Sex Positivity, Teenagers, And The Talk

Will someone please tell me where the rulebook is for raising teenagers? A wiki? Something?

I want very much to do right by my daughters. Sometimes, though, that means really awkward conversations about developing bodies. (Remember that stupid film that most schools split up the boys and the girls for? Yeah, I don’t believe in that. Part of sex education, in my opinion, should be learning what’s going on on BOTH sides of the fence.) It also means talks about sex – not only the scientific part of it, but the more… spiritual side of it, if you will.

It’s ridiculously scary for me as a mom, thinking about this talk, especially now that one daughter has hit menarche. It was kind of shocking to hear, even though we had a really thorough talk just a few weeks ago that may have been the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had. The thing is… I can’t pretend that she’s a little girl anymore, you know? I have never wanted to play Mother Gothel and shut them up in a tower more than I do now. But they can’t stay little girls forever, and if I ignore this or just skate by with giving them the smallest amount of info, then I do them a MASSIVE disservice.

You know what they call a mom who insists on saying, “Just don’t have sex and that’s that”? Grandma.

Having survived the “this is what your period will be like” conversation, I now face the worst one: Sex. The mechanics of it, how to handle budding sexuality, the reasons to have it, the reasons to NOT have it, and how to be safe about it. And honestly? I know that this is an incredibly important conversation to have, but I feel like I would rather dry-shave my legs and then jump into a pool of lemon juice.

Kids, you know how your mom always says, “This is worse for me than it is for you”? She’s not joking.

My own childhood was bereft of real, solid information. I grew up with an extremely conservative mother, and the few hints that I did get read like Mean Girls: have sex and you will get pregnant, die, and burn in the fires of Hell! I turned to medical texts, but those weren’t especially helpful. For a few years there, I was convinced that sex was “insert tab A into slot B… and you just leave it there for a while, I guess.” So that left one other source of information – the other kids on the playground at recess. They gave great info; according to the 7-year-olds I polled back then, someone had a friend whose cousin was dating a guy whose sister got pregnant with triplets (triplets, people!) by swimming in a pool that someone had… peed in. (I think I’m gonna need a citation there.)

Abstinence-only education, I have learned the hard way, just deprives kids of information that they need, and adds an air of mystery to something that does not need to be shrouded. By the time I got to high school, schoolyard knowledge had evolved; everyone who was anyone was doing “it,” and it was AWESOME. I didn’t know what to do with the feelings I had, and masturbation was something only icky boys did. Makeout sessions became me pretending to be enthusiastic while thinking, “Oh God, what am I doing? Is God going to hate me now? Am I a slut? I don’t feel anything. Oh God, something must be wrong with me!”

I had these silly ideas – thank you, Hollywood – that sex must be this wondrous, magical thing, where everyone had an orgasm every time, and romance flowed like wine. You’d be swept off your feet, deposited on silk sheets, and then everyone’s clothes fell off and something terribly dirty happened when the scene inevitably cut to black.

This vortex of bad information, coupled with the unspoken command that we never spoke about evil, evil sex in our house, led to me giving in to the mystery of it all. You don’t have to be psychic to figure out that it was a massive disappointment. I kept on making those bad decisions in search of that perfect Hollywood sex, and was faced every time with the reality of it: sex is messy. It’s not tantric, 8-hour sessions, unless your name happens to be Sting. And teenagers generally know jack about each other’s bodies, let alone their own, so you end up a bit sweaty, thinking “…that was it?” The worst part, though, was that I was absolutely sure in the knowledge that I could not talk to my parents about it, so I gave up on the idea of contraception. Even if I had gotten my hands on some, I probably would have stared at it while picturing a preacher telling me I was Hell-bound. Pulling out’s a reliable method, right? …Right?

I, very emphatically, do not want this for my daughters. I want them to know their own bodies, and that masturbation is healthy and can take the edge off that mystery. I don’t want them to find themselves when they’re 26, like I did. (As much as I love my 12-year-old, if I’d gotten access to a vibrator at her age, she wouldn’t be here. But how do you put that idea across? A bullet vibrator in her Christmas stocking with a Sam’s Club-sized pack of AA batteries? “Yeah, kiddo, Santa gets a little odd sometimes.”) I want them to know that it’s more than just “tab A goes into slot B.” I want them to know that they are not required to do it with anyone, ever, no matter what the relationship is. I want them to know that their no means absolutely NOT, and that anyone who disrespects that should get a knee to the family jewels.

