Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

image by stockarch – 
 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
  • I’m with you on this 100%, Muriel. I recall having girlfriends at an early age- and my school CLEARLY frowned upon it. Except their voices clearly were loudly passing through their pursed lips…(By the way, my first experience was with my wife, so I don’t think their chiding had much to do with my choices.)
    My girls had boyfriends, my sons had girlfriends and they all seem to be just fine, too.

    • What is it with schools and relationships? I wonder whether they have realised that this is the 21st century…

  • I’m horrified at what that stupid teacher did. As you say, they were not on school premises or doing anything they shouldn’t. As a parent, I’d complain to the school. It was none of her bloody business! But the Brits are nosy by nature and have to have their say. In comparison, Americans talk about sex all the time, while the Brits may come across as cold and uptight.

    • It felt a bit like travelling back in time. I felt I was living in the Victorian times…

  • My daughter is 15 and we have 2 others following quickly behind. I have to say we have very open discussions about sex in our house and the girls are very aware that they can come and speak to us about anything! I can’t quite believe that a teacher would say such a thing to her! I see pics of eldest and her friends (mostly boys) with their arms around shoulders and I know for a fact that these boys do not want ‘anything’ from her or her friends!

    • I just think some schools simply live in a different world. I wonder whether it is a London thing. I don’t think that it could have happened in France.

  • I can’t believe a teacher got involved in something that didn’t even happen in the school premises… And, you’re right, they weren’t even doing anything wrong in the first place! Are the British so closed-minded about sex? I didn’t think so, and I’m a bit shocked to be honest…

    • What until you find out how the Irish are…I suspect it will be pretty similar…Keep us posted!

  • Sounds very interfering to me although maybe the intentions were good. It’s essential to be able to trust your kids though. How can they grow up into responsible adults if they are the subject of constant surveillance? You sound like you have it just right. Hope I do too!

    • Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? I was thinking about you, and I suppose that having boys must probably be even more stressful. Good luck!

  • I agree with Sarah; it was probably said with the best intentions, albeit totally misplaced. I was brought up with strict rules of no boyfriends and no discussions about “that thing”, but I think it varies from one family to another, even in France. I’ve never had any taboos with my children, and didn’t stick my oar in when Bigfoot fell in love for the first time at the age of 14… they are still together four years later. Teenagers have to live experiences and make mistakes to grow up, and they will do so with or without our permission.

    • That’s true. I like the fact that they are still together four years later. And we all have to learn from experience, right?

  • I’m with you, Mom. Lucky daughter!

  • Youre a super mom girl!!

    • Thank you! I am trying hard. This ‘thing’ is making me feel old. Really old.

  • I was a 14-year-old boy in America once, and I knew what I was always after. The girls I hung around with were just smart enough to keep me frustrated 🙂

    Americans can be quite prudish also, especially in conservative “Bible Belt” towns. Our current dragon to slay in my opinion is “Abstinence-Only Sex Education,” which is very much in line with what your daughter’s teacher must feel. Too bad.

    • What is it with people being OK with violence in movies, but such prudes as far as relationships are concerned. I don’t get this.

  • Wow, amazing. These teachers (and I’m sure other Brits) have way too much time on their hands. I admire your attitude about this, Muriel. I really do. I’m sure you do worry about your daughter, but more importantly, I admire the trust you share. I’m sure you have raised her well and as you said, she will be very smart about relationships and such….’those things’ included. Hahaha! 😉

    • Let’s talk in a few years, Joy…Right. am feeling really old Joy!

  • Hi Muriel, having grown up in a home environment where sex was never discussed and boyfriends were not allowed until I was at university, I think you have done what is healthy and normal. Sex is a part of life, it’s totally natural and nothing to be ashamed of. I feel it is more important that your children know they can come and talk to you about it and learn through experience – rather than be completely ignorant or coerced into a situation with a girl or boy and end up in a pickle.