R.L. SAUNDERS

writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

How to talk to your kid about sex, even if she’s smarter than you

(This post was approved by my daughter.)

My scary smart daughter posted a selfie in which she wore a sweatshirt that says “Super Awesome” and short shorts. Only you couldn’t see the shorts because the sweatshirt was so long and the shorts were so short. She captioned it, “Guys can show skin. So can we. #superawesome #judgemeidareyou.”

My initial reaction was horror, followed immediately by shame. I wasn’t ashamed of the picture. I was ashamed of my initial reaction.

I raised her this way. When she asks to hang out with her friends, I give some variation on, “Okay, but no sex, drugs, or rock-n-roll. Mostly no rock-n-roll. It’s the devil’s music.” She knows I’m kidding and that I trust her judgement. Because she’s never given me a reason not to.

We’ve had plenty of conversations about things like societal double standards and speaking up about inequity and injustice in various situations. And still, what people would think (or misunderstand) about the selfie mattered most to me in the nanosecond before I got a hold of myself. It was a good lesson for me about the difference between theory and practice.

I recently took her in for a teen well-check. During the appointment, she answered a bunch of questions in writing, apparently about sex. And when the doctor came back in to discuss her answers, I stayed in the room, with my daughter’s permission.

In sum, the doctor said, “Looks like you’re making really healthy choices right now. Don’t have sex until you’re married, but if you do, come in here and talk to me about options.”

That pissed me off. So in the car, I told my daughter that the doctor was wrong to impose her personal moral outlook about sexuality onto a young person as though it’s some kind of medical fact. I told her that there is no expectation for her to get married and that this kind of guilt about sex before an inevitable marriage can screw you up for the rest of your life. I told her that, in my opinion, that doctor is a misguided mess who can probably only have sex in the dark.

Of course I want my daughter to have safe and positive physical and emotional experiences related to sexuality. But starting out of the gate with a bunch of bullshit guilt is probably why so many in my generation (and before) are screwed up. I want her to be comfortable in her own skin. I want her to be able to enjoy a healthy sex life until she’s 100 if she feels like it.

If I knew exactly the right way to go about it, here’s what my daughter would know for sure: Sex is natural and good. It has consequences but we need not tie sex to all the baggage it’s traditionally been tied to. Take care of your body. Enjoy it. Never do anything you don’t really want to do. And always, always feel comfortable talking to me. I don’t have all the answers, but my goal will never be to shame you into or out of anything.

And it took me a while, but under her sweatshirt and legs selfie, I wrote:

“End the double standard. If you ever get arrested for something like going topless on principle, I’ve got your back. Love the way you’re thinking. Never stop asking WHY?”

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