My mom didn’t talk to me about sex that much growing up. In fact, I think she spelled it out in hushed tones until I was 18, and then we barely acknowledged it again until my thirties.
When it did come up when I had a more serious boyfriend, she would say things like, “You know, once you have (whispering) s-e-x, you can’t take it back.” Or, “If you get pregnant, regardless of your decision, it will change your life forever.”
I grew up with an amazing mom, but a lot of women in her generation did not know how to openly discuss sex. And it IS hard. I don’t think there is a young person out there who wants to imagine their parents “doing it” or a mom or dad who wants to bring it up at the dinner table.
But here’s the thing: I had no idea what a healthy sexual relationship was supposed to look like. I didn’t know the rules, or even if there were any. Besides the threatening encouragement to wait until I was married or not be stupid and get pregnant, I didn’t get it.
Most parents in my mom’s generation felt like any talk about sex would actually encourage their kids to have it. There was no mention about the way sex should feel or how to know when you may be ready or even that sex can be fun.
Instead, the messages I received from the outside world told me that sex was sinful, that the onus was on me not to lead a guy on, and girls who had sex with boys were not the marrying kind.
Sex and intimacy were something I feared. It became something I wanted to control and something that was incredibly difficult to discuss. There were times alcohol became liquid courage in order to reduce my inhibitions and there were times I probably went farther than I wanted to simply because I was embarrassed to say anything to my partner.
And now here I sit, raising three teenagers in what’s known as the “hook-up generation”—and I’m terrified that my daughters may feel as confused, scared, and ashamed as I did when talking about sex.
I recently read an article about the Dutch, who start sexual education as early as kindergarten. Boys and girls are taught about menstrual cycles and wet dreams and all the other awkward conversations at an extremely early age. And guess what? They have among the lowest incidences of teenage pregnancy and STDs in the world—and the average age of the first sexual encounter is much older than in the United States.
We need to demystify sex and encourage our kids to have important conversations BEFORE their first encounters instead of trying to teach them to learn from their mistakes.
So, recently, when the timing is right, I’ve been trying to open the dialogue about sex.
I want my daughters to know that sex and intimacy can be the best part of a relationship. It can be fun and satisfying and pleasurable and healthy when both people are on the same page with what they are doing.
I want them to know that if you are embarrassed to talk about sex with someone, you probably shouldn’t be having it. There should be clear discussions on what aspects of sex you are willing to participate in at any given time, what precautions you need to be taking, and that at any time, ANY TIME, in the process, either one of you can change your mind.
While I want my daughters to be the type of girls to stand up for themselves, I also remember getting myself into some precarious situations in high school and college. When your child is in the throes and worried that backing out can make someone volatile or vengeful, it’s OK to have some excuses at the ready. “I just got my period” or “I just remembered that I have to drive my friend home” may help to defuse a tough situation.
I want them to know that while sex can be amazing, it should never be a decision they take lightly. While it can deepen the connection of a relationship, there are times that sex can also change the trajectory of a relationship in a negative way. This is why it’s important to know why you want to have sex, and understand what your needs are in the process—and be comfortable enough to discuss them.
I want them to know that regardless of what they are wearing, regardless if they went into someone’s room, regardless if they have been drinking, regardless what their friends have done sexually or what they think they should be doing, sex is something that is deeply personal. There are no milestones you need to meet or conquests you need to achieve.
And I want them to know, I really want them to know, that shame shouldn’t be a part of a sexual relationship. If something you have done or someone makes you feel ashamed, it’s time to make a change and think about what’s best for YOU. Shame comes into play when one person forces the other to go farther using guilt or fear tactics, such as saying, “If you really loved me, you would do it,” or, “I have needs, and if you can’t fulfill them, I need to find someone who can.” Sex should make you feel good—about yourself and about your relationship. If someone mocks you, shares intimate details, or breaks your trust, it’s time to rethink your relationship.
One last thing: when in doubt, waiting until the next day can change your entire perspective.
And while I know talking to your mom about sex can be excruciating for all involved, I hope my girls always remember that I love them, that I am their safe place, and that I always believe they deserve the best.