Monday, June 30, 2008

Let's Talk About Sex

When the time came to talk to my daughter about sex, I envisioned a pleasant conversation. One in which I would assume my role as the wise, mature elder, put aside my uneasiness, and offer up valuable information that would help her navigate adulthood by making intelligent, educated choices. One that would start with a small lecture and be followed by a lively Q&A. I've been trying to have this talk with my daughter since she was 8.

She's now almost 12.

We had "the talk" last night.

Sort of.

In a crowded burger joint with her father and brother distracted by sports, we began a discussion... well, not quite a discussion, and not quite we, me. It was more an interrogation... or so you'd think from the look of her non-blinking eyes, clenched jaw and rigid body. It was as if a bare light bulb hung above her head and I was speaking in foreign tongue.

I blame my friend. Earlier that day she visited with her daughter who is also 11. The sex conversation came up and the other girl knew all about how babies are made, the physical logistics of S-E-X, the consequences, distinguishing truth from fiction. If that didn't put me to shame, their younger boy, 8, the same age as my son, knew it all as well.

It's not like I haven't tried to educate my daughter. Ohhh, I've tried. At ages 8, 9, 10, 11 and umpteen fractions of a year in between, I've attempted to do my parental duty. But my daughter is stubborn (don't ask me where she gets that from) and no matter my plan of attack approach, be it conversation or books, she shut me out. Immediately. Swiftly. Ears plugged singing lalalalala, books tossed at my chest, door slammed in my face - shut out.

So, over the years, as her body developed, I'd pitch snippets of information about breasts, body hair, or menstruation whenever I could; as she ate a cookie, brushed her hair, or tucked into bed for the night. I had a maximum of 30 seconds before the gates of cooperation snapped shut but I always managed to stick my foot in the opening for an extra second to offer an invitation to talk to me about anything, anytime.

Last night, feeling like I'd failed my daughter, I seized her the opportunity to give the big spiel. The whole super-size happy meal. Well, not quite. Maybe it was the kids meal. While she sat trapped in her chair, frozen in fear, I came at her full speed with the what, the how, the when. Only, in my nervous exhalation of facts about the penis, the vagina, the sperm and the egg, I forgot to mention dating, romance, relationships, love, and birth control. I was a game show contestant trying to beat the buzzer. My attempt to teach her about self-respect and waiting for the right guy came out, "...and if a guy ever asks you to have sex you say one touches your body unless you want them to...and even if you want them to, well, you need to think...because sometimes it's okay and sometimes it's need to know the difference and sometimes it's hard to should talk to me first...because it's a big decision with big consequences... look what happened to Jamie Lynn Spears..."

Yes, that was me during a huge milestone in our lives, a moment I'd mentally prepared for since before she was born, vomiting it all over in undigested, incoherent chunks.

I blame my mom. She never had the sex talk with me. Had I not read Judy Blume I would have thought I was dying when the red streak showed up in my underwear. When I confessed to my mom she handed me sanitary napkins, said "mazel tov," and mortified me by telling my father. Years later, during dinner at a crowded restaurant (this time it was Chinese - what is it with me and restaurants?) I revealed that I was no longer a virgin. My sisters had been teasing me about being prudish. I'd been having sex since I was 17, for two years already, but no one had ever asked. I'd been waiting for a moment to show everyone I wasn't the young, innocent they thought I was. I thought my mother would be surprised, maybe even hurt that I'd kept it such a secret, but instead it was me who was taken aback when she casually remarked, "Well, I certainly hoped you would have had sex by now," and moved onto another subject.

So, you see, though I love my mother, she wasn't exactly an ideal role model for this sort of thing.

It doesn't matter who I blame, my friend, my mother, the checker at the supermarket, I need to get this right. So in a few days, with some time to think and perhaps a glass of wine to calm my nerves, I hope to sit my daughter down and fill in the blanks. I'd like to share my values and beliefs, teach her about making smart choices, the importance of trusting your instinct, and how to say no (without having to call her mommy).

But before I do, I call out to you, my fellow idiots moms:

What worked for you?

Advice welcome.


InTheFastLane said...

My daughter (a very private person) asked the questions that led to this talk, way back in 3rd grade..right before school. I was a little afraid of what was churning in her little mind all day at school. But, at 13, she thinks she knows it all, already. So, every time I bring something up she says "I know, already mom." Real conducive to a prolonged conversation. Maybe a date night, with the two of you, once you have a plan?

momready said...

Aaaagh! I didn't mean to put you to shame. Yes I am the friend.

Each kid is different... mine are just big talkers. I've known what everyone had for lunch at school for the past 8 years. Which isn't necessarily good or bad. I was trying to tell her what a good mom you are... I guess coming from another mom (i.e. the other team) it may have been wierd, but I do think she heard that.

Remember I came from a mother who worked for pro-choice issues when I was a child, and I grew up going to ERA rallies and hearing about reproductive rights while I was in the bathtub... so for me it just spews out, as it did from my mother. Again which isn't necessarily good or bad.

