Picture this: A beautiful, 16-year-old girl, a bright A-student, a good kid, my daughter. Her main extra-curricular activities are the marching and jazz bands, and now she’s been dating her first love, another band geek, for almost one year. He’s adorable, funny, and a true gentleman. What a relief that my girl is sweet on a boy I truly like, and I’m happy for her that she has someone who lets her know how special she is.
Here’s the problem: I’m afraid that it’s time for the big sex talk. Statistically, it may be past time.
My first tactic is to find a good book. (I’m aware of the irony–approaching a talk about passion via the intellect. Stay with me here.) I’d had Masters and Johnson, whose clinical tome was full of the mechanics of orgasm, but shy on any of the social or emotional aspects of sexuality. And I had Our Bodies, Ourselves, a classic for sure. But I want to provide a more current resource for my girl.
Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World is a great internet resource that is not blocked by porn blocker software. Scarleteen includes articles in teen-friendly language, like “With Pleasure: A Whole View of Sexual Anatomy for Every Body” and “Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent.” I’ve also ordered the Scarleteen book for my daughter, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College , by Heather Corinna. As the title indicates, this book is geared for older, high-school age kids. For younger kids, consider the books reviewed in the GeekMom article “Sex-Ed Books for Kids: Our Picks.”
Now, I’ve found the resources, but about that mother-daughter talk . . . So far she hasn’t brought up the topic. Unless you count her claiming that she still has her V-card and that she’s clear about not becoming a teen pregnancy statistic. But those remarks were delivered to secure permission to stay out late with her friends. They hardly count as a conversation about sexual desire. It’s up to me to initiate the big talk.
What’s the hold up? I could just get her in the car for a cross-town drive and open with a line like, “If you’re thinking about going beyond kissing and cuddling with your sweetheart… If you’re thinking about having sex …”
My sex professor friend, Dr. Debby Herbenick, sexual health educator at Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute, says that trapping a kid in the car is one of the most often-reported bad sex talk venues.
The other sex talk No-Nos Herbenick named:
- Do NOT freak out about your kid’s first time, or any other sexual information they may share with you. (This is especially hurtful, if you’ve assured your kid that he or she can ask you about or tell you anything.)
- Do NOT share personal information about your own sex life. Remember appropriate boundaries.
The No-Nos seem obvious to me. Less obvious is how can I initiate the conversation so that my daughter feels safe to ask me questions, or ask for comfort and security. Why is this so hard for me? After all, this isn’t the first sex-talk I’ve had with her.
Here are some of the sex talks I remember:
- When she was three, she asked about how girls could grow babies, and I reassured her that she already had all the eggs she would ever need in her belly. She was and is fully equipped and good to go. She felt empowered, and I’d given her accurate information without overloading her with more than she needed at the time.
- At the age of six she learned the basic mechanics of intercourse in school. When I picked her up that afternoon, her questions were brief and to the point. “Dad put his penis inside of you?” I nodded. That was easy. “And it felt good?” It took all the self-control I could muster to nod without laughing at her aghast expression. I still consider the whole conversation a successful one. This was years before her own body started changing, so the doing it image–gross as it may have seemed to her at the time–was still easy for her to detach from.
- The talk about menses and what to expect was a snap, because there is so much literature . . . from the pediatrician to the tampon box. Unlike the taboo topic of my generation, a girl’s period has truly come out of the closet.
- Not long after, she and her friends initiated a brief conversation about their bodies, which by the age of 12 were clearly changing. I was chauffeuring three pals to the movies, so I was trapped in the car when they asked about vaginal moisture. They thought it felt strange, and asked me if this new sensation was normal. I didn’t say much or get very clinical. After all, I was driving. I simply nodded, and reassured them that moistness was very healthy and that they would get used to it.
- There was the sexting sex talk her dad and I had with her and her younger brother. This was another easy one, because we, the parents, were on the same page. The concepts of privacy–in particular, keeping private parts private–and the need to guard one’s electronic trail are so obvious to us. In a particularly graceful moment their dad reassured them that they would have sex, and it would be a positive part of their lives. I added my perspective that sexual intimacy is called “intimacy” for a reason, and that the best, most loving relationships thrive on shared, private connections.
Which leads me to the present, difficult crossroads. How am I going to talk to my girl about love and lust and sexual desire? How can I explain the importance of protecting herself, physically and emotionally, without putting a voodoo hex on her sexual life. How can I tell her what I’ve learned? That shared bodily fluids are only a piece of it. There’s sacred energy involved, too. How can I even bring up the subject without putting pressure on her to cash in her V-card before she’s ready?
I really do honor my children’s privacy. My daughter is her own person, and I’m not her closest confidant, nor do I see that as my role. But I am responsible for her health and safety.
In addition to providing access to information, Dr. Herbenick suggested I take my daughter to a movie that features a sexual relationship, and use talking about the fictional story as a way to open the conversation.
A movie, of course! After all, we’d seen Juno together. (And I highly recommend this film about a smart teen who navigates her unexpected pregnancy.) But, when I checked the listings I found that late winter is the season of thrillers and super-hero movies.
Then, I found something better. Saturday I took my girl out to a matinee performance of The Vagina Monologues. It has everything. In the interactive portion of the show, we named body parts until the word vagina is no longer embarrassing to say. We heard a story about a woman, so ashamed of her sexual desire and physical response, that she’s spent a lifetime shut off from “down there.” We celebrated pleasure with a comic rendition of orgasmic moans. We cried for rape victims. We laughed at a woman railing about the indignity of a cold speculum. My daughter and I shared every emotion, along with a loving community of women and men.
And afterward, when I thought the time was ripe for our big talk, I simply told her if she was ever scared or confused or hurt that she could talk to me. (Note to self: Do NOT freak out, when and if she tells me something uncomfortable.)
Really? That’s it? The Big Sex Talk? It turns out, there really wasn’t much else to say. It turns out, the biggest part of my Big Sex Talk was how much I needed to lower my fear and open my heart.
I realized my daughter already understands everything I could tell her now. We’ve been having the conversation for years. Every time we’ve seen a television program, a movie, or a play together. Every book we’ve read and discussed. Every side comment and giggle. Every roll of the eye. Sex for procreation and sex for pleasure have always been part of the discourse between us. How could it not be?
And I also realize that I trust my daughter to know when she’s ready to “cash in her V-card.” Of course I don’t want her to grow up too fast. There will always be a part of me that remembers when she was born. She’s my baby girl. But she’s also growing into a gorgeous young woman. And her sexual life is her own. The most important thing, the big thing I want her know is that I trust her to make her own choices.