Welcome to Mommabare, the place you come to talk about the things that should have been in the parenting manual that absolutely did not come with your kids.
In my most recent column, I shared the following Actual Message from an Actual IRL Friend:
HELP. HELLLLLLP. I looked at the computer history and (we’ll call him) Matt is googling ‘naked tits.’ He’s only 10! I thought I had more time. HELLLLLP.
My Actual Response: Nope. You do not have more time. Now is the time.
So, in response to this not isolated circumstance, we talked about talking about sex. But for the next two installments, I’m going to dive a little deeper and help you talk to your kids with information specific to their genitals and gender expression.
First up: Our girls.
Note: I am not talking about trans kids here for a couple of reasons. 1. Most kids are not trans. And I know that is not a very good reason not to discuss it (and if anything trans kids need it the most) but 2. I don’t have one, so I don’t feel comfortable making any statements that might ultimately not be supportive.
When we talk about sex and sexuality in general, sweeping terms, we leave out some vital information that our kids deserve to have. We are doing them an incredible disservice by not addressing their genitals, sexual pleasure, birth control, power struggles, and the patriarchy. Further, when we don’t talk about consent and coercion, we are doing their future partners a disservice.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to do this as a straightforward list.
Topics To Cover When Talking To Your Daughters About Sex:
1. On the care and keeping of the vulva/vagina.
Please crush the myth that vaginas need any special care. Douches are harmful. Sprays and other accouterment are full of potentially toxic chemicals (you will not find any hippie organic spray because us hippies know it’s some capitalist misogynistic bullshit).
Gentle washing with soap and water will suffice.
At some point every vagina-haver worries about the smell/taste of it. Regarding this, I have three things to say.
- Vaginas smell exactly as they should. Barring infection or STI, the scent of the vagina is unique to you and in no way wrong.
- If you are with a partner who complains about the scent of your vagina, that is their problem.
- If that partner is a penis-haver, you might remind them that dicks don’t smell like flowers.
And what about hair?
Yeah? WHAT ABOUT IT? Do as you will. But don’t succumb to the pornographic pressure to be hairless. Bodies have hair. It’s part of the evolutionary process that protects us. Sure, no one is walking around naked all the time (well, almost no one) and we don’t necessarily need a jungle of bush to protect our reproductive organs, but that doesn’t mean you have to be bald.
If your partner complains about your hair, they are an asshole. Probably break up with them. Now.
2. On the general disposition of aforementioned vulvas/vaginas.
Please show your daughters pictures of a variety of vulvas. Please tell them that labia (particularly the minora which we have been led to believe should be tucked tidily inside and nearly invisible) differ from body to body. Long. Short. Dark. Light.
And regarding the sought after "tightness." We've been told that a "tight" vagina is a better vagina. But, in truth, a tight vagina is one that is probably not ready for penetration. When we are aroused, we soften and open. We produce slippery fluids. Do not allow the mistaken notion of a "tight" vagina cloud your thinking about how vaginas actually operate.
3. On sexual pleasure.
We have this pervasive deeply held belief that it is normal for sex to be painful. And while this might be true to a degree, we are setting the expectation for our girls that they should just grin and bear it through the pain.
Stop telling your daughters that sex hurts. The far-reaching effects of this will stretch past their first time and all the way into adulthood. Yes, sex might be uncomfortable, even painful, but you are never obligated to proceed. I cannot even tell you the number of incredibly painful sexual experiences I had as a teenager because I thought pain was a normal part of the sexual process.
If it is painful, you can slow down or stop. If your partner can not slow down or stop, they are an asshole. Probably break up with them. Now.
4. On saying “no.”
Please, for the sake of their mental, physical, and emotional health, empower your girls with the ability to say no and walk away. We have been raised in a culture that expects us to be “good” — obedient, quiet, not at all demanding.
Tell them that “being good” is a bunch of bull. Their bodies belong to them, and no one should ever exert control over that autonomy.
They can say no if they are in pain. They can say no if they just don’t like it. They can say no right up to and including the actual act of sex. They can say no at any time and that “no” demands adherence to the request.
5. And on consent.
While we don’t hear about it as often, women are also capable of coercion.
They also need to respect the “no.” They also should err on the side of caution and communicate with their partner about what is okay (and what is not).
6. Finally, regarding birth control.
There is often an implication that the female is in charge of pregnancy and STI prevention. But just because there is no widely used hormonal birth control for those with sperm, that doesn’t mean they are not equally responsible.
As you talk with your children about sex, please remember that the way boys and girls experience sex, both socially and actually, is often vastly different. Plan accordingly.
And, as always, keep talking, keep laughing, keep hugging. The manual your kids didn’t come with is inside you.