I think you are doing the right thing with your snippets. She's hearing you each time, even if she pretends she doesn't. Date night isn't a bad idea either. As long as you keep trying. There will come a day when she is ready to have a full talk and you will be there. I don't think you need to rush.

Your friend

Just The Girl said...

Oh my - my son will be 11 in Oct. and I having been thinking about this day for some time. I am not sure what to say or how but I m going to be working on it for the next couple of months.

I asked his father if he wanted to do it and he just walked away, so I am guessing I will have to.

Oh my -oh my.

Jan said...

If she doesn't want to talk to you - she may just be uncomfortable talking about very intimate matters (especially with Mom!) - go to the library and find some very good books written especially for preteen girls on the subject. Read them yourself. Decide which ones are best and then give them to your daughter. (She will read them.) Don't ask her if she has any questions; ask her what she thought of them.

And don't be too hard on yourself. Even when we don't think they're listening, they are.

cpckqueen said...

My little angel really didn't want to hear anything I had to say AT ALL. Didn't want to know, hear or ask any questions. Best piece advice I got for discussing - in the car not having to face each other...

Lynn - the piggy bank painter said...

when you are done talking to your daughter, come talk to mine.

ByJane said...

I think she hears you, but she's embarrassed. So I would go to gently getting her to open up about being embarrassed and that it's as natural as--sex! I don't think you can impart your entire philosophy in a dialogue. How about using TV or films as a way of passing along one idea at a time. When you're watching something that relates to the general topic, just an off-hand comment, your two cents, would do the job.

Manic Mommy said...

I like the book idea and I like the car idea - just plan a trip to Seattle and get comfortable. Just remember that whatever she thinks she knows, she learned from other 11 year olds.

Suddenly my potty training whining doesn't sound so bad...

Twenty Four At Heart said...

All 3 of my kids reacted very differently to "the talk" and whether or not they would talk. I also had some books that I let them know were around in an accessible place if they wanted to refer to them. I think it is an ongoing subject because the questions and info they need varies at different ages. I did the HPV injections for my daughter cuz a friend died of cervical cancer. That opened a lot of discussions .......

Sue @ My Party of 6 said...

I second the car - or the dark. Lay down with her at bedtime some night. And use all those cringe-worthy moments from the media - Jamie Lynn Spears and the rest to ask her what she thinks, what she knows, how she feels. (Let her lead the discussion!)

Good luck!

Sue @ My Party of 6 said...

and PS - don't make it a single conversation. Make it the beginning of an ongoing discussion. The more you talk to her about it, the more comfortable she will be coming to you with questions!

Anonymous said...

Don't be in such a hurry. She'll let you know when she has a question as long as you back off and stay open. I have a 19 yr old son and a 15 yr old daughter. Both different, but I let them take the lead. Maybe your daughter would like to remain a kid a while longer. You're protecting her and keeping her safe. I vote for letting her be.

p.s. I'm sorry your Mom said that to you at age 17. That is not what I would say to my kid.

2KoP said...

I don't necessarily agree with letting your kid take the lead in this area. If you have a talker, great, but if your child is shy or embarrassed, s(he) will never bring up the subject.

The car is great — it's private, you don't have to look at each other and you can usually keep the focus pretty narrow and the discussion/talk fairly short. Most of the time it works out pretty well. One time my daughter said "this conversation is over." I thought it was important that I finished my thought, so I pulled rank: "Too bad, honey. This is important, and it's my car. Let me finish what I have to say and, if you want, we can talk about it again another time.

One other great tip: read young adult novels that your daughter might be reading to get an understanding of what she may be thinking about. After my daughter read the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" novels, I asked her why she thought Bridget changed so much from the first book to the second book. She responded that "Bridget had sex before she was ready." We were able to have a great conversation about that topic without making it personal.

Finally (and then I'll shut up), this is definitely not one talk. Your little "snippets" are exactly what's needed in the long run. Your daughter needs to know that she can come to you with her questions and I agree with a couple of your other commenters that she definitely hears you. Good luck. P.S. I think girls are easy; having discussions with my sons about equipment I don't own and experiences I've never had — now that's hard.

phd in yogurtry said...

I'm a huge advocate of encouraging a lot of talking. If some kid on the bus says "motherfocker", its ok to discuss it at the dinner table. All sorts of effort and restraint gone in the direction of helping them feel as comfortable as possible talking about ANYTHING. I believe this is true and my kids do open up and ask a lot of questions, but not about sex directly. Mostly about jerks at school using foul, sexually explicit language. Sad place to start, huh?

But..still my kids (13, 10, 10) get all shut-mouth whenever I bring up sexual topics. "MOM! Stop!" and they cover their ears.

So I agree that all kids are different. I don't agree that we wait and let them dictate the pace. Too risky for most kids. I believe we keep trying, try to approach our kids when they are relaxed and we are relaxed. In our family, that's not often. I keep saying I'm going to plan some lazy, quiet time with each child individually, that allows for good talks. It doesn't happen on its own. Soon.

My oldest is caught up to speed on the mechanics but its the politics we haven't covered.

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