the mother-daughter sex talk

When my older brother was fourteen and about to go on his first ever date, my parents sat him down and told him some things about respecting girls and always using condoms. The reason I know this is that my sister and I, in the next room, scrambled to the ends of our beds and listened in, trying not to giggle too loud.

Maybe a year or two later we were having a garage sale and my older sister lifted one of the books and hid it in her jumper. When Mum found it, the punishment was this: My sister had to sit and read the whole thing aloud. It was a “how babies are made” book, complete with illustrations.

The illustration of the woman giving birth showed her on her back, and I remember Mum saying, “Well that’s not completely accurate – you can give birth in all kinds of positions such as squatting or on all fours.” Like my sister wasn’t dying of embarrassment.

Mum used to give pre-natal classes and was wonderfully straightforward about those crazy, foreign, dizzying sex-related things.

I understood the mechanics, but until I read the incest-sex in Sleeping Dogs I hadn’t realised sex wasn’t a single act of penetration but something that happened over time. Until the first of my friends saw a real life penis at fifteen and drew the rest of us a diagram, I didn’t realise an erection didn’t stick straight out from the body. (I guess that kind of erection is easier to illustrate for the purposes of where babies come from.)

There were things I didn’t know, but I was happy to discover them slowly over time for myself. I felt prepared enough.

Yesterday I wrote a mother-daughter sex talk into my teen romance, and it ended up turning into a feminist manifesto. This is what I’d want to say to a daughter if I had the guts. It probably doesn’t quite fit into a scene in a light-hearted novel, though.

Did you suffer the sex talk? Did it make a difference? Have you had to give one?

Here’s Lexie suffering though:

Mum sat on the end of the bed, and wouldn’t look Lexie in the eye.

Oh no. Oh no!

Lexie buried her face in the pillow. “Please, please tell me this isn’t a sex talk.”

Mum cleared her throat. “You and Jerome seem serious, love. I don’t think I’d realised just how serious until I saw you together today.”

Well, at least there was irrefutable proof she was a hell of an actress.

“I am eighteen years old,” she groaned. “I know what goes where. Seriously, you don’t have to do this.”

“Trust me, I’m not enjoying it any more than—”

“Then don’t do it. I beg, I implore you.”

“Love, Jerome isn’t like the boys you go to parties with back home.”

No kidding.

“I just need to know you’re prepared.”

Lexie stuffed her face deeper into the pillow, and really wouldn’t have been surprised if her blush turned it red. “This is, like, child torture.”

Mum made an annoyed noise. “I can get Mum up here to give you the lecture instead, if you like.”

Lexie gasped and her head shot up. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Mum just raised an eyebrow and Lexie was forced to give in to her superior tactics. “Okay. Give me the talk. Wait – can you tweet it at me? 140 characters or less?”

Mum rolled her eyes and blushed a bit and looked really awkward again.

The irony was not lost on Lexie. All this trouble, when Jerome was the last man on earth she was actually going to be having sex with.

“Um, condoms,” Mum said. “No matter what a boy – er, a man – ever says to you, no matter how convincing he sounds, you never, ever have sex with him without a condom.”

“Well, duh,” Lexie said, which just proved how embarrassed she was. She was normally much more eloquent.

“I know you think you know about condoms, but, well, sex does actually feel better without one. You’ll probably even want to try it. Don’t. Just – please, don’t. It won’t ever be worth it.”

“Okay,” Lexie mumbled. Maybe if she just went with it, it would be over quicker.

“When you’re in a long-term, committed relationship then you can start thinking about maybe not using condoms.”

Dear God, argh! She was going to kill Jerome for putting her through this for nothing.

“But the most important thing I want to tell you is far less easy.”

Something in Mum’s voice – something serious and finally unembarrassed – made Lexie look at her.

“Lexie, as a woman you’re going to feel like you need to please your partner. Like all the pleasure in sex is about being something that he desires. You’re going to think you have to make certain faces and pull certain poses and that it’s good sex if he wants you. That’s all crap. That’s the kind of sex society has told you to have in a million little ways you can’t even see. The only kind of sex you should be having is the kind that gives you pleasure.”

So, on the up side Mum had remembered about feminism. On the down side Lexie wanted. To. Die.

“And I won’t ever do anything I don’t want to,” she said in a rush. “And I should only have sex if I think he respects me. Yep. Got it. We had Sex Ed in, like, year eight. I think that just about covers it, don’t you?” She gave a giant, panicked yawn. “So, um, I’m really tired. I’ll probably just go to sleep now. I’ve got to be up at 4:30. Goodnight!”

