Business Insider Edition

What it's really like to have a sex therapist as a mom, from dinner-table sex talks to finding her lectures on YouTube

Julia Naftulin , Business Insider US
 Jan 20, 2020, 06:08 PM
Netflix
  • Netflix's highly-anticipated second season of its British drama "Sex Education" follows high schooler Otis Milburn, the son of sex therapist Jean, as he navigates his own budding sexual exploration while doling out sex advice to his peers.
  • Insider talked to the now-28-year-old son of a sex therapist to find out what growing up with a sex therapist parent was really like.
  • He said he avoided telling friends what his mom did and felt "horrified" when finding an educational video of his mom's on YouTube.
  • Today, however, he appreciates his mom's line of work and that he grew up in a sex-positive household.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On Friday, Netflix released the highly-anticipated second season of its British drama "Sex Education."

The series follows high schooler Otis Milburn, the son of a sex therapist named Jean, as he navigates his own budding sexual exploration while doling out sex advice to his peers and dodging uncomfortable sex-related conversations with his mom.

"Sex Education" is filled with plenty of cringe-worthy scenes that hearken back to awkward high-school sex talks with parents, the shocking realisation that parents have sex lives too, and the roller coaster that is exploring pleasure for the first time as a teenager.

At the same time, the show's plot focuses in on the unique problems Otis deals with as a sex therapist's son, like when he learns in season 1 that Jean is writing a new case study about Otis's own sex life without his consent.

To better understand what it's really like to be raised by a sex therapist parent, Insider talked to Paul Connelly, a now-28-year-old doctoral candidate living in New York City whose mother counsels people about their sex lives and writes and presents educational materials on sexual health and dysfunction.

Connelly's name has been changed because he wanted to protect his and his family's privacy while discussing personal issues.

This is what it's like to grow up with a sex therapist as a parent.

Connelly was often on edge worrying if his friends would find out what his mom did for a living

Connelly, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community, said his mom started her career in sexual health counseling when he was in fifth grade, but her line of work didn't affect him personally until he got to high school.

"When I was in middle school, I was tangentially aware of what she did," Connelly told Insider. But as he graduated to high school, "my reaction was to kind of compartmentalise it and understand that this is her job, but at the same time, I didn't want my friends to find out this is what my mother does."

At the beginning of her career, Connelly's mom mainly helped people with diabetes and sexual dysfunction navigate their sex lives through counseling, so whenever a friend or parent of a friend would ask Connelly what his parents did for a living, he would say his mom worked with people who had diabetes and left the sex part out.

It also helped that most of Connelly's good friends had met his mom when they were in elementary school, before she became a sex coach, so he was able to bypass many potentially awkward introductions.

Jean Milburn, played by Gillian Anderson, is a sex therapist and Otis' mother in "Sex Education."
Netflix

But the internet made it difficult for Connelly to completely control what his friends did or didn't know about his sex-therapist mother, and he recalled always having the feeling that a friend or parent of a friend would stumble upon a sex-related video she was in or article she wrote online. 

"I remember coming across a YouTube video where she was featured and kind of being horrified. Like, what if my friends find out?" Connelly said, adding that, by some stroke of luck, his friends never found the anxiety-inducing educational video where his mom discussed sexual dysfunction.

As a teenager, "you find your parents embarrassing as a baseline, but then you have this thing that you assume none of your friends or people in your community are discussing so you kind of worry, 'Oh no, what if they find out?' because it'd be really embarrassing if they did," Connelly said.

His mom saved sex talks for Connelly's father

Many scenes in "Sex Education" depict Jean attempting to have sex- or masturbation-related heart-to-hearts with Otis, who does his best to avoid them by escaping to his room or telling Jean to change the topic.

But in Connelly's experience, sex talks with his mom related to his personal life were nonexistent and she placed the responsibility to discuss safe sex on Connelly's father, a doctor.

At the same time, Connelly said he always had the sense his household, which consisted of his parents and three older sisters, was overall more sex-positive than others in his community.

"I think there was a feeling that it was OK to discuss sex," he said. "We didn't necessarily like when we discussed that, but the vibe was always there that it was allowed," and that sex was viewed positively rather than as a taboo.

Connelly said he tended to be a witness, not an active participant, in most sex-related discussions had at home. His parents often discussed sex at the dinner table in relation to a new lecture his mom would be giving or an article she was writing, and Connelly's dad would offer feedback or launch into a discussion on the topic at hand.

If Connelly felt extra embarrassed by what his parents were talking about, he'd excuse himself to his bedroom to escape, similar to Otis in "Sex Education."

Now that he's older and more mature, Connelly said he has a new appreciation for his mom's work

Unlike Otis in "Sex Education," Connelly has grown up, graduated high school, and gained more perspective about his mom's career choice.

"As people mature and these things become less taboo, I think it just becomes less of an issue," Connelly said. "That being said, it's not necessarily the first piece of information that I'll volunteer for someone if I'm just meeting them and they ask me what my parents do."

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