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#379 & #380: Sex Education for Teens

Jocelyn Elders

Surgeon general, official badass.

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.  

-Buzzing (#379)

Dear Buzzing:

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.

Hi,

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.

Thanks

Dear #380:

I recommend all the same books & sites for you and your daughter: Scarleteen & Heather Corinna’s S.E.X. for sure, What You Really, Really Want in a year or so, maybe a gander at The Purity Myth.

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.

  • 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..

A note on “enthusiastic consent” vs. “good consent“:

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.

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164 comments
  1. Ethyl said:

    The only thing I’d add to the bullet list that CA lays out is to remind your daughter that “sex” can mean any number of activities, and that it’s ok to feel ready for some but not all. Our culture loves to prioritize heterosexual penetrative vaginal sex as Sex, but of course there’s lots of other stuff to do, and those other things aren’t automatically “safe” just because they don’t present the same baby/STI risks.

    If I may add in one more book recommendation — Our Bodies, Ourselves is fantastic and is regularly updated.

    Good luck to both parents — you guys sound awesome!

    • Julie said:

      Seconding the “lots of other things are fun / possible / realms to explore” and the “just because it isn’t PIV doesn’t mean it’s safe.” There was an interesting article in The New Yorker recently about an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea that was showing up in women’s throats because there’s a presumption that oral sex = safe.

      This is not meant to be fear-mongering; risks always exist and always have and we always negotiate them in the ways that are best for us in that moment. It’s simply to point out that “everything but HIV is curable” isn’t any longer true.

      I’m still kind of over the moon about these letters.

      • And in fact we may soon be reaching a time when antibiotics start to seriously become ineffective against more and more strains of illness, which is pretty terrifying. My sister has MRSA herself, though it seems to finally have gone dormant lately. Learn about your health! It’s important!

  2. M Dubz said:

    I’d also like to recommend Emily Nagoski’s blog. She is a sex educator at Smith, and she writes a lot about desire, biology, and the brain chemistry behind desire. She’s very interested in exploring the bell curve, which could be helpful to young women just figuring out their sexuality that there are many ways to be “normal.”

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, big ups for The Dirty Normal.

  3. Julie said:

    Can I just say to both the LWs, I wish you had been my parents? Rock on with the honesty and openness and the ability to admit that your kids are becoming / are sexual beings, and that we need to learn that as much as anything else.

  4. TheOtherAlice said:

    You guys seriously, seriously, rock as parents. You’re both clearly doing an awesome job.

    #379 – I saw basically this same question at Dan Savage, where I think the best suggestion was to have the talk, give her a gift card for Amazon and say ‘they sell toys, you can get one of them or grab some books, music, whatever. Give me a shout if you want to know anything else’. That way you (and your daughter) get to disconnect Mom from the sex toy which I can’t imagine would be a bad thing!

    #380 – with regard to Plan B, is there anyway you can get hold of this for her now and give it to her as her back up? I’m just thinking that if you’re pretty far away and she doesn’t have that kind of relationship with her mom, it may be better for her to have it than have to find a way to get it, particularly because it’s more effective the sooner you take it. I’m assuming you’re going to talk to her about how this really does need to be plan B not plan A, as it’s not the most pleasant thing in the world to take on anything like a regular basis. On the other hand, it’s a hell of a lot more pleasant than an unwanted pregnancy.

    • +1 to Disconnecting Mom From The Sex Toy and letting your daughter have ALL the privacy and autonomy on this one. When I was in my late teens, my mother suggested I might like to try out a vibrator, and then tried to persuade me to borrow hers. (My OMG MUM SO GROSS STOP TALKING was apparently a total overreaction, and earned me her best Wounded Face.) I’ve been trying to disconnect the Mum concept from the Vibrator concept ever since, with varying degrees of success depending on my mood / the weather / other mysterious reasons. My mother is the absolute last person I want to be thinking about when a partner whips out a toy, so I beg you LW, please do not do this to your daughter! Teach her good sex skills by showing her that this is something private for herself only – later, for sharing with sexual partners, sure. But not a thing to be associating with parent/child relationships, because that will most likely come back to bite her as she sexually matures. Good job giving the issue all the consideration it deserves; you sound like an awesome mom. 🙂

      • Linden said:

        Sharing your mom’s vibrator? Ewwwwwww.

      • Her heart was in the right place, but…do not offer to share vibrators, parents. That is not an overreaction, Griffy Kate, I’m pretty sure.

        • Thanks – I’ve always thought it a perfectly normal reaction on my part too, but it’s nice to have that validated by someone else, because BUT SHE’S YOUR MOTHER SHE MUST BE RIGHT, you know? Her parents never spoke to her about her menstrual cycle or sex or pretty much anything a young woman needs guidance on, and I think she harboured resentment toward them for that (and many other things) her whole life. She sure didn’t want to be that kind of parent. So she overcompensated, and wanted us to be BFFs who share EVERYTHING. That was a bit damaging in some ways – see above! – but yes, her heart was in the right place, god rest her soul.

      • Ethyl said:

        Oh dear lord. Your mom meant well, but yikes. And yes!!! to privacy!!! Kids and teenagers deserve privacy, and I think a lot of times parents and adults don’t appreciate that.

      • Pterinochilus murinus said:

        THIS.

        LWs, it is great that you want your kids to be informed and empowered, but PLEASE PLEASE remember that this is also the age when they are separating themselves from you, and when you need to start separating yourself from them, and that you cannot and should not have an active role in helping them claim their adult sexuality. Be careful to allow them all the privacy they need, and not to get involved in your child’s sex life unless it’s a matter of safety.

  5. Kelly said:

    Hi, LWs. You’ve motivated me to comment for the first time. I think both of you are doing good things, and I applaud you. I had almost no sex ed, and no Talk from my parents, and I seriously, literally, learned most of what I knew about sex as a young adult from fan fiction. Seriously. Thank you for not putting your kids in this situation.

    I third (or whatever) the motion to add “The Dirty Normal” blog to the reading list. Her posts are charming, and amazingly insightful.

  6. boots mcgee said:

    Because both of these LW’s sound like awesome and thoughtful parents, I just wanted to comment and say: hooray for you people! You’re lovely people!

    My folks never talked to me about sex and relied entirely on the church we attended to tell me 100% of what I needed to know about it and when to have it and what it would be like. Luckily, I took all of this with many grains of salt and read the heck out of gURL.com (which still exists! amazing! this was like 15 years ago!) to find out the what-the-what. Ultimately, I combined the good parts of what the church taught me (STI’s are serious business, sex can be complicated emotionally) with the good parts of what the internet taught me (sex can and should be enjoyable and consensual) and worked out a system I liked, which was to be an “everything but” kinda teenager, because p-in-v sex still freaked me out but I liked other kinds of touching/interaction. So, a million +1111 to sites like Scarleteen, etc., that are safe spaces full of good advice that respect anonymity and privacy.

    Some advice beyond the strictly sex-talking: one way in which my parents were, on the surface, pretty hands-off but in retrospect totally brilliant even though they were obviously horrified at the prospect of actual talking about actual sex with me: they took an active interest in the boys I dated, and instead of “forbidding” me to date boys they didn’t like, they took an interest in getting to know all of them, regardless. Had them over for dinner. Drove us to the movies. Met their parents. Allowed us to spend time at our house so we didn’t have to sneak around elsewhere. That way, they got to know my dates and could gently steer me in the direction of guys who were better for me (and all-around more respectful people) and take a kind of “Well, if that’s what you want to do ….” attitude toward the others without making me defensive. I ended up dating many very nice guys as a teenager (and some true losers, of course) but the way my parents took me and my dating life seriously instead of trying to pretend like it didn’t exist or hiding me under a rock or “grounding” me from certain people helped me be a better judge of the types of guys I wanted to spend time with and be more assertive in those relationships.

    • TheOtherAlice said:

      Yes, totally seconded. It’s a basic truth that telling a teen not to do something…doesn’t really work. Taking an interest and therefore making it believable and worth listening to when you say ‘I’m not sure about this guy’ is important. Equally important is adding the words ‘but I trust you to do what’s best’.

    • Xenophile said:

      I once read a neat article contrasting parenting in the USA and in the Netherlands regarding teens and sex. In the States there’s a tendency to pretend your kid isn’t having sex and make it as difficult as possible if they are. (No boys in the house! Ok, you can have boys over, but only in the living room! Ok, you can have boys in your room, but only with the door open!) In the Netherlands, it’s pretty common to let your kid’s significant other spend the night. In addition the increased communication about contraception and STIs, the Dutch parents also had considerably more influence over their child’s dating choices. If you’re a Dutch teen, you can bring your boyfriend/girlfriend home for dinner and if your parents like them, your parents will try to get to know them and eventually let them sleep over without drama. That’s a pretty big incentive to bring home someone they’ll approve of. If you assume your parents will never approve of them no matter what, then why bother trying?

      • heathenbee said:

        Such a great perspective : )

      • Britt said:

        That’s a huge point. If your parents never like anyone you date, then of course you’re probably going to just discount their opinion entirely. If they’ve proven that they can be reasonable and WILL approve of the ones worth approving of, then when Mom and Dad aren’t so sure about someone, it might hold some weight. Thankfully my parents were pretty great about this when I was young, but one of my best friends in HS ran into this problem and it messed her up pretty good.

        • Ethyl said:

          Wow, thank you for articulating that so well. It really cleared some things up for me!!!

          • Britt said:

            I’m really glad! You can thank my mom for that one. One of her favorite sayings when I was growing up is “you have to be able to play both sides of the coin sometimes.”