I want them to know that the reality of sex is that it’s a messy thing on several fronts, but that it can be beautiful and even life changing. I want them to follow their hearts. I want them to know that it’s okay to be someone who only sleeps with a monogamous partner, and that it’s equally okay to be someone who takes pleasure in one-night stands. I want them to know that there are no “sluts,” and as long as what they’re doing is legal, they should go for it as long as they’re being safe.

More than anything, I just want them to be safe, to protect themselves. I have a blue toile box, made to be a jewelry box, and I’ve already told them that it will always be underneath the bathroom sink, filled with condoms. If that box is ever missing any, then I will put more in – no questions asked. And if either of them want something more permanent, I will take them to a gynecologist or Planned Parenthood myself, and they will get whatever it is that they need.

That’s the key to all this, isn’t it? I want my daughters to have happy, fulfilled lives. Mine was cut short when I got pregnant at 19. I love my older daughter to death and would never wish that she wasn’t here – but I do wish, every day, that I could have had her at a time when I had everything to give her that she didn’t get due to my poor decision making. I want her to have a choice; to be able to connect with whoever she loves, and have that not equal a child if she doesn’t want that to happen.

It may be an uphill battle, considering how many fundamentalists are around each of them who will take the, “Don’t have sex, you’ll get pregnant and DIE!” tack. And then there’s that lovely fact that many of their sexual rights are being taken away before they even have the option to use them, but I’m hopeful that my voice, my permission to love and know their own bodies, will be just a little louder than the others.

It’s going to take me a while to see my older daughter for what she is right now – not a child, but a young woman who deserves to know all of the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. I really do wish there was some handbook out there to tell me how to do this without either of us cringing, but there isn’t – so here goes.

Welcome to the club, my dear daughter. It’s a slightly messed up one, but you’re in a sisterhood now, and I will do my best to lead you to others who will also share the message of sex positivity. Also, we have chocolate.

43 replies on “Sex Positivity, Teenagers, And The Talk”

My mom, instead of actually having any kind of talk about really any of sex/body/period topics, would find YA (or some not so YA…) books that dealt with whatever needed dealing with at the time. She works for a library, so she had a lot of availability to choose from. Sex related material: Jean M. Aul. Going from “Clan of the CaveBears” to “Valley of the Horses” probably taught me more about how sex initially can be, and how good sex should be, more than mom would have been able to convey (and honestly, not that I would have been any better about talking/listening to her about it). Can I just say that I stayed up reading and rereading Ayla’s first sex scene with Jondolar soooo much.

But it all turned out fine. I went to an ultra-liberal hippie kind of school where sex-positivity was everywhere and any blanks I had were quickly filled in regarding both sexes. A few years ago I used to work with Girls Inc doing after school programs, a few of which covered “sex-ed” type stuff (which I expanded on a lot) with highschoolers. It was hilariously awesome (in an adorable, “man-am-I-glad-I-can-explain-these-things-to-you-now kind of way)! I really hope I can retain enough of that humor and attitude when I have kids that I have to talk to about all this…

I want to second this point, let your daughters read books that will introduce them to the subject in a way that is a lot less embarrassing for them than sitting down for an awkward conversation. My mum got so much flack from her friends for letting me read those books (Jean Auel included) but ultimately her allowing me to read them in my own way (and re-reading certain scenes many times) gave me a much healthier attitude than the discomfort of a talk. Though I have to agree, vibrators for the win, maybe if you’re comfortable with it actually bring it up, let her choose what she might want and then have it show up at a very non birthday/xmas/etc. time, showing it’s normal, not just for special occasions.

My mother attempted to have “the talk” with me in a grocery store parking lot when I was twenty.  Really mom?

But I’m sure you’ll do great!  Your eagerness to do it right can only lead to good things.  Just make sure you do it before she’s twenty.  :-p



I can’t say I remember any kind of formal talk with either of my parents on the subject; I grew up in France so we had pretty decent sex-ed, including a doctor coming to talk to us about AIDS and assorted STDs in school when I was around eleven-ish…I think France in general is pretty decent in that respect? Me and my friends all had pretty big collections of free condoms from concerts and art galleries and the school nurse and the ones they gave out on AIDS day (december first, IIRC). So I definitely got the basics.

