Dear Captain Awkward:
I found your website a few months ago and have been reading it every day since. I think this might be a new one for you…
I have a 15-year-old daughter. The prevailing philosophy in our house is that having sex in high school is A Bad Idea, and she seems to have internalized that. But she has all the pants-feelings of a hormonal teenage girl.
Recently, I was on the internet and stumbled across an Oprah episode in which the guest (don’t remember who it was) suggested buying your teenager a vibrator. I mentioned this to my daughter, and I think I was mostly assuming she’d be weirded out by the idea of her mom buying her a sex toy. Well, she wasn’t. She pounced on the idea. She enthusiastically wants me to buy her a vibrator.
Now I’M the one that’s weirded out. Intellectually, it seems like a good idea. It’s not going to eliminate all the reasons teenage girls have sex, of course, but it seems like a good start on a lot of them. But I can’t shake the feeling in the back of my mind that doing this will make me A Bad Parent.
I really want to know what the Awkward Army thinks of this one. Don’t pull the punches. If you think it’s the best/worst idea in the history of ever please tell me.
Since you and your daughter are close enough to even talk about this and she specifically asked you, I think this is an awesome idea. I have a suggestion to make it less awkward.
Give your daughter a budget, one-time use of your credit card number, and a link or a trip to a non-creepy, woman-friendly joint like Early To Bed. Then she can pick out her own toy and you can have a sheen of plausible deniability as to make/model/color/buzziness. Take full advantage of the plain, brown wrapper. And if you’re not a household who knocks before entering a room with a closed door, become one, fast.
Teenage boys are FAMOUS for spending long periods of time alone in the bathroom or their bedrooms, and everyone knows what they’re doing and laughs it off as no big deal. It’s only fair that teenage girls get that same privacy and room to become their own first and best sex partners. I think that feeling that this makes you a bad parent is that old double standard you were raised with lurking in the back of your mind, the one that says that the sexuality of teen girls MUST BE CONTAINED or else SOCIETY CRUMBLES. I think that a teen girl who understands her own desires is going to be a better advocate for herself when she does start having sex. If you feel like people in your life would be judgy, invoke privacy. There is no reason that you have to share this decision with anyone other than your daughter or seek anyone’s approval.
Make sure she knows about Scarleteen, S.E.X. by Heather Corinna. Give Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really, Really Want a read and pass it onto her when you think it’s appropriate, and also maybe check out Judith Levine’s Harmful to Minors for yourself.
I’d like to have a conversation with my 14 year old daughter about sex. Specifically, I’d like to talk to her about how to explore her own sexuality without getting pressured into activites that she’s not happy with, or bluntly, without getting sexually assaulted.
Some background. I’m a man, in my mid to late thirties. I don’t live with my daughter. Her mother and I separated when my daughter was six. Her mother and I don’t have a very good relationship at all, never really did, so it’s nigh on impossible to talk to my daughter’s mother about how we should approach these sort of conversations. Both her mother and I have re-married, happily. I now live about 400 miles from my daughter. I see her for a weekend once a month and for several holidays during the year, so I have frequent and regular contact with her. I think my daughter and I have good relationship and we talked about challenging things before.
I think my daughter is fairly sensible and mature for her age. She has quite an acute sense of fairness. She’s very intelligent.
I don’t want her to spend her life being scared of boys or sex (or girls and sex). I want her to be able to say to herself and to others, “these are my limits and no one gets to cross them without my permission.”
I don’t think her mother really had this when she was a late teen. Lots of her mother’s stories about growing up have left me thinking “Mmmh, that wasn’t really consenual.” Not just her mother being pressured into bad consent situations, but also her mother pressuring others into bad consent situations.
Part of the conversation I want to have with my daughter is about what good consent looks and feels like, part of it is how to manage situations where she is being pressured into consenting to things she’s not okay about, and part of it is how to respond to a breech of her consent, such as being touched up on the Tube, in a way that makes her physically safer and also empowers her.
So, I’m looking for two things. Some practical hints and tips for a young woman and some advice for a father on how to have this conversation with his daughter.
There’s almost nothing I could say about consent that’s better than is said here: “Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent.”
For The Talk, I think you can organize what you want to say around the idea of safety & enthusiasm.
- Don’t assume she’s straight, or that she’ll only ever have sex only with boys. Even if you’re pretty sure she is.
- You don’t want your daughter to have sex that’s not safe, which means taking precautions about birth control and STD prevention and also having sex only with partners who are considerate, respectful of boundaries, and who take necessary precautions.
- Part of taking care of health is taking care of sexual health. You’d be happy to take her to doctor’s appointments and want her to discuss all aspects of her health freely and honestly with her doctor in complete privacy. You will pay for whatever prescriptions she ends up needing when the time is right. She doesn’t have to hide it or forgo birth control out of financial worry or embarrassment.
- You don’t want your daughter to have sex that she doesn’t actively want to participate in. Whether it’s about pleasure, emotional connection in a relationship, you want her to be an agent in her sex life who does things with a partner instead of an object whose partner does things “to” her. So when she is ready to become sexually active, learning how to voice her desires and consent and seek that same affirmative from her partners will be a good life skill.
- Sex is an awesome part of being a person. It’s not evil, dirty, shameful. It carries risks – both biological and emotional – but those risks are manageable with some emotional maturity and planning.
- There’s no rush to have sex. A lot of movies, peers, TV shows, etc. can make people feel insecure or left behind if they don’t have sex, but that’s not true.
- She can always come to you with questions and for help – you won’t judge her and just want her to be happy and healthy. For example, if she ever needed Plan B after a birth control mishap, she should ask you to get some or for the money rather than procrastinate in taking care of herself. It would also be helpful to identify another adult (a cousin, an aunt, a stepmom) that she trusts and might be more comfortable talking to.
- She should read sites like Scarleteen and become as informed as she can. That’s a positive, and not something to be ashamed of (though learning how to open a private browsing window might be useful if her mom isn’t on board or you don’t want to know specifically what she’s reading).
- See above. Consider a budget, a website, a credit card number, getting really careful about knocking before you enter certain rooms.
- Consider enrolling her in a self-defense class for assertiveness training around stranger danger. Also get her a copy of The Gift of Fear, which might aid her in recognizing pushy & manipulative behavior and responding to dangerous situations..
Like Cliff at The Pervocracy, I recognize that people have sex for all sorts of reasons besides “feeling rainbows! & unicorns! levels of enthusiasm this exact second.” However, I think the concept of enthusiastic consent is still fundamentally a good one. First, it has more to do with stabbing the idea that “S/he didn’t say no in a clear enough way, so that must mean yes” through the heart rather than making some specific performance of enthusiasm a requirement. I don’t think it is ever bad to ask partners to look for signs of enthusiasm, consent, and full participation in a sex act rather than rather than assuming that anything goes if the person doesn’t fight them off. I think it’s especially useful for beginners, first-time partners, people in casual relationships to use enthusiastic, explicit consent as a guideline and save “good enough” for more established partnerships. If “enthusiasm” never describes how you personally feel about sex (asexuals, hello!) that’s okay, it doesn’t totally neutralize enthusiastic consent as a useful term. It’s not meant to invalidate your experience or pressure you into feeling a certain way.
I hope this sets you up to have a good talk with your daughter, #380. You’re clearly an awesome dad to be thinking along these lines.