      • Sarah N. said:

        This. My best friend (since kindergarten) is an aromantic asexual, so it never really mattered, but she would only be allowed to go over to a boy’s house or have a boy over if it was with a group or I was there, which is heteronormative to begin with but mainly completely ridiculous. I’m good protection, yes, because I am a tall, strong girl who isn’t afraid to pick a fight, but it isn’t like I would keep her sober or keep her from getting laid. Best you should be hoping for is one or the other (sober but sexed up or drunk but virginal) because I’m big on enthusiastic consent and so is she. I was a throw-some-of-the-condoms-we-kept-in-my-brother’s-old-room-and-let-the-awkward-weed-out-the-weaklings sort of girl. Basically, it isn’t an effective system to try to control your child when it comes to sex. It’s their body. You can talk to and educate them, but you can’t control what they choose to do with their body (which in our case was mostly drink and sit in our ace to gray ace box of awesome).

        • Haha in high school my best friend was only allowed to stay at home without her mother if I was there, technically I was only allowed to sleep over if her mother WAS there, but my parents failed to ever check. We drank and went out for car rides with guys we met on the internet, because we were 14/15 and idiots.

    • I can see how that would work: meeting The Boy in a welcoming way means that people with unfortunate intentions will be scared off (and “don’t tell your parents about me” will come off as the red flag it is). And by being welcoming in general, “we’re not sure about this one” stands out as opposed to being parent-noises.

  7. sorcharei said:

    To #379: you are NOT a bad parent. You are a brave, honest, loving parent.

    I will, however, suggest you modify the Captain’s otherwise excellent advice in two ways.

    First, if you live in a town or city with a sex-positive store like Toys in Babeland, Good Vibrations, or the like, call them. Tell them your minor daughter wants a vibrator. Ask to make an appointment with a staff member who is good at dealing with teenagers. (In almost all jurisdictions I am aware of, you will have to be present for at least part of the visit. This is to protect the store and prevent them falling afoul of laws “protecting” minors from information about sex.) A good store of this type will:

    — make an after hours appt for you and your daughter, and provide you with a sitting area where you can wait on the premises while she shops

    — work with your daughter to figure out what she wants, and help her understand the differences between the various products on offer

    — help you be less embarrassed about the whole thing, by talking it over with you first, on the phone

    — discuss with your daughter how to use her new toy without infringing on the privacy and comfort levels of the other people in your household

    Second, do not allow your daughter to use your credit card. Instead, get her a prepaid card of her own with the agreed-on budget prepaid onto it. This way, no details about her purchase ever cross your credit card bill, which should increase your comfort level with the whole thing. Your credit card company can arrange this for you, generally with one phone call.

    P.S. This is an awesome thing to do for your daughter. Her willingness to talk to you about it, and to share her enthusiasm for the idea is testament to your success so far in raising her. Your discomfort is entirely understandable, but it’s about you and about how you have (despite your own clearly healthy attitudes towards sex) absorbed a lot of the ridiculous societal crap about female sexuality.

    P.P.S. My own daughter (now 32 years old) told me that the most helpful thing I ever said to her about sex was something along the lines of “the desire to have sex often feels like an emergency, but it never, ever is”. In retrospect, I have no idea where that comment came from, but I’m grateful that it helped her out along the way. It’s entirely likely that buying your daughter a vibrator will be helpful for her, too, in ways you can’t predict now.

    • Buzzed said:

      #379 here, and I want to thank you guys. She actually has a debit card account, and has been instructed as to how to make safe purchases online. I think maybe I’ll just funnel her some money and tell her what it’s for.

      • Redgirl said:

        This is a good idea in terms of her privacy and comfort. However, there are a lot of different kinds of vibrators and she may need some advice/guidance on choosing the best one for her. Maybe there is a site with reviews you can point her to? I don’t actually know. I do know that many of the new “couples-friendly” sex toy stores have really friendly, knowledgeable staff members who give good advice. But she may be able to get that elsewhere as well.

        • I think it’s okay to just pick something cheap-ish that looks interesting, for a first time. It’s difficult to know what might be the “best” for you, if you’ve never used one before.

          But for reviews (NSFW obviously) http://www.heyepiphora.com/ is pretty entertaining…and comprehensive.

          • Ethyl said:

            I disagree. There’s lots of questionable materials out there (anything labeled “for novelty use” for example), and different vibrators have different features. I agree with the posters recommending a pre-paid credit card and a link to Babeland or Good Vibrations. Good Vibes I know has reviews, videos, and lots of articles on how and why to pick one toy over another.

            More info on the nasty stuff sometimes used in sex toys: http://badvibes.org/

          • edenfantasys.com. NSFW. Some of their stuff is meh, but it does have informative reviews. Nothing is as good as going in person, although what a lady’s bits like are often different than she expects before she has gotten involved with putting toys there. (I do not know how true that is for gentlemens’ bits.)

      • Jen said:

        There’s also Venus Envy in Canada (they may ship internationally, I don’t know).

        And thank you for asking these questions — I have a little baby girl myself, and I’ve wanted to do something similar for her when she’s of age, so it’s great to see I’m not alone and get some advice on how to go about it. My parents never did The Talk for me, and while I got a lot of good information in good parts on the web, it took me awhile to find out how my body worked, and I probably chased some bad boys as a result. I turned out okay, though. 😉

        • blackcanary said:

          Venus Envy does ship internationally, but there would be additional customs fees and duties to bring it in from Canada to the U.S.

          That’s on top of shipping too.

          It’s a great shop (don’t get me wrong they are fab and I’ve bought from them before) but there are great shops in the U.S. as well – Babeland is another that springs to mind.

    • Xenophile said:

      “In almost all jurisdictions I am aware of, you will have to be present for at least part of the visit. This is to protect the store and prevent them falling afoul of laws “protecting” minors from information about sex.”

      CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS FIRST. I can’t emphasize this enough. I used to do adult novelty parties and in many, if not most, US jurisdictions (I can’t speak for elsewhere) showing a minor an adult toy (particularly one resembling genitalia) is legally the same as selling them pornography. It doesn’t matter if the parent is present or if the minor is near legal age. The minor could be a baby who can’t focus their eyes yet and will have no memory of the incident in five minutes, and it would still be very illegal.

      IF you’re not endangering their livelihood, then Babeland or Good Vibrations would be an excellent place to start. Kudos to both of you for being such thoughtful parents! This whole thread makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

      • neverjaunty said:

        This x100. You could be getting the store in a lot of trouble, and frankly, your daughter may not really want an appointment with a total stranger to discuss what kind of vibrator she’d like.

        On the other hand, the WEBSITES of many sex-positive stores like Toys in Babeland, Go Back to Bed, etc have reviews and discussions of different products and user comments, so she can see what other folks have said as well as ask questions anonymously.

        • Well presumably the store would know that sort of thing and could tell her when she called, but yes, doing the research first is definitely a good idea anyway.

  8. Leela said:

    #380, It’s good you want to talk to your daughter. Just, please don’t be this guy. Please. Caution, may be triggery for molesting and squick.

    http://live.washingtonpost.com/dear-prudence-120806.html
    Question 4, Q: I MAY HAVE GONE TOO FAR WITH MY DAUGHTER

    • JenniferP said:

      Trigger warning for PRUDENCENESS, also.

      • Sarah N. said:

        I feel like this encompasses many of my feelings for that women.

      • Leela said:

        Well, for once she seemed to grasp that this was not OK, although I think she should have hit him with a large dose of WTF DUDE ARE YOU HIGH OR JUST STUPID!!!

  9. “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.”

    As a teenage girl who spent long periods of time alone in my bedroom, this was one of the things that made me feel like a total aberration growing up. I wonder if it’s a bit easier now in some ways, for teens growing up with the internet? I suppose only if you know where to look and have the access.

    I think having my own after-hours shopping-and-education time would have been anxiety-making, though. Good on you, LWs! I wish I’d understood much more about consent when I was young.

  10. I definitely support the idea of allowing the daughters to choose a toy for themselves–had that same thought in regard to the Savage Love letter someone referenced above–but a little pre-reading could be helpful. There are a lot of vibrators out there, and they do different things, and I am positive I would have had no idea which one to get when I was a teenager.

    I don’t know of a good vibrator selection guide–I’m sure there is one out there–but for me, the click moment was reading Natalie Angier’s Woman: an Intimate Geography. Before then, I really did not know what was up with the clitoris. I knew where to find it and what it was supposed to do, but I didn’t learn how to enjoy it until I understood what was going on beneath the skin. Science! It helps everything!

    • NessieMonster said:

      Oo, I do know of a good sex toy reviewer who compares lots of different toys! She’s called Dangerous Lilly: http://dangerouslilly.com/category/reviews/sextoys-reviews/

      She talks about the safety aspects (jelly toys are bad! Not all ‘silicone’ toys are silicone. etc) and has reviewed most things from the really expensive to the dirt cheap. Her talking about ‘surface buzzy’ vs ‘deep rumbly’ vibrations also made certain things make a LOT more sense. Definitely take a look. Just to warn you she has also blogged her own erotica and lots about kink, but it’s easy to avoid if you’re not interested.

      Also, I wanted to say, you parents are awesome! Keep up the good work. I would’ve appreciated it at 14, that’s for sure. Because, I was sexually active at 15 and had had several not-quite-consensual experiences long before that. Knowing about enthusiastic consent as a concept, and knowing “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” would’ve done wonders for my mental health and personal development.

      I love this cartoon too: http://www.thetoryparty.com/comics/2011/09/07/perverts/ and wish I’d been given it by the time I was thirteen. Ah well.