The one clear memory I have when it comes to discussing sex-related things with my mum is when I had a pregnancy scare when I was sixteen and the conversation pretty much went “Muuuuuum I need a pregnancy test my period is late” and she was all, “Psh, five days is nothing, stop panicking, did you use condoms?Did it break? No?Then there’s no reason to worry.” And then my period came the next day and she took me to the gyno the next week.

So I guess the moral of this story is let them know that there’s no judgment involved and it’ll be fine? I’ve always known that my parents would be on my side no matter what, so turning to my mum when I was anxious about this was easy.

It’s so strange, I really can’t remember ever having The Talk with my mum. Some day the knowledge about condoms was just there, I guess? I got anti-conception on a pretty young age and it was explained to me what it does and why. The city I live in gives free STD tests for every 16 to 25 year old and they explain what’s that for.
But the pleasure side ..I guess I just picked it up somewhere.

Yeah, my mom didn’t really give me a talk either. Strangely enough, I picked up a lot of my information with MTV’s “Sex in the 90s” series, which I remember dealing with everything from HIV to bisexuality to pregnancy.

The education in school was so-so. Not horrible, but probably not as complete as it could have been. Would’ve been nice to have had a supply of contraceptives though, or if I’d been able to get over my own embarrassment of purchasing condoms, rather than just knowing which gas stations had machines in the bathroom!

I feel the need to go hug my mother, and then go hug what sex ed we do have here.

Jeepers. Juniper Junior is just about to be five and has, interestingly, yet to ask where babies have come from. But in the next few months we want to start introducing him to a book my parents used with me and my brother, called The Body Book. (Squee moment for me? This book was written by one of the female presidents of the British Humanist Association.) It takes a very simple approach to how the body works, and part of that is sex and how babies are made – all with simple illustrations. Whilst Juniper Junior isn’t going to be having periods, I do intend on giving him a book that my mother gave me: The Period Book: Everything you don’t want to ask (but need to know). I think it’s an important part of sex ed to understand the people that might be involved, especially as The Period Book looks at boys, too, and how puberty affects them. Though I never used it, there was an ace bit in the back which had space for you to write so that you could give the books to your parents and they could see questions you didn’t want to actually ask. Alas, I digress.

As for sex ed itself, I remember one of our guidance teachers warning us in advance that one of the many videos we were going to watch advocated no sex before her marriage. Her suggestion instead was to try before you buy. That goes rather nicely with the advice my mother gave me (which applies to so much): if in doubt, then don’t. We’ll also be doing the bowl of condoms in the bathroom trick. We will talk, too, I hope! But our vague plan at the moment in that respect is to let talks be sparked from different things, for instance, an article on STDs? Great way to start a conversation.

Ah, I’ve rambled! Thank you for a thought provoking read!


My son didn’t ask right out how babies are made, but he did ask how they come out. So I told him, and he laughed and laughed and said, “It’s like pooping!” 4 year olds…. *shakes head* And then I told him about the c-section variation, and then he moved onto asking about the mess involved and pain and other gory details. So…. I guess we have that part out of the way?

I don’t know what your religious affiliation is, but no matter what it is, I recommend looking in to the Unitarian Universalist sex ed curriculum, called Our Whole Lives.  Yes, I had sex ed in church, and yes, it was AWESOME.  There was some mechanics stuff, but the curriculum also focused on the emotional and safety aspects of sex, and making us comfortable with sex and with asking questions about sex.  They never told us to be abstinent, but told us to only have sex when we were ready and really wanted to, and to always use protection.  We discussed and role-played saying no to pressure to have sex.  We discussed female beauty ideals in the media.  We didn’t just learn to put condoms on bananas – we also learned to make them into balloons, play with them, and be comfortable with them.  We had a panel of LGBT (yes, all those were covered) speakers to come talk to us about sexual orientation.  I could go on and on about how amazing this was a sex ed curriculum, and even if you’re not UU or don’t have it available, it’s full of great resources, and I think it’s an amazing way to address sex for teens.  One of my goals in life is to some day teach that curriculum at my church.  There’s more information here:

Again, I don’t think it matters what your religious beliefs are, I think this is an amazing way to approach sex ed, and worth checking out for anyone looking to do approach sex with teenagers in a sex-positive, responsible way.

