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What My Sexual Health Nurse Mother Taught Me About Sex

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
When did you first tell your mum that you were sexually active? Maybe you never mentioned it and it became something you just kind of assumed she knew would happen eventually, like growing taller?

I only ask because growing up I always thought talking to my mum about sex was normal. In fact, not only did I tell my mum when I first had sex, but I told her I was going to have sex before I even let on to my boyfriend that I was ready.

I sat down on the sofa after dinner and turned Eastenders off. I was 16, I was ready to have sex, and I needed a condom. When I told my friends about this encounter they were slightly horrified. My closest friend at the time hadn’t even told her mum that she had a boyfriend. But this was life growing up the daughter of a sexual health nurse.
My mum became a sexual health nurse in 1990, a year before the stork brought me along (just kidding, due to her frank nature, my mother has always been upfront about my arrival: eight and a half pounds, out of her vagina, with no stitches, which my dad explicitly told her not to brag about). By the time I was born, my older sisters were 15 and 12 and so, 16 years later, during aforementioned sofa talk, she was very well equipped to begin her guidance of my sex life. The very next day she came home from work armed with protection. After that, I didn’t tell her when and where it happened, it just, you know, happened. And the condoms magically replenished.

So, yes, sometimes she’d come home from work armed with Durex, but sometimes she’d come home and talk about discharge that looked like custard (still can’t eat custard) and how super-gonorrhoea is on the rise. I suppose this information was helpful; I was very aware of the importance of safe sex but it also made me grow anxious of the consequences of “unsafe sex”.

When my same casual boyfriend turned into a long-term relationship (who I stayed with for the most part, until I was 21) I decided that I should think about other contraception, because we were in a loving, committed relationship. After another long sofa chat with mum, I opted for the Pill. She even told me the exact Pill that I should ask for and why.

But then she impressed on me the idea that I should still use a condom to stay safe from all of those nasty STDs and super-gonorrhoea. Wait, what? I argued that there was no need because we were in a proper relationship and we would never cheat on each other and if the heart-eyed emoji existed seven years ago I’m sure they would have replaced my pupils at that very moment.

But you can’t ever trust someone else with your own health. According to The Guardian, the 3% fall in new STI diagnoses between 2014 and 2015 “was mainly due to less testing.” So it’s not that we’re getting safer, it’s that we aren’t bothering to get checked.

That you can do everything right in a relationship but still end up with an STI is very real and is something that my mum has drilled into my brain. Anyone can have a slip, right? I've had enough talks with friends to realise that infidelity is a very real thing. One that can potentially pose a risk to your health.

So I suppose my mum had every right to scare the living daylights out of me. Chlamydia is still high among under-25s with over 200,000 cases recorded by Public Health England in 2015 alone. Gonorrhoea, the regular and super kind, is on the rise, with over 41,000 new cases logged last year.
With these facts, can you blame her for looking out for me? Sometimes she takes it too far. Like when my ex-boyfriend went on a lads holiday to Ayia Napa, and she tried to give him condoms before he went because in her words: "If he was going to do something stupid, she’d rather he’d be safe".

My mum and ‘My Mum the Sexual Health Nurse’ are the same person. The way that she cares about me is the way she cares about the wellbeing of every patient that walks into her clinic. She’s a fountain of knowledge for me and my friends alike. Heck, she knows things about my friends’ sex lives that I don’t even know and don’t ever want to know. She wants us all to be safer when it comes to sex and make smarter, more informed decisions. She might embarrass me at times, but, like most mothers, it simply comes from a place of love.