      • Commenter said:

        I’ve always struggled to explain what I don’t like about certain toys, and that’s why the words “surface buzzy” vs “deep rumbly” is the best thing ever.

        Thank you so much!

    • NessieMonster said:

      Oo, I do know of a good sex toy reviewer who compares lots of different toys! She’s called Dangerous Lilly: http://dangerouslilly.com/category/reviews/sextoys-reviews/

      She talks about the safety aspects (jelly toys are bad! Not all ‘silicone’ toys are silicone. etc) and has reviewed most things from the really expensive to the dirt cheap. Her talking about ‘surface buzzy’ vs ‘deep rumbly’ vibrations also made certain things make a LOT more sense. Definitely take a look. Just to warn you she has also blogged her own erotica and lots about kink, but it’s easy to avoid if you’re not interested.

      Also, I wanted to say, you parents are awesome! Keep up the good work. I would’ve appreciated it at 14, that’s for sure. Because, I was sexually active at 15 and had had several not-quite-consensual experiences long before that. Knowing about enthusiastic consent as a concept, and knowing “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” would’ve done wonders for my mental health and personal development.

      I love this cartoon too: http://www.thetoryparty.com/comics/2011/09/07/perverts/ and wish it’d been given it by the time I was thirteen. Ah well.

    • Redgirl said:

      Natalie Angier is FANTASTIC! I’m a science writer myself, and she’s one of my heroes.

  11. CPALady said:

    Can I recommend Yes Means Yes too? It’s definitely an enthusiastic consent book, but I feel like any representation of consent as something other than a lack of “no” is positive for a teenager (especially a straight teenage girl, but really everyone).

    • zweisatz said:

      That’s the one with texts from many different people, right? It has a lot of triggering potential so I wouldn’t recommend it in this context.

  12. I am a HUGE fan of the idea of giving teenagers gift certificates that are specifically from reputable, women-friendly, sex-positive, women- and/or/ locally-owned toy stores.

    That way your teenager can use the gift certificate WHEN she wants: maybe not right away? Maybe she wants time to think about it, or do research, or call up the friendly shop people and ask questions? And that way your teen can also use the gift certificate on WHATEVER she wants. Toys? Smutty books? Video? Nipple pasties? Whatever she’s curious about…and all in her own time. She doesn’t even ever have to tell you if she uses that gift certificate at all! Which might be more comfortable for HER, let alone you! A gift certificate says “I endorse you being a person with sexuality. And here’s a shop I would recommend checking out.” Cause Amazon? Not gonna help her with questions. Not gonna explain about cheap Chinese rubber novelty products vs. latex vs. silicone vs. glass, etc etc. Not gonna let her hold the merch in her hands before she takes the plunge and buys something.

    I really, really believe that this is the way of handling the situation (erm) that puts the lowest amount of pressure on your kid, along with the right amount of positive influence.

    • Anon21 said:

      As above, a totally hands-off approach probably won’t work with regard to in-person transactions, due to legal issues. (That is, sex shops generally can’t sell to minors without a parent/guardian’s in-person consent.)

  13. killiara said:

    To the first LW, coming from the perspective of someone who went through the daughter’s side of what you’re looking at, You Are Not A Bad Parent. On the practical side, I’d suggest politely suggesting a toy that charges via the wall or a plug rather than throwaway batteries, as that’s not only a hidden cost, but can be embarassing to explain that, “I’m out of batteries again” dosen’t mean AAA’s for the tv remote.

    One thing my mom told me that always stuck is “Masterbation is God’s way of saying you don’t have to sleep with THAT.”

    • Rechargeables can be pretty expensive, and harder to hide while they’re charging.

      • Irene said:

        Eh, everyone has a zillion little battery-powered things lately. I don’t think I would ever wonder “what are those batteries for” when I saw the charger out.

        • Most rechargeable toys don’t have removable battery packs. You have to attach the cord to the toy to charge. Unless the teen already has a convenient way to hide it while it’s charging — a lot of houses have really stupidly placed outlets — it can be awkward, is all.

          • Irene said:

            Ah, okay, I misunderstood. Sorry. I was thinking of one with regular batteries and just using rechargeable triple-A’s or whatever they take — didn’t realize you meant “rechargeable” as in the whole thing.

    • Something I read once that was talking about being a parent of a teenage boy said, essentially, if you can afford it, make sure there’s always an extra bottle of hand lotion and box of Kleenex in his room. Keep sufficient spares wherever you would normally store them, and never ever ever seem to notice the rate at which they disappear. I think something similar could probably be done with batteries. Costco sells ginormous packs.

      • f2 said:

        Besides, don’t kids have pocket money anymore these days?

        It’s not like you have shamefully to ask the cashier to get AAA batteries from behind the desk, as it is saidto be the case with condoms in some places.

    • Godless Heathen said:

      I haven’t been all that impressed with wall-plug-in models, which seem to sacrifice control for sheer power. Fine thing if you want more power, not that great for a first time toy. I recommend inexpensive battery models for any first-time buyer because you may have to try a few different things before you get what you’re looking for. Once you know what you like, then make the investment in a rechargeable. LW’s daughter may find that vibes aren’t her cup of tea, better she do that with a $25 model than a $65+ one.

      I’ve been very happy with Fun Factory’s products, which have a nice balance between ease of control and moderate to strong power at the upper end, and they make a good variety of models and sizes. I do NOT recommend the Hitachi Magic Wand as anything other than a strong and sturdy back massager, absolutely no control and far too much power. Really brilliant on sore shoulders though.

      • Ethyl said:

        Whereas I LOVE my Hitatchi. Everyone’s bodies are different. “I” statements much improve these kids of dialogues.

  14. Puss in Boots said:

    For #379: I worked at an upscale, female-friendly adult boutique for seven years, and I emphatically agree that you should buy your daughter a vibrator.

    It has less to do with the need for orgasms, which is valid, but has more to do with this sentiment of the Captain’s: “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.” This is SO TRUE. She should have the opportunity to explore her sexuality in a safe way so that later, when she is in a position to convey what she needs to someone she is intimate with, she’ll actually have the answers–because I can almost guarantee her future partner won’t have those answers.

    Thanks for being the kind of parent who has this kind of healthy relationship with your daughter. I hope more parents follow your lead.

    And for #380: You’re awesome. Good luck.

  15. anon said:

    For #380: the one thing I wish had been covered in my sex ed classes when I was a teen was that you can say no for any reason you want. Any reason. And no is a complete sentence that requires no explanation.

    Instead, what they did was a unit of “premarital sex is dirty and sinful” and a unit about birth control that was heavily framed around the idea of readiness for sex, to satisfy the two main camps, which was remarkably unhelpful with real-life talking to real-life boys (there were no out queer people at my school) because it implied that anyone who didn’t want sex was either unready (immature) or thought it was sinful (a prude).

    So if you can manage to cover that she can say no without implying that she should, that’d be cool.

    • Absolutely. I had a lot of regrettable sex because I thought that I *should* be interested in having sex with boys.

      • Sarah N. said:

        Which raises the additional point of, while you shouldn’t be that annoying parent who assumes their kid is queer or constantly pushes that it’s okay, make sure they know it’s okay to like anyone or have sex with anyone who they want to when they’re ready. Gender doesn’t matter. Genitalia doesn’t matter. Basically no public schools offer anything for queer students, so you have to make it clear that you’re okay with answering any questions they have about non-cisheterosexual sex (because guess what, sex can be heterosexual and not involve PIV). It might just be questions, but you have to be okay with fielding them and if you aren’t ready for that, educate yourself. Maybe it won’t be your kid who’ll need that support. Maybe they’ll have a friend who needs it and being that cool ass parent who isn’t shit about queer sex is important. Being a non-heteronormative parent is awesome.

        • Julie said:

          I am not a parent, but this is my goal as an auntie: to be the person who is available to answer all the embarrassing questions they don’t want to ask their parents.

        • turtle said:

          yes. this.

          I’ll add that if you are not sure where the line is between being the “annoying parent who assumes their kid is queer” and just being a supportive parent who’s okay with their kid being queer, err on the side of annoying.

          I’m queer, and my parents just sort of figured out that I would get the message that they were okay with that, because after all, they have gay friends, so of course they were okay with gay people in general. The thing is, I was very much aware of the fact that sometimes what people think is okay for people in general is not something they necessarily think is okay for their family in particular. I think it would’ve been nice if my mom had explicitly said the words, “you know, it’s okay if you want to date girls, right?” a few times over the course of growing up, even if it would’ve felt awkward and presumptuous to do so.

          I have a friend whose parents really truly thought she would turn out to be a lesbian, were very clear about telling her they were okay with that, and went so far as to enroll her in sex ed at the local unitarian church, even though they’re jewish atheists, just because sex ed at the unitarian church was so much more comprehensive and inclusive. She is very much straight, and it’s something she jokes about now.

          I guess I think if you end up presuming something that’s not true and that presumption becomes a punchline your kid uses when she grows up, it’s still worth it just to get the message out there that “I am a safe person to come out to,” if your child really does turn out to be queer.

          oh, also, LW 380: according to this friend, the Unitarians are a really good resource for sex ed!

          • Sarah N. said:

            Definitely err far on the side of being annoying. A while after I’d figured out the sexuality I still pretty much identify with now, my mom expressly asked me if I wasn’t heterosexual and said it was okay if I wasn’t and I just shrugged and said I didn’t know. It took me a long time to decide that I wanted to put in the effort to explain to her how I feel in terms of romance and sex. My brother still hasn’t come out to my parents as far as I’m aware (and might not ever, being happily in love with one girl).