My mom was pretty good about this stuff, though sex itself was always a mystery. She had a book about sex that she left out for me to “find” and she was very clear about her openness to me going on the pill if I were going to have sex, but I wouldn’t say we talked about it much. I remember asking her once what having sex was like, and she said she felt too uncomfortable to talk about it.

My day job happens to put me in the face of girls who have little information about their bodies. You’d be amazed. What really strikes me is how embarrassed girls are by the whole thing. I read so many questions from girls afraid to tell their mom they need pads. And the list of girls who are unclear of how pregnancy happens is difficult to handle sometimes. The one theme I see is, “Am I normal?” Girls are desperate to know what they are experiencing is the norm, when of course, the experience is different for everyone.

You’re a great mom for opening up this dialogue. From what I see in my day job, girls might not always be willing to open up, but having a mom who lets it known that the door is open makes all the difference.

Thank you so much. It’s such an awkward talk, especially given the cold environment that I grew up in, but the cost of avoiding that awkwardness is just too high. I want my daughter to have everything that I didn’t have, and that starts with giving her as many years to find herself as she needs, and the ability to choose if and when she becomes a parent.

The extent any sex ed talk from my mother?

Something about sex ed came up on the TV and my mother said “I wouldn’t know where to start!”. That was it. I was 17 at this stage, already had had sex.

Between that and having my school sex ed taught by a now convicted murderer at a Catholic school, I’m surprised things turned out as well as they have. I put it down to being a voracious reader. Cosmo might be bad generally but they did help a 14 year old girl with not other place to get that info.

He wasn’t a murderer then. He taught me sex ed when I was 14. The next year, we got back to school to discover he was on “leave” and our principal was telling us not to talk to the media. Turns out he’d had an affair with a student. His teaching career in tatters, he became the manager of a store, met fellow store manager and got her pregnant. They lived together but she told him when their daughter was 5 months old she’d had enough, he had to leave. Soon after he drowned their daughter in the bath.He was on trial my first year of university, and I actually ended up studying his case in law school because it had a particularly important evidential point. He’s now in jail for at least 17 years.

For a very good Catholic school, we had some spectacular scandals.

It’s not that my mom didn’t talk to me about it; the problem was that she always gave off this distasteful vibe, like “This is not that fun a thing anyway, you probably won’t even care,” and it was so clinical it felt like a biology lesson. I didn’t realize sex was supposed to be fun until I was well into my teens. We still can’t talk about those things, because it’s clear that she doesn’t want to have that kind of relationship with me. Which hurts.

And how did you know my room was so messy?!

I never got any real sort of talk from my parents. The closest I got was my dad out of the blue telling me I could have sex if I wanted, which was enough to skeeve me out pretty permanently (and I was dating an über-Catholic who I didn’t want to sleep with even if he had wanted to). Mom’s version was to tell me not to accidentally park in the mud on the other side of the lake because it’s a long walk across the bridge. I about hurled at that mental image since the lake was where people went to fool around and I just didn’t need the image. I was terrified of sex because everyone was so judgmental; much as I wanted to do it with a couple other guys I dated/fooled around with, I was 100% convinced I would get pregnant and my life would be ruined. It sucked, and I wish I could go back in time to apologize to those guys. And to fuck them, because damn, I missed out on a lot of fun!

Scarleteen! Seriously. Scarleteen is the best site ever.

(Don’t do what my parents did, which was never talk to me and then occasionally threaten me with antibiotic injections in the buttocks cos they thought I was sleeping around. I wasn’t).

I cannot WAIT to have the talk with Sofia.  That might change as she gets older – she’s only 2 now – but I feel like there are so many ways that this gets fucked up for so many people, and this is one of the few things that I feel really confident that I can do well.  Also, if she gets pregnant at 13, no big deal, I’ll raise the kid like my own.  New baby, and I don’t have to go through pregnancy!  I jest.  Sort of.

