and I know for a fact that she is strong-minded. I remember her getting elbowed during a sprinting competition. She elbowed back and won. And seriously, it is her first boyfriend, let her live!
I don’t know whether the school will call me. They will probably mention something at the next parent teachers meeting, and I will have to brush it off. I am not French for nothing, after all. But again, what is it with the British and, well, sex? Why is the school so fixated on my daughter’s love life when it is rife with serious mental issues such as anorexia or self-harming? Is it because we are French? I am starting to wonder. I don’t understand why they felt that they had the right to interfere, because it didn’t happen on the school premises, and it wasn’t anything inappropriate. Some girls, apparently, are popping pills instead of having lunch, to cut their appetite. It seems to me that this is a more serious issue, and as far as I know, the form tutor didn’t have a ‘quiet word’ with them. Others are smoking outside of school without anyone batting an eyelid. In this country, getting completely smashed during a party is also completely Ok, but not having a boyfriend. Why the double standard? I don’t get it.
I thought about it and came to the conclusion that the British have a different attitude to sex. They don’t discuss it. They have tea and quiet words instead. The word ‘sex’ must not used, apart maybe during biology lessons. In all other circumstances, it will be referred to as simply ‘that thing’. Lovely, isn’t it? ‘That thing’ implies something dirty and shameful, that you hide behind huge granny pants and opaque curtains of apparent respectability. As a result, we get sexting MPs and religious zealots explaining to us how we should live our life.
We French are a bit more open. Or maybe it’s just me. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I openly discuss sex and relationships with my daughters, and we started when they were eight or nine. We have long conversations about divorce, marriage and even same-sex marriage -one of my best male friends is married to another man. Because of this, most other mums believe that I am quite progressive and possibly, as we happen to be French, a bit promiscuous. That’s the reputation we French have, and despite having lived with the same man for twenty years I have learned that I can’t fight such clichés. Well, I just happen to believe that trust and openness can do wonders. So far I am actually quite proud of having brought up responsible and well-balanced daughters. And I will help them when their heart is broken, or when they are ready to have a sexual relationship.
In the meantime, can we please let teenagers just be teenagers please?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London