    • Redgirl said:

      “And no is a complete sentence that requires no explanation.”

      I wish someone had taught me this when I was young. You never, ever have to justify or explain why you don’t want to have sex.

      • SadieBlake said:

        +100millionbajilion

    • Mary said:

      I got lots and lots of “don’t have sex until you’re ready”. What I really lacked was “even when you’ve been having sex with someone regularly, it’s OK to stop”.

  16. quartzpebble said:

    #279, hats off to you. Seriously. When I was growing up, I got relatively sex-positive sex ed. I wanted a vibrator after the age of 15 or so because I heard they were awesome, and I didn’t feel like I could ask my parents for one. I could not *wait* until I turned 18 so I could get one myself.

    • electric toothbrush. that is all.

      • I had an electric toothbrush that I would put into a plastic bag for protective covering. And then a standard toothbrush in the bathroom. 😛

  17. Gavia said:

    Seriously, sex-positive sex education as a teen would probably have saved my first marriage (which, for the record, was in my 20s, not my teens!).

  18. Pseu said:

    LWs, I am smiling so much right now. You’re both so thoughtful and loving, and look how you’re more concerned about doing the right thing for your children than you are about being uncomfortable! You are good parents, you really really are.

    One of the hardest things for me about parenting is how easy it is to doubt myself, and how difficult it is to ever feel proud in the absence of concrete affirmations. Other moms are very quick to point out the stuff I “do wrong”, but almost no one ever tells me “good job” and they definitely don’t ever holds a parade for me when I find the missing hair to a Lego Man and let me tell you I have had to find that hair a LOT and it is not easy. It’s not that I expect constant kudos or promotions like I’d get in a paid-work environment, but without those things the negative voices can feel overwhelming. It may be different for you, but I thought that I’d mention if it case you’ve ever felt the same. For me it’s very easy to lose my perspective, and forget that all I really have to do is love my child and be present for him.

    Anyway if it helps, know that while you can’t see me right now I am marching two pencils back and forth across my desk in a tiny parade in your honor. Yay for both of you!

  19. Joan of Anon said:

    For LW#2, with regards to the how to deal with sexual assualt/harrassment, I would possibly recommend that rather than tackling this subject in depth with her yourself, you get her a book or recommend her a blog, or something, which will deal with these topics well. I think that, since you’re a bloke, this isn’t your area of expertise and with the best will in the world, stuff on that topic might be better received if it came from a woman. I think your daughter may potentially see you as being over-protective and not really listen in depth to what you are saying, especially if she hasn’t personally experienced these things yet (which of course I hope she hasn’t). So something which can make it clear “This happens, a lot, I’m not just being a possessive male figure being paranoid about you” might be helpful.

    To both of you, my personal experience of dealing with sex and relationship stuff with my parents has left me with one very important thing you should both make clear to your children. Tell them that if they fuck up or get something wrong, they can absolutely talk to you. About anything. If they cheat on their partner. If they have sex without protection just ’cause they were being stupid. If they any do any number of things that they will probably think is the end of the world and need your support for, but be scared of telling you about it. Make it clear that you will be supportive and loving no matter what, and that they’re really not capable of screwing up in a way which will change that.

    Best of luck to you both.

    • Copcher said:

      I totally agree with your second paragraph, JofA. And, it might seem obvious but I think it should be said anyway, make good on that promise. If they come to you upset about something that they’ve done that you think they shouldn’t have done (had sex too early, had sex without protection, got drunk and can’t fully remember what happened), even if you have had conversations about not doing that thing in the past, listen to them and support them without shaming them. Give them what they need – Plan B, a visit to the doctor, a hug, whatever – and don’t say anything about how if they had only listened to you and done what you had told them, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

      In my experience, one serious effect that shaming or lecturing someone after they have screwed up has is that the next time something like that happens, they won’t tell you. If the natural consequence of whatever the screw up was are really significant, that might be enough to stop your kid from doing it again. If not, a lecture probably won’t make a difference.

      • Even if you feel upset or angry, put it away until you’re alone or with your partner to deal with.

      • Britt said:

        This absolutely. And also, if it is something that you feel like there needs to be a follow up conversation about, save it for after the initial crisis around whatever it is when you’re both calm and can talk about it reasonably.

      • Bunny said:

        Late to the party, but wanted to YES THIS, on this point. My mum was brilliant in so many ways about sex stuff… until I actually started wanting to have sex. The sex-pos mum that bought me my first toy, told me about oral and sex for pleasure and ways to use condoms in entertaining ways that would make them fun instead of a chore…

        Was not happy when I stayed overnight at a boyfriend’s house, and insisted I sleep on a mattress on the floor in the front room, checking with his parents to MAKE SURE and visa versa the one time he slept around mine. And started getting needy for information about whose house I was staying at for friend’s parties, and whether boys were there. Combined with my dad’s tendency to threaten any boys I brought home the moment he thought I was out of earshot, the end result was I just… stopped bringing boys home or telling my parents about them.

        And instead of having sex in my own home, if the boys’ parents weren’t such that we could have sex at their houses, we’d do it erm… wherever we could. Which led to a lot of sex in skeevy, unsanitary and unsafe places. And meant my first anal sex experience did NOT take place in a comfortable or safe setting.

        It was only after I told my parents, after one heated argument about me visiting a male friend, that I’d lost my virginity several months and several sex partners previous, that this particular friend was actually gay anyway and that it was kind of a shame I’d never had sex in a bed (that was a childish lie, but I was seriously fed up) that they stopped. I ended up thinking they were hypocrites, and all their previous assurances about understanding and openness around thinks like say, drugs, broken condoms and such was dismissed as holding as much weight as their attitude about sex. Took me a while to start trusting them with private information, after that.

        Oddly enough, they never had a problem with me staying around my female best friend’s house even though we were both openly not-straight, very intimate with each other and often wobbled around the borders of in-a-relationship.

  20. FarmerStina said:

    In addition to all the good advice above, I’ll throw out two suggestions.

    #379 – maybe look at http://www.babeland.com as the place to get a gift certificate. They have really discrete packaging, plus they have a lot of great articles and advice on their website about vibrators and other toys. I’ve learned a lot from them.

    #380 – I would suggest that you simply purchase a box of either Plan B or Elle for your daughter to have on hand in addition to whatever birth control she chooses to use. Living 400 miles away means you can’t get that for her quickly if she needs it, and you don’t want to have to be driving that far to get her some because she can’t ask any adult around her. I think it’s about $40, which is steep, but it should last a few years before it expires. I did that when I was using condoms regularly and it was nice to know that if I needed it I didn’t have to go out looking for a pharmacy that stocked it and didn’t have a judgy pharmacist who might deny me the meds I needed right then! With her being under 17, that’s doubly so.

  21. Sarah N. said:

    To the first letter writer: you don’t address this very much, so you might already be doing this and this may be totally unnecessary, but even if the prevailing theory in your house is that having sex during high school is A Bad Idea, I hope you’re still educating and being sex-positive to your daughter. As the Captain brought up, it is all too likely you’ve internalized the HUGE double standard that exists and the last thing you want is for your daughter to feel ashamed and like she can’t talk to you if she does choose to have sex.

    You can’t say she “seems” to have internalized your viewpoint. You need to talk to her about your viewpoint and ask her what she thinks and be willing to accept that she may not have the same viewpoint as you. My brother and I don’t have the same viewpoint as our mother, but while my mother is more conservative than us, she’s always been there to educate and support us. Being like my mother is SUPER important. You need to tell her that while you don’t think she should, this is how you have safe sex. So . . . just talk to her. Be open.

    As a final point, not all teenagers have sexual urges. Fun fact.

    • Buzzed said:

      I was basing the “seems” on conversations she’s had with me. She’s repeatedly stated that she has no intention of doing so, but I’m sure we all know how far our intentions took us at 15.

      • Buzzed said:

        Oh, and yes, I know some people don’t have sexual urges. My daughter clearly does, though, considering.

        • Kaz said:

          Oh, and yes, I know some people don’t have sexual urges. My daughter clearly does, though, considering.

          Shout-out from the asexual side of the fence: it’s perfectly possible to enjoy masturbating but still not be interested in having sex with other people at all. Don’t discount the possibility based on that.

          • Buzzed says below that her daughter came out as bi.

          • Sarah N. said:

            Plus it can be easy to mistake a romantic interest for pants-feelings if she turns out be, say, a biromantic or panromantic asexual. I don’t know if she is, so . . . talk about things. All the time. And do not push her into any boxes. She gets to pick her boxes and the only feelings you know for certain are the ones she articulates.

      • thepaintedlady said:

        Oh man. Just saying, and obviously you can’t read her mind to know, but for the last bit of high school, I was having long conversations with my mom about how Sex In High School is a Bad Idea while going and fooling around with my boyfriend, sometimes right after. And it wasn’t precisely sneaking around – not like you’d think, anyway. I would tell myself over and over that I wouldn’t do it again, and then I’d find myself alone again, and hormones would take over, and I’d feel awful after. Lather, rinse, repeat. My mom had no indication anything had changed because I thought it was bad and she would be angry, plus I always told myself I wasn’t going to do it again so I didn’t really have to tell her. The transition from Sex Is a Bad Idea to Sex is Fun if Terrible was nearly overnight, and so she had no idea the shift had occurred. Now I realize she would have completely accepted my newly-minted only-sort-of-a-virgin status, but she was taking my lead on talking about sex. She meant so, so well, but she didn’t realize what it did to my burgeoning sex life.

