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.