Trying and Failing (and Trying and Failing) to Talk to My Daughter About Sex

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
March 3 2014 11:45 PM

Sex Talk Fail

I have been trying to talk to my daughter about sex since September, but I can’t get it up.

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Maybe that’s the problem. Always be able to talk to me. Is that the standard we’re after these days? Recently I ran into a friend at a party who said that she was OK with her daughter’s having sex as long as she told her about it. This assumption of chatty closeness is the opposite of my mother’s approach but also struck me as all wrong. Why convey to your children that it is bad for them to keep a moment of intimacy to themselves? Anyway, isn’t part of the thrill of teenage sex that it happens while your parents aren’t looking? It always amazes me that parents completely forget what it’s like to be 16 and in love, that we assume that what made us so happy at that age is going to ruin our children. And that we can’t summon up how we would have felt if our mom had said, Tell me everything.

I don’t want my daughter to think she has to talk to me every time, but there are things I do want to convey. I am pretty sure that my version of The Talk is very different than what my mother would have said, since in her set no one had sex before marriage, or at least didn’t admit to it. Mine would be something about how the point of sex is to have fun. (My husband would probably disagree here. Fathers tend to turn Tony Soprano when it comes to their daughters. But I’ll let him handle the boys—some sex-talk traditions are worth preserving.) I want to say that if you are in love, that fun may be more likely to happen, but it’s not the only way. That it’s somewhat different for boys and girls, at least at first. That there are ways you have to protect yourself because, back to Point A, if you don’t, it won’t be fun. That there is a lot of easy access to porn these days, and she might learn something from it but will more likely learn all the wrong things. It’s just that when I say these words out loud, they feel like birds that have escaped from my mouth and are flying madly around the room.

Recently I got the courage to take the first step. My daughter was sitting on the floor looking at BuzzFeed on her laptop and I announced that soon I was going to talk to her about sex.

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“No you’re not,” she said, and walked out of the room.

For all I know, my daughter has mastered vast anatomical details. Apparently that’s what happens these days. Kids learn about smegma and epididymis before they know what love is. Maybe she and her friends look up anything they’re curious about on the Web at any time. And they know all about the existence of Internet porn, if they haven’t seen it. If that’s the case, then perhaps it’s better I keep my mouth shut, because preserving a little mystery isn’t a bad thing.

If nothing else, my failure to deliver the best mother-daughter sex talk ever, or any sex talk at all, has made me more generous toward my own mother. I bet she tried, and I just kept walking out of the room.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

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