  22. Ramekin said:

    As a young adult, a few things to add to the answer to #379.
    1) Do not forget to tell your daughter to get lube as well (this may seem obvious but it is not to people new to sexual activities and it is helpful in pretty much any sexual situation).
    2) If your daughter is underage, she probably cannot go into a sex shop alone as a minor, so please check out the rules before sending her in on her own. The internet is probably the best solution if local shops do not allow minors (accompanied or not).

  23. clh19 said:

    LW #379: I just wanted to recommend http://www.mypleasure.com. I’ve found that Amazon’s selection/prices/recommendations aren’t as good at specialty sites, plus a huge neg for me w/ Amazon is that if you search for/buy sex toys on there, they’ll show up under recent/searches/recommendations. As someone who browses Amazon at work/people use my computer when logged into my Amazon account, that’s a big no-no.

    What I like about mypleasure is a) discreet packaging. The boxes are white and plain, and are actually identical to the boxes that Lancome.com ships in (fun fact!) b) reviews are pretty useful for determining toys that are good for beginners (in fact, they have a starter kit for beginners!) c) categorization of toys is pretty good and easy to navigate (the site is also bright/sleek and not sleazy) and d) they ALWAYS have good sales. You also always get a free gift with your order, so whatever she picks out, she can get a free pocket vibe, etc. with it. They also sell lube starter packs, etc.

    So I would definitely recommend getting her a gift certificate! You’re being an awesome mom 🙂

  24. meh said:

    After the fact I wished someone had talked to me about the bad side. I never doubted that my parents would love and support me no matter what, but I still kept quiet about bad things, because I felt like my lack of anger somehow was consent. Even though I knew factually what actual consent was and that I had not given it, I was not prepared for the lack of cleanness in my own emotional response.

  25. Irene said:

    If she wants a vibrator, that could mean one of three things (that I’ve thought of so far — there could be others): either (1) she is already proficient with masturbating manually and just wants the experience of a vibrator because she’s heard they’re great, or (2) she’s already found it difficult or impossible to orgasm manually and thinks a vibrator will help, or (3) she doesn’t realize that it’s possible to masturbate without a vibrator. The books recommended above should help clarify whichever issue is the case for her, but in relation to the first and perhaps the third, I just wanted to say that some of us don’t get on with vibrators, and that’s perfectly okay.

    From what I’ve heard, the teenagers with the most dysfunctional relationships (e.g., young teens getting pregnant by men in their twenties) are almost always anorgasmic. Cause and effect are hard to tease out here, but I suspect that it’s not so much getting orgasms solo that’s protective, but the self-knowledge and feeling of agency that comes with understanding your own body’s reactions, and accepting yourself as a sexual person whether you’re ready for partnered sex yet or not. If you think your sexual personhood depends on what someone else does to you (the old idea of needing a man to “awaken” your “womanhood,” ew ew ew) that can really do a number on your self-esteem.

    I’m glad I had the chance to grow up at a time when I was hearing from all sides that masturbation was normal. It shocks me that the message disappeared from the mainstream (or what seemed like the mainstream to me at that time) so soon. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a girl of my temperament to try to get through high school without having that kind of stress reliever. (Even if I’d wanted to have partnered sex, the chances that I’d have had enough privacy to have sex frequently would have been pretty slim. Once a month or something really wouldn’t have cut it.)

    By the way, is she taking antidepressants? Because those can do a real number on one’s ability to orgasm.

  26. Y’all are both awesome parents.

    LW #1, GoodVibes has a “How to Choose a Vibrator” page that also lists their top 10 “for beginners” models. Pages for the individual models include information about both how loud and how intense they are, on a 1-5 scale. (I probably wouldn’t recommend going above about a 3 on either scale for a first-timer.)

    LW #2, nth-ing the recommendations to provide your daughter with some Plan B and some information on consent. As far as the “not being sexually assaulted” part goes… tread cautiously. It’s one thing to make sure she knows she has the right to say no, at any time, to anything, regardless of what she’s previously said yes to, and that nobody has the right to do anything to her that she hasn’t said yes to. It’s another to frame that as part of not being sexually assaulted. The idea that there is a set of behaviors girls and women can perform, or a set of knowledge girls and women can have, that will prevent their being sexually assaulted is both really common and really toxic. It’s on the same continuum as “why was she wearing that” — not nearly as vile, but on the same continuum.

    If I were going to talk to a young teenage girl about sexual assault, here’s how I’d frame it: there are a lot of ideas out there about how girls should dress and act in order to avoid being sexually assaulted. A lot of those ideas contradict each other, but they all have one thing in common — they don’t work. There’s no magic set of rules where, if you follow them perfectly, you’re guaranteed never to be assaulted. But people like to pretend otherwise, because it’s less scary to think “If I just do X, Y, and Z, bad things won’t happen to me.” That’s why you hear so much crap like “Why was she even alone with him?” or “Why was she dressed that way?” or “She really shouldn’t have gotten so drunk.” Because if they can make it the victim’s fault, then they can feel safer.

    Here’s the important thing to know: it’s never the victim’s fault. You should be able to walk down the street in your underwear at two in the morning, all by yourself or with someone else, drunk or sober, and be perfectly safe. The idea that guys just can’t help themselves under certain circumstances is wrong, and really insulting to guys.

    Here’s another important thing to know: you don’t have to be nice. You can scream and yell and make a scene if someone’s making you feel unsafe. You don’t have to, but you can. You can also [insert method of getting a no-questions-asked ride home — maybe she can call a relative or a family friend, maybe you can give her some kind of gift card for a cab company]. You can call me at any hour of the day or night and know that I won’t judge you or think less of you, no matter what the situation is.

    — That’s how I’d go about it. I’m not sure whether that’s the best possible approach, because this wasn’t a conversation I ever had with a parent. (The part about getting a no-questions-asked ride home and being able to call at any time, for any reason, was a real conversation, but the rest wasn’t.)

  27. staranise said:

    #380, go you for being so awesome about this.

    I do want to warn you away from one thing that’s not as helpful as most people think it is, and that’s, “If I find out anyone has harmed you, I’ll beat the shit out of him.” (Usually just “him.”) This has led to so many people keeping silent about sexual assault, because whatever happened, they don’t want the person in question to get beat up. Maybe they still love him/her! Or want to deny what happened. Or don’t want other people to find out. Or fear the social consequences A lot of things. So if your daughter is afraid that telling you about a less-than-optimal sexual situation is going to unleash a DADALANCHE on whoever she had it with, she’s more likely to clam up.

    You might want to sit down with her and explain that if anything bad happens, she doesn’t have to feel or act in any particular way. She doesn’t have to feel violated, nor get over it quickly. You’ll support her if she goes to the police, or if she pretends it never happened. It is her decision, and you’re behind her no matter what.

    • ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY. There are a huge mess of emotions around being hurt like that. Especially when it occurs within families one of the huge things to overcome in reporting it, especially for children, is the idea that it will then be your fault that they get in trouble. And that applies to other situations too. You don’t want to be responsible for something like that, and also, you don’t want to risk that your male relative (because it almost always is a guy saying this) will do this and then get arrested for it and potentially even go to jail. The only thing you should do when you find out someone’s been sexually assaulted is what they want. Because they’ve just had someone do something they didn’t want, and you don’t want to do that to them again.

    • twomoogles said:

      Thank you for this. My dad said this to me, and it really did not help. I remember thinking ‘if anything like that happens to me, I won’t be telling you…’ It also really reinforces the ‘woman is victim, man is monster, man is savior’ idea. My brother sure never got this talk.

      (Though in my case there was also resentment because my dad was pretty emotionally abusive. I very much wanted to say ‘All right, so what about a guy who berates me for everything I do, won’t let me get a word in to defend myself, takes his bad moods out on me, and constantly calls me useless…That’d be just fine, I guess?’ /my issues)

      • staranise said:

        I’ll just say, I get the definite feeling that a lot of the time the sentiment has way less to do with concern for the potential victim’s feeling of safety or well-being than the potential avenger’s ego. Not that a lot of guys see it that way when they say it, of course; they just so HAPPEN to think that the best course of action is also one that lets them be the super-masculine hero who solves everything. Because our society is not very good at coming up with narratives around rape that are actually tailored to the needs of rape survivors.

  28. Ann said:

    Very cool! This comment is for parents who may not have as open lines of communication as the two LWs do with their daughters. As a child of Asian immigrant parents and a shy kid with no older siblings (pre-internet days no less), I was always eternally grateful that my mom tossed me a copy of Love & Sex in Plain Language when I was 12. I don’t think I would have discovered masturbation til much later otherwise, but lo and behold the chapter on masturbation encouraged me to try it out. I don’t remember how good the rest of the book was, it’s quite old, but I do recall it discussing masturbation clearly enough that it seemed like a fun idea. 😛

    Even much later into my adolescence, I was never comfortable talking to my parents about sex or dating. My mom tried but I was very protective of my privacy. Having an indirect communication channel through recommended websites and books seems like a great alternative if you are raising a shy monosyllabic teen who nonetheless is OMG PANTSFEELINGS.

    • I just realized nobody has mentioned Our Bodies, Ourselves. So consider it mentioned.

      • Ethyl said:

        I totally did 😦

        • And in the very first comment, too. Dunno how I missed that — sorry!

          • Ethyl said:

            No worries! 🙂

  29. belindie said:

    She’s better off learning to come with her hand than a vibrator.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hey, I’m letting this through to say: You’re wrong. A lot of people need assistance from toys to come, and it’s not some deficiency if you do.

      • Jinian said:

        And some of us just like toys sometimes. Variety is good!

