Elizabeth Banks Reveals How She Plans to Have the ‘Sex Talk’ With Her Kids
You may know Elizabeth Banks best from the Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect franchises. But she’s also intent on using her public platform to raise awareness about reproductive health. In 2019 the actor, producer, and director became chair of the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Creative Council. She’s been open about her infertility and feeling judged after having her sons via surrogate. Now Banks is taking a deeper dive into the sexual and reproductive health realm with My Body, My Podcast, the show she launched in partnership with Audible this July.
In the podcast, which will have six episodes total in season one, Banks discusses her early struggles with body image, growing up in the Catholic church and being conflicted about self-pleasure, her first sexual experience, her long-standing menstrual pain, and more. Banks also has a wide range of guests—including Laverne Cox, Jameela Jamil, author Peggy Orenstein, and even her mother—join the show to share their views on sexuality, along with the shame and stigma that surround it.
Banks believes that sex education is a lifelong pursuit. As such, she’s on a quest to help people to see sex and sexuality as more than something designed merely to make babies or to accommodate other people (namely, men).
Below, SELF caught up with Banks to hear about the tiny gesture she’s been revisiting to deepen her intimacy with her husband, what it was like to grow up in a household where sex wasn’t shameful, and more.
SELF: What inspired you to start this podcast?
Elizabeth Banks: Fairly recently, my son turned 10. I was talking to some of the moms of the girls in his class about how it’s fifth grade, and the girls are going to start getting their periods. And an alarm bell went off. I thought, Oh, man; puberty is coming and I am unprepared—I would like this to go well. And then I read Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein. It really lit a fire under me as a woman, as an activist, as an advocate, as an artist, as a feminist. I thought, Wow, girls are not having a lot of fun when it comes to sex. Sex is still so exceedingly shameful and tumultuous for so many people that we have this huge Me Too problem in the world. And what is it the root of all that?
That’s what I wanted to delve into with this podcast. I tried to present it in a light, humorous way, but of course, the underpinnings of it are all pretty serious. At the end of the day, women’s sex and sexuality are still very regulated. I wanted to start to try to change the conversation about that if possible.
You’ve mentioned that you think sex education is a lifelong pursuit. Is there anything you’ve learned recently that you’ve been personally inspired by?
Putting pleasure first in life generally. We have this culture of hookups, social media, and porn that teaches women and girls that sex is for male pleasure. It’s for making babies. It’s a transaction. You’re trying to get something or stay safe. There’s a power dynamic in it. And I just thought, None of that is good. None of that represents the sex that I have in my life as a married woman with my husband. How do I convey that it can be healthy, fun, intimate, and part of your overall well-being?
How was the topic of sex addressed in your household growing up?
We got the sex talk pretty early on. And we had constant check-ins. We had the books. We had The Teenage Body Book and Our Bodies, Ourselves. I remember hand-drawn sex positions. It wasn’t like we sat around the dinner table and talked about this. But it was clear that my parents wanted us to be informed. They wanted us to have resources. I had my period very early in my life. My mom said no one told her what was going on when it happened to her. She didn’t want to have that for us. She felt that knowledge was power, and she wanted her girls to be empowered.
One of the problems we have in sex ed and health classes is we still separate the sexes. We don’t tell the boys about periods. We don’t tell girls about nocturnal emissions and boners. All we do is create shame around all of this because it’s something you’re not supposed to talk about with the other sex. That’s not doing anybody any favors. Sociologist Amy Schalet, Ph.D., who I have on the podcast, was like, ‘Of course, it’s better to make it an open conversation that anybody can ask questions about.’ You think boys don’t see their moms’ bloody tampons in the garbage?
You also open up about your body insecurities and having stressed in the past over having smaller boobs. Where are you at with those thoughts nowadays?
I’ll be honest: I’m still working through it. And that’s probably why I did this podcast, so I could talk to experts about it and not be so alone.
My best days are when I don’t think about my body at all, but that is very, very rare. Now I’m thinking about it more as health and being my best and giving myself a break versus having to be aesthetically pleasing to anybody else. I’m trying to focus less on pleasing anybody else and more on, “You should at least stretch today because you feel better when you go to bed having stretched or when you wake up having stretched. And you should drink more water today because you feel better when you drink more water.”
Many women are becoming so open and transparent about things these days, whether it’s a miscarriage or their mental health. Are there any women who are really inspiring you right now?
I think female athletes are absolutely incredible. I celebrate all of these women. They make it to the top of their field, so they’re using their bodies to the best of their bodies’ abilities. And then they use that platform to make the world better for all the rest of us. For me, it started with Billie Jean King, but now with Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Allyson Felix shining a light on motherhood and sports, that Norwegian handball team not wanting to wear bikini bottoms. These women are so inspiring to me. And by the way, their bodies work at the absolute top, top, top of any human bodies, and our society still judges and comments on those bodies.
You had an episode where you talked about kids and sex. Do you and your husband have a game plan for that talk with your own kids?
One of my favorite resources I found through the podcast is Sex Positive Families, which is run by a woman named Melissa Pintor Carnagey, LBSW. Melissa is a mom and has created this incredible resource. You can go to the website and learn about how to talk to kids about literally anything. I’ll definitely be using a lot of that. And frankly, I’ll probably show my kids The Miracle of Life. It’s still around.
You’ve been really open in the past about fertility, reproductive struggles, and feeling judged for having your sons via surrogate. How have those experiences affected your views on reproductive health?
If I get a season two, that’s definitely something that I’m planning to talk about. I want to talk about anything that carries shame and stigma, because that is the aim of the podcast as a whole: to normalize all these conversations on behalf of women who have basically been told, “Talk about this in the shadows. And by the way, sex is just about making babies, or it’s about male pleasure, or it’s a transaction to either get you something or keep you safe.” We need to take back the conversation about our bodies and what we want to do with them, how we want to talk about them, and how we want to make our babies. And it is happening, of course. It’s happening in my world. It’s happening on SELF. But is it happening at the level of sex education for young people? It isn’t. So how do we readjust so that people get healthier messaging about their bodies?
How has hosting this podcast and exploring many of these topics influenced your own sex life or sexual self-esteem?
One of my goals in going through this is to find more pleasure, not just in my sex life, but in my overall life, and more intimacy with my husband in everything. We used to hold hands, and I find that I’m like, “We can hold hands more now.” It’s going back to little tricks of reconnection. And it’s not that we were disconnected. I have a great relationship with my husband, but these were wonderful reminders. I’m not a big love-language person. But I was like, “Oh, yeah, I like holding hands. It makes me feel young and cute.” I was able to pull little things like that out of these conversations and go, “I want more pleasure in my life. That’s a goal that I’m going to set for myself.” And I didn’t have that goal before I started this process.
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