It was an autumn day in 2017 and Louis Street was walking through Soho in central London with his mum Poppy Mellor. The pair were on their way to buy a suit for the 18-year-old when Mellor decided it was the perfect time to tell her son how many straight men derive pleasure from anal stimulation during sex.
“I hated every moment of it,” Street tells me over the phone from his office in Hong Kong, where he now lives and works after moving from his family home in Surrey. “Luckily it was just the two of us in that conversation, thank god.”
For most of us having a conversation of this nature with their parents would be akin to psychological torture, and while Street didn’t enjoy it any more than most, he had come to expect it – given that his mum spent her days at work counselling strangers about their sex lives.
Netflix’s new series ‘Sex Education’ follows a teenage boy (played by Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson), who together set up an ad-hoc sex therapy clinic at school for him to dish out advice to his peers. But is this really the type of relationship you have as the child of a sex therapist?
Louis and his sister Alderney, 20, say they knew about their mum being a sex therapist from an early age, even if they didn’t fully understand what it meant. Despite one-off memories of awkward conversations the siblings agree that their upbringing wasn’t perhaps as unconventional as people might expect.
“It wasn’t like some mass orgy at home,” laughs Alderney. “People at school used to think all we must talk about over dinner was sex, sex, sex, and have condoms everywhere, but it really wasn’t like that.”
In fact there was only the one embarrassing condom incident that Alderney can recall: when her mum put a massive box of them in the bathroom cabinet, and kept on reminding her children to use them. Months later, the mother-of-three went back to check if they had been touched and found the box sealed.
“This freaked her out more because she thought people were being unsafe,” explains Louis. “But when I looked later someone had cut a hole in the bottom of the box and it was virtually empty.”
Both siblings deny the hole was their handiwork, but laugh at the memory of their mum trying to get involved in their sex lives and having it backfire so spectacularly on her.
Like many parents, Mellor tried to initiate the ‘birds and the bees’ chat, but wasn’t that successful. “Mum tried to talk to me a lot of times about sex but it fell upon deaf ears or I just wanted to run away,” says Louis. “In fact I think I actually did physically run away from the conversation a couple of times.”
Instead, Alderney and Louis took it upon themselves to educate each other – via the internet or word of mouth in the playground. “We also used to go through mum’s books she was using to study from and laugh at the pictures,” they say.
Alderney also remembers her younger sister Devon, 15, inadvertently stumbling across something a little more explicit – a sex toy – that had accidentally been left in a box of their mum’s possessions in the hallway.
I actually did physically run away from the conversation a couple of times...”
It wasn’t the first time the children had much such a discovery. Alderney says she found a dildo in her parent’s bedroom when she was five. “My parents were like – ‘excuse me, what are you doing?’ I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just knew it was funny,” she says.
Overall, they say that sex education at home was no different, or more frequent, than that of their peers. And the conversations they did have had the feeling of being “motherly”, rather than professional. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found it was their friends who made their mum’s career choice seem a much bigger deal, or more unusual, than it was.
Megan O’Connor, 25, whose mum Marian is also a sex therapist, says: “People at school would joke about it to me but I tried to just think it’s weirder that they’re making that joke.”
Louis, who went to an all-boys secondary school, says his classmates teased him incessantly about his mum’s job. “When I first told people about it they translated it to her doing pornography. I remember way too many classes with people whispering to me asking if they could find her online and stuff like that.
“After that I lied and told people she was a marriage therapist,” he adds.
Alderney had a similar experience. “People found it funny especially when we were younger, they’d say – does your mum teach people how to have sex?”
Ultimately all three children who spoke to HuffPost UK said that they found having a sex therapist as a parent more useful than embarrassing, and would willingly go to a therapist in future if they needed help with their relationship – although admittedly not their own mother.
O’Connor says: “Now I’m a lot more relaxed talking about sex than lots of people. I’m not embarrassed and more willing to talk about it.”
“I wouldn’t say I know more about sex than my peers but I definitely know more about relationships and why people’s relationships breakdown and the different reasons people go to therapy,” says Alderney.
Louis agrees: “I resented [my mum] at the time for the awkward conversations but I did learn something from it. When I was younger I never truly accepted what she did it was awkward for me, but now looking back on it, it was useful.”