        I haven’t seen The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex recommended yet, and I think it’s a pretty good comprehensive manual. I definitely endorse all the other reading recommendations, too, especially the Angier.

      • S. said:

        Amen.

      • Irene said:

        That’s true — but it does seem to me that a lot of people get the idea somewhere that for girls and women, masturbation = vibrator use, when there are a bazillion ways people do it. I think it’s not a bad idea to mess around directly first, or as well, anyway. There’s no wrong way to have an orgasm (or just have pleasant feelings, whatever), but it’s nice to be able to manage it without bothering with anything but oneself, and it’s a good thing to get familiar with yourself without a toy in the way at some point. (I do think it would be a rare woman who couldn’t at least make herself feel pretty good manually, even if she couldn’t come that way.)

        • Sarah N. said:

          Ehhhhh, nooooooooooo. Yes, society is more than a bit messed up in its general understanding of female sexuality, but policing what women should and shouldn’t do/prefer/know doesn’t help.

        • JenniferP said:

          Let’s not talk about a hierarchy of ways to come. Period.

      • Marie said:

        It took me a long, long time to get my first orgasm. At some point, I bought a vibrator, because from everything I’d heard they were guaranteed to get me off, but nothing happened. I ended up throwing the damn thing away in disgust.

        In the end, it was using my fingers that got me there.

        I’m sure that vibrators are helpful and fun for a lot of people, and if LW1’s daughter wants one, that’s great. But maybe they’re not universally the right thing for everyone?

        • JenniferP said:

          No one said that vibrators are The Best Way to masturbate.

          Axioms:

          1) Everyone is different!

          2) Wanting a vibrator is a good enough reason to have a vibrator. The daughter should not have to “prove” she mastered hand pleasures first before getting one. ICK ICK ICK ICK

          3) The vibrator may not work for the daughter. So what?

          4) There is no hierarchy for masturbation and what kind is good and what kind is second best. The whole point is to experiment and get to know YOUR body.

          • Irene said:

            Can I just say that for my part, I in no way wanted to imply that she needed to prove anything before getting a vibrator, and that I absolutely agree that her wanting a vibrator is the perfect reason she should have one? I was speaking tangentially and in more general terms, not even specifically about the girl in question. I also want to apologize for implying any hierarchy in the matter.

          • Marie said:

            No one said that vibrators are The Best Way to masturbate.

            That’s not actually true. I’ve heard the phrase “every woman should own a vibrator” in many, many places.

            The vibrator may not work for the daughter. So what?

            She’s 15. If she’s bought into the vibrator hype and the vibrator doesn’t work for her it may reassure her if someone tells her it’s okay not to like vibrators.

            I don’t know why you felt the need to roll out points 1, 2 and 4. What makes you think I don’t agree with them?

          • But this conversation isn’t happening in many, many places. It’s happening here, and I haven’t seen anybody saying that in this conversation. I didn’t have the impression that the Captain thought you personally disagreed with any of those points, just that there’s some prescriptive language going on in this particular thread.

          • Marie said:

            Maybe we can let the Captain speak for herself?

          • JenniferP said:

            What OtherBecky said.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Let me guess: you’re that guy who freaks out that if his girlfriend has a vibrator he’ll never be able to satisfy her.

    • I can’t even always do it WITH a vibrator.

      • Ali said:

        Me too! (It’s all tied up in a lot of physical dysphoria for me, which makes it bonus angsty.)

    • Joan of Anon said:

      She’s 15 and enthusiastic about a vibe – if she’s able to come with her hands she probably already does, and if she’s not she shouldn’t not be able to masturbate in favour of trying to learn something it may not be possible for her to learn.

      • JenniferP said:

        Right. Wanting to have a vibrator is a good reason to have a vibrator! Who cares if it “works”? How would we even know? I don’t want to know.

  30. FlyBy said:

    One suggestion that I haven’t seen in this thread yet, and that probably doesn’t apply to the LWs (who are AWESOME), but might be useful for others:

    When I was a teen, I spent the night at my aunt’s house in one of her (now grown) daughter’s rooms. On the shelf in the middle of her book case was a sex-ed-for-teens book. It was biologically accurate about sex and contraception, with no particular agenda beyond ‘sexuality varies from person to person, your desires or lack thereof are perfectly valid, pressure is not cool.’ I stayed up late and read the whole thing. I don’t know if it was left there from when her daughter occupied the room or if she put it out for me, but I’m very glad that I came across it.

    (I suspect it was deliberate. She doesn’t seem like the type to accidentally leave a sex book in the guest room, and she probably guessed that my religious upbringing and well-meaning-but-shy parents had left a few gaps in my knowledge. She was right. I wish she were still alive so I could thank her.)

    • TO said:

      This is pretty much how I learned where babies came from, when I was six or seven. After a trip to the library with my dad, he handed me two or three extra books he’d picked out himself. For a teenager I think putting books or magazines like this somewhere where they could ‘happen to find them’ and not have to talk about them with their parents would work great, I think.

  31. I wish my own mom had been so cool! When I was six she thought I was touching myself (as far I recall I might have been scratching). This resulted in her slapping me and demanding over and over “Why were you touching yourself? Why are you so dirty? Why are you so nasty?” I didn’t know what to say so I just kept saying “Sometimes I just forget my manners.” because I had no idea what had set her off! the last thing she snarled at me before sending me to bed was “I don’t want to hear about you asking for a damn thing tomorrow from your babysitter or I will beat your ass!” I never quite understood that, but it did serve to make it hard for me for a very long time to ask for things directly.

    All her behavior over the years (she’s bipolar and has borderline personality disorder, and refuses meds) never stopped me from self-exploring my pants feelings at 14, nor did I feel one bit guilty about it, nor any type of sex, ever. Never affected my enjoyment of it either, thankfully!

  32. twomoogles said:

    I love that people are starting to move away from the traditional ways of dealing with teenage girls’ love/sex lives. One thing that has always bugged me is that so often there’s this tone taken of ‘dad with a shotgun on the porch greeting daughter’s dates’. It makes it seem like sex is just something boys do ‘to’ girls, and the parents’ main concern is stopping it happening. There’s so often so little time given to the idea that maybe their daughter will *want* to have sex.

    I think starting with the idea that boys and girls have different roles, and that boys are always the aggressor, sets up a lot of problems. It’s often meant well, and protectively. But it sets up the ideas that teenage girls can only ever be victims when it comes to sexual relationships. And that can erase signs of what *real* abuse/coercion/just plain jerks can look like.

    Defining what ‘I want you to be with someone who treats you well’ actually looks like is really important. I know for me it never went past ‘you better not stay with anyone who hits you’. Which is a good message to hear, but doesn’t touch on what a *good* relationship looks like. It also implies that women can never be the abuser/aggressor/jerk in a relationship or hookup.

    I find there’s this subtle slut shaming present in a lot of sexual education of teenage girls. ‘You can’t possibly actually want this. Girls who want to have sex with boys, especially multiple boys, have self-esteem issues or troubled childhoods etc etc.’

  33. Patu said:

    To #380
    Another thing to keep in mind is how you actually have the conversation(s). Because if she’s not ready to listen or too embarrassed or generally unwilling etc, she won’t learn anything and will probably be put off future talks about this sort of thing. (There is also a sort of irony about having a sex talk with an unwilling teen about how nonconsentual stuff is bad, but I’mma assume you’re too savvy to fall into that trap).

    So in terms of actually starting the conversation, I would suggest taking it very slowly and not overloading her. Better a succession of short conversations (ideally ending with blog/book recs for her to explore on her own!) than a sermon she will be overwhelmed by or tune out.

    And if she flat out refuses to have this kind of conversation with you, I would suggest respecting that, but buying her one of the fantastic books the Captain reccomended and telling her, “we don’t have to talk about this, but in case you want to find out more, here’s something that might be useful”. If she’s not ready to talk, she’s not ready, and hassling her will make her less likely to come to you later with questions.

  34. Lillerina said:

    LW#2, I advise listening to the Sex Nerd Sandra podcast, specifically the episodes (from I think May?) about talking to your kids/teens about sex. She’s really sex positive and fun, she IDs as a feminist, and the podcast is really funny, too.

    • Ethyl said:

      Thanks for this recommendation! My family lives fairly far away, and we are always looking for new stuff to listen to on those long car rides!!!

  35. Sarah said:

    Parent 1: I think that’s a pretty awesome idea. That being said, for me anyway at 15, sex was a bit of a nonentity. Something “grown ups did” when they were many years older than I was then.
    A friend and I bought our first vibrators together aged 18 and it felt terribly naughty/fun and I remember RUNNING hell for leather upstairs to hide it before my parents saw. That being said, my dad worked all week, mum worked Fridays. So on Friday I would run home from school to have a couple of hours playtime with my vib before she got home. It gave me my first orgasm.
    Would your daughter enjoy some erotic books? I’ve always been a big fan of them.

    Parent 2: It’s fab that you want to have the talk and to encourage openness between you. But god, if my dad had tried to talk to me about that sort of stuff at 15, I’d have DIED of embarrassment. Personally I’d try and be really low-key with her about it, “you know, boys and sex and all that can seem pretty weird sometimes… Don’t forget I’m here if you ever want to talk about any of that sort of stuff. I’m pretty shock-proof!”

  36. atma said:

    “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.”

    I wanted to talk about this. Something that I haven’t seen in the comments field is the fact that being assertive and strong in a sexual situation is not entirely divorced from the rest of one’s life.