Mum shook her head, but looked relieved, too. “One day you’ll have to do this with your kids,” she said, standing up. “Then you’ll feel sorry for your old mum.”

Lexie had never heard a more convincing reason not to have kids in her life. Good thing her prospects for having sex with anyone were nonexistent.

Comments 12 Responses

  1. shallowreader

    What a great story! Both that of your personal experience and that of your characters 🙂

    I have never been on the receiving end of a mother-daughter sex talk. My mum was painfully shy on these matters and left them to my dad to advise us. A father-daughter sex talk is much more awkward. Thankfully my dad, as the president of the P&C at my primary school, chose to put P&C money into bringing professionals to our school so that he wouldn’t have to give the talk. This was the 70s and did bring on the ire of more conservative parents who felt that if their daughters knew about sex they would turn into sluts and screw every boy they saw.

    After the compulsory lessons, dad would occasionally tell us “I read a book today – I’m leaving it here for you to read” and it was inevitably a sex-ed book. He always read our Cosmos and Cleos so we learnt early on to not remove the sealed section until after he had his turn. At the time my 3 sisters and I were mortified by all this but looking back at his tactics I can say that I am so happy that my dad, born in a tiny, mountain village in Greece with monks and priests in his religious family, was broad minded enough to ensure that we were well-informed. I think he was of the opinion that only naive, protected girls fell into trouble.

    I now find myself answering my sons’ questions candidly particularly because I want them to understand that emotions and pleasure are just as important as the scientific process and this does not seem to be taught to the same level.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      What an absolute champion!!! I never had any official sex talk with my mum, and can’t imagine having had it with my dad. Although I like that they gave the talk to my bro together (who was the only one of us to get it, apparently). I think I would’ve like to read books about sex, just to have a bit of a firmer grasp of what exactly it was (see the “over time” misunderstanding, LOL). But it was also fun to discover it.

      I find the sex-ed kids get from their peers kinda hilarious, because no one really knows what’s going on.

      I don’t know if you read or listen to Dan Savage at all, but he has a sex advice column and podcast with a Seattle newspaper called The Stranger. It’s VERY explicit, but I find it super interesting. One of his missions is to get better sex ed into schools – and to make sure learning about pleasure is a big part of that. Not learning HOW to pleasure, but that it’s important. He gets all these teenagers talking about the kind of sex they’re putting up with or getting involved in simply because they don’t realise it should FEEL GOOD. What a major oversight.

  2. Mike

    Recently, the Scottish Government decided to put more emphasis on getting parents to have ‘the talk’ with their kids after years of parent’s out-sourcing that responsibility to schools. Truth is, I don’t remember any ‘talk.’ My parents were always fairly open, the sort of people who walk about the garden in the nude. However they never really had one time where they sat me down to talk about such things. I was reading books well above my age from about 10 or 11 years old and I think they trusted me to just know or to ask if I didn’t! Consequently, I was well acquainted with sex and that whatever I wanted to do was okay if it was consensual, but at the same time, certain slang terms, like ‘Twat,’ escaped my understanding.until I was 15/16!

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I guess that’s the key to so much good parenting – having open enough communication with your kid that they know they can come to you about anything. I suspect not everyone CAN be that comfortable talking about sex, and I imagine there are shy kids who would never initiate the talk, in which case it makes sense to do it a bit more formally.

      The slang thing 🙂 Not something your parents can teach you! Until my teens I confused menstruate with masturbate – which makes me realise, masturbation really isn’t covered in any sex talk and remains pretty hazy.

      1. londonmabel

        I only remember we asked her what an orgasm feels like. I think she said like a good sneeze, but ten times better. By the time I had sex (not in my teens) I was well educated, but that was such a mix of puberty books, sex books, 80s novels, and parents that I don’t know what I learned where!

  3. jillsorenson

    This is a great scene! I had my first real talk with my daughter a few weeks ago. She’s only 8, so orgasms and feminism didn’t come into it. I think it went well. She asked questions, I answered. I got a little teary-eyed after. My mother and I never had an easy, comfortable discussion (that I recall). Maybe if I continue to keep the lines of communication open with my daughter, we won’t be embarrassed in the teen years? Ah, well. A mom can dream.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Aw, I love that it made you teary! 🙂 It is such a milestone in that relationship. If she feels comfortable talking to you – and knowing you’ll answer whatever questions she might ask, no matter how embarrassing – I’d say you’re in with a pretty good shot.

    2. Vanessa

      Age 8 seems a little early. But I don’t know much about the timeline of giving “the talk”. What are the ages that are the best time to have “the talk” with your girl?

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