But it is, in fact, the sex talk—the anticipation of exploring with their daughters issues of love, intimacy, relationships and the mechanics of sex—that seems to flummox otherwise smart, accomplished, open-minded, articulate women. And even she has been at a loss for words when trying to talk to her teen daughter about sex. I imagined her caught unaware, uninformed and unprepared. And as much as I dreaded it, I was convinced that it was my maternal duty to clue her in.
I did some online research, read a handful of articles and consulted a few books. And when I finally steeled myself for this mother-daughter talk, I was sure that I was prepared. Without giving her a chance to speak, and before I lost my nerve, I told her that she should not—under any circumstances—engage in such an intimate act. I explained that this should only occur when she was older, more mature and in a committed relationship, and that it should be reciprocal, if she so desired.
And, of course, I told her that you could get a sexually transmitted disease from oral sex. When I was finally done, she stared at me, shrugged her shoulders and said: Can we go home now? The program covers a range of topics, including menstruation, STDs, setting boundaries and safe sex. This not only made my job easier because she learned the basics there, but also because talking about sex at school with her teachers and among her peers demystified the subject , making it less awkward to talk about with me.
What that meant over the years was rather than trying to have a single, all-important, have-to-get-it-perfect talk, we were able to discuss different subjects more casually, broaching them as they came up—first date, first kiss, first boyfriend. It also meant that when the sex talk really mattered, both of us were a little more ready, if not completely at ease. In our case, this was when Emma was a junior in high school and had a steady boyfriend.
And though I knew she had learned about sex at school, I had things that I wanted to tell her myself: I told her plainly that I wanted to talk to her about sex. I told her that I thought she was still too young to have sex, and that I hoped she would wait. I said that having sex complicated relationships and that the older she was, the better able she would be to handle it. Having sex for the first time—and every time after that—was her choice.
Finally, I told her that even though I thought she was too young, if she decided to have sex with her boyfriend, I would help her get birth control—no questions asked, and no judgment rendered. I wanted her to know that it was always okay to talk to me. In retrospect, I have come to think that the sex talk is difficult for a host of reasons: As moms, we have no real role models in this regard.
There is no standard message that fits all families. And the entire exercise signifies that our daughters are growing up and away from us, which can be emotionally difficult for everyone.