    This is equally important in friendship-relations – to be able to feel good about standing your ground, because you are a person and your wellbeing is easily as important as the wellbeing of others

    It is important to accept, or actually encourage, a young persons right to their own opinion, to say no to all manners of things. No, I don’t want to hug my aunt, no, I don’t want to eat meat, no, I don’t want to go to church, no I don’t want to plan my life the way my parents would prefer me to.

    If you can give her that experience, “This person who is important in my life, who is also older, stronger and more experienced – is actively OK with me being a separate person and standing up for my own decisions, and this does not damage our relationship” she will not only HEAR that this is OK, she will KNOW it

    • It’s about training really – if you’re constantly told you can’t have control over other things, the one time you NEED to stand up for yourself and really enforce that no, how are you going to? When under stress we generally default to the things we have experience with. It’s hard to do something new when you’re in that situation. And people do it a lot to little girls – tickling them despite them shrieking no, insisting they give family members a kiss because “don’t you love me?”, etc. (The tickling thing my dad did to my little brother as well, for that matter.)

    • Yes! I wanted to talk about this, too. Thanks to the fantabulous Cliff Pervocracy, I’ve been thinking a lot over the past several months about what a culture of consent would look like, and the ways in which the culture in which many of us live doesn’t at all match up with that vision. I’ve had friends who, upon hearing I didn’t much care for a particular film, demand that we watch it again RIGHT THEN because clearly I just didn’t UNDERSTAND it. More recently, a friend stated that zie would rather not be sent a big box of chocolate because zie’s trying to keep such things out of her house, and another friend joked that zie would just go ahead and send zir THREE boxes then. And then exactly what atma said: “What do you MEAN you don’t want to hug your aunt? What do you MEAN you don’t want to go to church?” And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

      So, LW #380: as much as you can do so without causing further problems, listen to your daughter when she says no and when she tries to set boundaries. She doesn’t have to visit Great Grandma Jo in the nursing home if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to eat bacon if she decides she’d like to keep kosher. And so on.

      And in the cases where she might want to say no but courts might say otherwise (“I don’t want to go back to mom’s house;” “I don’t want to go back to school”), then you can talk about why and come up with survival strategies and basically establish that there’s a grown man in her life who’s willing to listen to her, which is super-significant.

    • Absolutely. I probably leave links to this piece somewhere or other at least once a month, but there’s a really powerful piece from the archives of Fugitivus that addresses this so well. (It’s the “She didn’t fight back because you told her not to” piece, for anyone who wants to know before actually clicking the link.)

      LW #380, I encourage you to really mull that essay over and think about ways you can encourage and support your daughter in standing up for herself in all aspects of her life.

  37. K said:

    Both LWs sounds like amazing parents. 🙂

    I want to highlight one thing the Captain said which really resonated for me:

    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.

    THIS. It’s all well and good being cool and supportive about sex in theory and when you’re having discussions, but please remember how important it is to follow through on that when shit gets real. It’s hard because it’s heat of the moment stuff, and controlling your emotions when ‘PROTECT MY BABY’ mode kicks in is a bitch and things can so easily move to anger or judgement or weirdness. I think LW1 has encountered that difficulty a little and is dealing with it awesomely, LW2 maybe this is a conversation that is yet to happen, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is.

    My parents were pretty good about being open minded and keeping me informed about sex in theory, (‘you can always talk to me/us about anything’, ‘these are all the different types of birth control’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with being gay’ etc), i.e. when they were in ‘having a conversation about sex with my daughter’ mode. However whenever anything actually happened they behaved completely inappropriately: e.g. being seen kissing a boy at age 14 resulted in hysterical screaming, shaming, and accusations, and asking outside of one of these conversations what they would think if I was gay was met with a negative reaction. There was also a general attitude of teasing if I expressed any interest in boys or teen magazines etc.

    This meant that I pulled away from my parents and didn’t trust them with anything to do with sex or sexuality (I still don’t – I’m 30 and still not out to them as queer). My teenaged self developed an unhealthy attitude to sex which was secretive and naughty and left me open to abusive situations. That’s not their fault, but I do think I would have had a better chance at healthier sexual relationships in those formative years (and beyond) if my parents hadn’t reacted so strongly to me being a normal, curious, teenaged girl and had followed through on that supportive and open minded approach they obviously believed in intellectually.

    • K said:

      Apologies for the length of this post – it did not seem so long when typing in the comment field!

  38. robiewankenobie said:

    the person you’re looking for is http://www.drlauraberman.com/homepage

    this book has really good reviews and her columns in the huffington post are pretty rad:
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9990417-your-daughter-s-bedroom?auto_login_attempted=true

    i don’t know that my mom would ever be comfortable buying buzzy toys for me as a kid, and she was definitely on the wait until you are married type, but i urge you to continue to have these conversations with your daughter. my mom took a lot of the mystery of sex out of the equation, emphasized how awesome it was, and really empowered me. huzzah!

  39. Kaz said:

    This is awesome advice and those are some awesome questions. 🙂

    I want to second the whole “make sure they know they don’t *have* to have sex or want to have sex and that they should only have it if they genuinely desire it” thing. I’m a critic of “enthusiastic consent” for similar reasons to Cliff, but I think that it’s a really, really good concept when it comes to people just starting to explore their sexuality. A lot of the exceptions are things that can go badly wrong if the people in question don’t have the necessary knowledge of themselves, knowledge of each other, confidence, ability to talk about what they want and feel, etc.

    Requisite personal background story: I’m asexual and didn’t get much in the way of sex ed from my parents (I think my mother gave me books, mainly). School sex ed was primarily about the biology of PIV sex plus lots of talk about STDs and preventing them and birth control – it didn’t do the shaming thing, but it didn’t talk about things like consent or how to decide whether or not to have sex and also queer people didn’t exist. I was also left with the general impression that everyone ever wanted to have sex because it was awesome and amazing and the only reason one could have for not wanting it was repression, in which case you had to get yourself unrepressed as quickly as possibly. This… was not a good take-home message for an asexual teen, and got me into an unwanted and traumatising sexual situation a few years later because no one had ever told me it was okay (or even possible) not to want to have sex ever. My take on sex ed has been biased ever since.

    • Marie said:

      Are you me?

      *hugs*

    • TO said:

      It’s not just asexual teens, all teens need to hear that message, and all teenagers need to know that ‘everyone’ isn’t having sex, that it’s normal for teens to have sex but equally normal to remain a virgin past highschool.

      It may depend where you live, but sometimes seeing things targeted at teens, I feel like some people are so worried about not making kids feel like there’s something wrong or shameful about having sex, sometimes I hear messages that go so far in the other direction they make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you haven’t started dating yet in highschool (whether by deliberate choice or social awkwardness or just because that’s how things have been going for you), and like you’re the only one. There are enough peer messages that you’re a loser or immature or must be undesireable if you’re not sexually active without adults accidentally reinforcing that message.

      I was actually shocked when I saw the statistics for age people had their first sexual relationship and realized just how common it actually was to NOT be having sex in high school. I had never really realized how normal it was, I thought it was just me and a tiny handful of geeky friends of mine.

      • I think one of the most important messages people can get about anything is “if two people are doing totally different things, it is possible that both are normal and it is possible neither is wrong.”

        Sex, relationships, food, religion, etc., etc., etc.

  40. Anathema Device said:

    Just a minor point, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned it yet: LW #379, make sure your daughter has somewhere private to keep her vibrator, especially if there are siblings or other family members at home. Maybe you could buy her a little lockable box or something? As a teenager I would have died of embarrassment if anyone had found my vibrator!

    • TheOtherAlice said:

      Yep! It also may be time to put a lock on her door, if she doesn’t already have one.

  41. bearcatbanana said:

    One more tip to LW 379: You may want to tell her that using a penetrative toy could break her hymen and cause some light bleeding. I broke what was left of my hymen on my first sex toy and it scared the bejesus out of me because I had no idea what had happened. I thought I broke my vagina forever.

  42. Andie said:

    I’ve totally wondered about the ‘buying my teenage daughter a vibrator’ (when they actually GET to that age) and after reading this, I don’t feel like a terrible parent for considering it. I may bookmark this whole entry for future reference.

  43. datdamwuf said:

    Just had to write both of you LWs are awesome parents, wish you’d been mine!

    My mother’s one and only sex talk was to turn to me in the car with my stepdad and sister there and say to me “when you decide to have sex ask me for birth control first”. I have no idea why this thought occurred to her on the way home from a movie and all I could say was “ok”.

  44. I am so happy that there are parents out there like the LWs. Your daughters are lucky.

    Two things that I haven’t seen come up very much:

    1. Your daughter might not be straight, and there are a bunch of ways of not being straight. You really really really should be clear (out loud, not just implicitly) that this is OKAY and that you will not be ashamed of her if she is queer-flavored in some way.

    2. If your daughters are interested in sex with boys eventually, I wonder if there is a conversation to be had about real life versus porn, and how a lot of porn doesn’t prioritize pleasure or consent. This is probably a conversation to have in a couple years down the line, but it could be useful as part of the larger discussion about enthusiastic consent.

    • Buzzed said:

      My daughter actually told me she’s bisexual. I don’t know whether she is, or if she was going for a reaction, but my reaction was “okay.” Also she’s got two aunts close to her age; one’s been in a relationship with a girl for 4 years now, and the other is very genderqueer. This side of her family is pretty liberal. Her bio dad, not so much and I sure will not be telling him any of this.

      • Oh, that’s great! It sounds like she already knows how much she can trust you. Have you talked at all about any anxieties she might have about the other side of her family not accepting her?

