When my daughter was only two weeks old, I caved to cabin fever and took her on a first trip to the grocery store. On the way back to my car with the cart, I had a brief conversation with a clerk who complimented me on my newborn. He then shook his head and told me I’d better watch out, his daughter became a mom before she was out of her teens.
Way to introduce the inevitable freak-out about how to talk about love and sex to my child. I mean, my husband and I have been married for three years, and parents for not even one. Keeping it real: We’re still learning and figuring out our own life together, forget teaching anyone else about the basics.
With at least a few years before I start fielding tough questions with answers that might forever influence what our little girl knows about sex, I’m making notes of what I have learned. I want to be ready with more than just the talk about the birds and the bees when the time comes. Here are a few of the things I’ll share.
1. Wait as long for “firsts” as you need to.
I never want my daughter to feel that she is in a race to shed her innocence and experience all that sex and relationships have to offer. It doesn’t matter what her peers are doing. I don’t care that celebrities and sports stars who acknowledge they’re still virgins are treated like unicorns. Perhaps someday I’ll tell her about my first kiss with a stranger I never saw again, because I was afraid of being that girl who had never been kissed. She deserves better than that. So did I.
2. Sex is more special than the world will tell you.
I recently read an article in the Washington Post about how more young people in their early and mid-20s are swearing off sex—not because they’re waiting for someone special, but because they’re disillusioned with the whole thing and would rather spend their time watching movies, working on school projects, or traveling.
When my daughter and I start to have those very early conversations about sex, I’m sure she’ll be nonplussed, saying, like these young people did, “What’s the big deal?” The thing is, it’s more than the mechanics, the actions, the physical feeling and response. There’s a reason that my husband and I—we unicorns—both waited until marriage, committing our lives and futures to each other’s care before we committed our bodies. Sex, I believe, should be about more than passion or thrill-seeking. It can be a profound, and even sacred, expression of love. The world will not tell my daughter that. So I will.
3. Consent is not enough.
By the time my daughter gets to college, she’ll most likely have sat through discussions of “explicit, enthusiastic consent,” terminology crafted to fight against what seems to be an epidemic of campus sexual assault. Mutual consent, obviously, is as necessary for sex as two people are. But I hope to impress on her that it’s an impoverished standard, designed to address a hookup culture in which sex is often transactional and people use each other’s bodies to get what they want.
I want my little girl to know that she is worth waiting for someone who will not pressure her or use her to get what he wants, who will accept her boundaries without questioning or challenging them. I hope and pray she will end up with someone, like I did, who will treat her as more important than himself and make her feel, not only safe, but treasured. And that’s a security that I know can only be found in marriage.
4. There’s no place for shame.
Whatever else I get wrong, I hope I can communicate this right: Sex is special, and it doesn’t have to be shameful. When she’s old enough to understand, I want to be able to have open conversations about the way the body works, what she’s feeling, and the questions she has. Maybe some of these talks will be awkward, but I’d rather push through my own discomfort than have her feel that she has to look elsewhere for answers and honesty.
She may, down the road, make mistakes and choices she regrets. Who hasn’t? I want her to be able to come to me with these things too, if she wants, for a listening ear without judgment or condemnation. My daughter needs to know that she is valuable and precious and that nothing she can do will diminish her worth.
I’m glad I’m starting to think about this now, with time to add to these ideas and refine them. What would you add? What do you wish your parents had told you?