This is awesome.  I am terrified of having The Talk with my own future children.  My mother’s talk with me was, “I am not having this conversation.  You can learn it on the street like everyone else.”  I would love to be honest with my own children, and I think my own version of the talk will add something along the lines of, “I’m not going to tell you to wait.  But I am going to tell you to wait as long as you can.  Not because it makes you a slut or a whore, but because if you can wait even FIVE more minutes, then you can decide if it’s what YOU really want.  Because only you can make this choice for you.  And big decisions are always better with a little more thinking.”

I understand. It’s a scary idea. And it’s so hard not to see your baby and not a young woman, you know? If you need to print this out (and I’m honored that you feel this article is good enough for her to read), then do that – but I would suggest giving it to her yourself, and sitting with her as she reads, so that if if she has any questions you’re there for them. It’s reaaaaaaally uncomfortable, but you want her to get her info from YOU, and not from something like school gossip. And, someday, she’ll understand how lucky she was to have a mom that was willing to be there. I’m a chicken, too, so I understand. I promise, though, it’s like ripping off a band-aid. You can do it. :)

My mom kind of side-stepped the formal “talk” by giving me a really good book on puberty and sex. I wish I remembered the name, but it discussed things realistically and included things like pregnancy myths, saying no, gay couples, and awkward puberty boners. It was a good launching point because it gave me all the mechanics and then she was there to answer any questions I had.


I really like your attitude toward your daughter’s sexuality, especially the condom box. It’s good that you’re practicing what you preach- my only complaint with my mom is that she really wanted to be sex positive, but would unexpectedly snap back into Catholic Mommy mode. Like giving me a random lecture on the importance of staying a virgin in a Taco Bell parking lot when I’d been with my first boyfriend for a few months. Inconsistencies like that made me hide my sex life from her until I was in college, because I could never be sure which version of my mom I would get. It sounds like you’re already found a way to prove your commitment to being open with them, and I think it’s great!

I get you totally. My younger daughter is 9, and while I want to think of her as still my baby, the reality of the whole thing is that she’s already giggling at dirty jokes about Zac Efron at recess. I know *exactly* what my head was like when I was that age. “OMG, did you guys know… Joey McIntyre is NAKED under his clothes?? *tee hee!*” So we’ve got to get in there before their entire knowledge base comes from other 9 year olds.

*sigh* I keep telling my kids to stop growing up. They just won’t listen.

The weird thing, sometimes it seems like my almost 5 yr old son gets sex jokes more than his older sister does, and it’s just another example of me looking at him and going, “I have no idea what is going on in that head of yours.” He seems to hold onto every single tiny bit of information he gets, and he can’t even read much yet.

And then I start thinking about how my daughter seems to know every single book title I have sitting on my headboard, and since I review books, one of the publishers who sends me a lot of books does a lot of erotica. Please, child, give me some time before you ask what those books are about.

Gross-ish embarassing story:

My mum let me believe in order to procreate you had to both pee in a cup and drink it. Obviously I’m the one who came up with that insane idea (at the age of five), but she refused to talk to me about sex or anything so that’s what I believed until the fifth grade… That’s when Drawn Together set me straight. Also that summer I was introduced to porn by virtue of having older male cousins. So I couldn’t really refute this new knowledge. I was so scared and scarred for practically ever.

It’s weird. She’s pretty open and even flippant about other topics. Just stay away from anything about your body though. I think it’s awesome you’re at least willing to talk! Haha, I was so confused for so long.

I wish you the best of luck with these talks. I know they can be super difficult, but I think you have it right in just being upfront and honest about everything. The one thing I have really appreciated about my Catholic Junior high’s health class was that they taught us methods of contraception and signs and symptoms of STDs as well as the reasons to abstain.

And I think you’ll do a great job because you feel this way. I know it’ll be awkward, but that’s kind of the rule of thumb here. If it’s not at least a little awkward, you’re too much of a “cool” parent and not enough of a real parent. Just don’t have the talk while the two of you are trapped in a moving vehicle together (thanks, Dad). That makes it a bit more awkward than it needs to be…Luckily as the younger child I wasn’t give a full talk but a “what do you think you know and what gaps need to be filled?” talk, so it only took about 15min, 10 of which was the two of us staring awkwardly out windows to avoid eye contact in hopes of avoiding this particular discussion.

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