      • Sarah N. said:

        Good response, but always assume that she is bisexual. Even if she later says she isn’t, for right now, she is bisexual, fully and without question. The idea that she may be doing it for a reaction tends to come strongly from a place of bi-erasure which is a huge issue that goes around.

        • Thank you for this. One time a parental-type-person (let’s call ’em P) was telling me about how someone I’m close to (let’s say S) had told said parental-type-person that S was bi. P said, in that knowing tone, “S was just saying that to get a rise out of me. So I called [zir] bluff; I said, ‘oh, are you going to bring home a [partner of the same sex as S], then?'” Since it never came up again, P assumed zie was correct that it was just something S was saying to get a reaction. I just thought, “WELP, now I know who I can’t safely come out to as bi!” *sigh*

          • Sarah N. said:

            Ugh, what a jackass. As someone who regularly faces huge amounts of erasure (as a bi/panromantic demisexual), I’m big on not telling others what their identity is and understanding that identity is not based in habit.

        • Buzzed said:

          That wasn’t my intent. *I’m* bisexual. But I have noticed that a lot of teenage girls lately seem to say it like it’s a “cool thing”, and not like they’ve actually spent time considering their sexuality. I’m not assuming she is or she isn’t.

          • I was talking to someone today whose 16-year-old daughter is the only girl in her (large) friend circle who hasn’t said that she’s bisexual, and that it’s making the daughter start to wonder if maybe she’s bi too and just doesn’t realize it… We came to the conclusion that either being bisexual is the new cool thing (and way less expensive than, say, designer jeans), or being raised by parents who are cool with issues of sexuality and gender is making it easier for girls to recognize and validate their own feelings, or (most likely) some combination of the two, and that she (the mom) really hopes that she (the daughter) doesn’t start feeling like she has to profess a (bi)sexual orientation she doesn’t really feel or risk ostracization.

            I would never, ever voluntarily be 16 again.

          • Sarah N. said:

            Sexuality is complicated too. Bisexual is the easiest explanation if you ever want to experiment with sex or dating with women while still not being considered completely freaky for also wanting to have sex or date men, even if you strongly lean towards men. For most people, “bisexual” has to encompass everything between strictly heterosexual and strictly homosexual. Plus you’re absolutely right that the daughter’s friends might be in a safe place right now. They’re all too likely to end up moving into a position where they can’t openly say they’re anything is bisexual (the world is getting better, but it still sucks), so they may be taking the opportunity.

      • cassandrakitty said:

        Actually that brings up an interesting point. If you’re going to talk to her about this anyway you should probably find a way to (gently and without making her feel like she has to pick sides) address the fact that her bio dad’s family might, for example, not react well to knowing that she has a vibrator, that that doesn’t mean that it’s not OK for her to have one, and that if she outs herself to them and they don’t react well that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with her being bi. Basically if there’s a possibility of her bio dad’s family trying to undo the good work you’re doing and send her negative, shaming messages instead, that’s probably something you need to specifically address, if you haven’t done so already.

        Hopefully that makes sense – not expressing myself super clearly here due to a combination of sleep deprivation and lots of caffeine.

  45. s.h. said:

    Just wanted to add this post when it comes to consent: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/2012/02/20/wanting-willing-open/ I think that “enthusiastic consent” is often used to mean (in Emily Nagoski’s terminology) spontaneous desire and for those of us who don’t really experience spontaneous desire trying to give enthusiastic consent from the onset isn’t always possible and can give us a false sense of our own sexuality (i.e. that something is “wrong” with us; that we don’t feel desire normally; etc). So I like what Emily recommends in this post which is Go. Slow. You can always say no. If you’re with someone who is respectful and keyed in to consent (which hopefully you are!) then saying “yes, until” or “yes, but” can be a way to get to the place where you can give enthusiastic consent or good consent or no consent at all.

  46. blackcanary said:

    Hey LW #379,

    I’m delurking to say that like CA and everyone else, getting your daughter a vibrator is a very good thing and awesome too. I also wanted to pop in with a recommendation of brand if I may…

    I cannot recommend LELO highly enough. I bought the LIV model on a whim over the summer while looking for something a bit better than what I had last time. Not only is it made of high quality medical grade silicone, it is rechargeable and it is practically SILENT. For real – the first time I charged it and turned it on, I thought I was going crazy because it sounded so different from what I was used to with the cheapie ones I used to buy.

    I know that they are a bit pricey, but if you go online, it is possible to get a great deal AND some coupon sites also have online coupons for them which can get you a decent percentage off. I’m in Canada so I use pinkcherry.ca, but it is partnered with pinkcherry.com and it seems to carry exactly the same merchandise.

    (I’m not shilling for them, I swear, but it was a happy accident that I found a very powerful vibe that makes practically no sound…so I don’t have to wait to have a completely empty house to use it…things you’d rather not think about BUT with a very quiet vibe, you really don’t have to think about it 😉

    • FlyBy said:

      Another vote for LELO here. More expensive, but completely worth it.

  47. TO said:

    When I got that age my mom made me an appointment with a (female) doctor for a general checkup, which ended up including the doctor talking to me a bit about sex, birth control, etc. I never asked but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a coincidence since I hadn’t been getting yearly checkups, but rather that my mom and dad had presumably decided I should get some more information and an opportunity to ask some questions, but knew I might be too embarrassed to talk about it with either of them.

    Though I didn’t end up talking much with the doctor (there wasn’t much to talk about, I was shy and hadn’t got anywhere with boys yet), I was grateful for my parents both for wanting me to have the information but also for not trying to get me to talk about it with either of them. Some things are too private to discuss with your parents!

    • That brings up a good point for both LWs: don’t feel it reflects negatively on you or your efforts or intentions if she doesn’t go to you for everything (or anything, for that matter). It’s more important she gets good information than that the good information come from a specific source.

  48. Hanna said:

    I’m short on time but wanted to comment real quick, so I apologize if I repeat something.

    In addition to the whole “it’s okay (and good) for girls to masturbate”, I think it’d be worth a quick mention that guys aren’t the only ones allowed to like porn. Just among my friends, I don’t know too many girls who like to watch porn (some do, and some enjoy watching it with their significant other), but I know plenty of girls who love to read porn. And if they want to look into porn videos or “erotica literature” online, a good rule of thumb is to never download anything and always always run a really good anti-virus/malware protector soon after. Because it’s super embarrassing if you have to take your computer to Geek Squad (or worse, that family-friend who’s good with computers..) because you got a virus from a porn site- and trust that they will find out, even if the internet history is deleted (and it’s actually easier for the computer to be fixed if they can go back and see where it came from, even if was “Voyeur Erotic Stories”)

    Also, more directed at LW2, when saying that your daughter should come to you if she gets hurt/almost hurt, it is really really important to NOT say anything along the lines of “I’ll kill whoever hurt you”. She may still have feels for them, be blaming herself for it, may never want to see them/hear their name again, or plenty of other things. Instead, approach it with “I’ll always be here for you, and will help you however I can”, and depending on your temper you might need to add a “If I seem angry/upset, I promise it’s not at you. I love you and nothing can change that”. She needs to know that coming to you with that conversation it will be focused on only her and how to help her.

    You are both being great parents!

  49. allreb said:

    I haven’t had time to read through comments, so I’m just jotting in a quick reply to say a) way to go, both parents who wrote in, for trying to help your daughters navigate something that’s so difficult for so many reasons; and more specifically b) my dad was the one who gave me the closest thing I ever got to The Talk, when I was a 14 year old girl with my very first boyfriend. And even though the whole thing was couched in terms of “I don’t think you should have sex, but…” my dad also made it clear that I should not make that kind of decision based on what HE wanted for me. And that as uncomfortable as it made him to think about it, that if I decided to have sex and needed birth control I should ask him or my mom and they’d make sure I had access to it. And that he trusted me to make those decisions myself.

    Knowing that my parents trusted me (even if they didn’t agree with me) gave me way more confidence than anything else, when I decided not to have sex with that boyfriend. Which is NOT to say “talk to your daughter and she’ll decide not to have sex!” because that was a very personal choice, but rather to say, “your daughter knowing you have her back no matter what she decides will help her make more confident decisions.”

    (It occurs to me as I typed this, btw, I think my parents’ take on getting me birth control was akin to their take on alcohol: we don’t think you should be drinking, but if you do and you need a ride home, call and we’ll get you, no questions asked, because that sure beats the alternative of you NOT calling.)

  50. AmyJ said:

    A quick PSA re: self defense. Self defense taught by instructors certified by the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation are holistic, incorporate assertiveness training, setting and defending boundaries, and de-escalation skills as well as physical fighting skills. It goes well beyond stranger danger and I would recommend it for anyone, and especially teen girls. In Chicago, Thousand Waves Martial Arts & Self Defense Center is a fabulous resource: http://www.thousandwaves.org/VPIndividuals.htm

    • Sarah N. said:

      The main thing is try to find a local defense or whole system martial arts center in your area that has at least one female instructor. For me, jujutsu was excellent; early on, you learn how to break free of most single- and double-handed holds along with how to restrain an opponent using only their hand. I went from bad punches to elbow-striking like a boss. 😄

      • NessieMonster said:

        Aww, yes! JiuJitsu is awesome! Seeing the female black belts kick ass is inspiring. Also I love it because there’s a huge range of body types and even those who would be called fat/unhealthy based on their shape are way more fit than I am. The level endurance needed to last through the pressure-work is high. The other good thing about jitsu is that it doesn’t require brute strength – just an awareness of balance and leverage. Some of the best Jitsuka are tiny women who look like you could snap them like a twig but you couldn’t pay me enough to mess with them! And, the killer warm-ups have given me biceps I can feel working. 😀

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