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10 things I want to tell my daughter about sex while she’s still a tween

We talk about sex in our house. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. And not because there just aren’t other things that we’d rather talk about, but because the freight train of puberty is barreling down on this house like a ton of bricks out of hell or whatever your preferred cliché is. That means two things.

The first is that my kid is starting to ask me sheepish questions about sex-centric topics. Not just stuff about her body, either, but the kind of stuff that you ask when you suddenly realize that, hey, boys maybe aren’t as gross as they used to be The second is that, as my daughter starts hitting developmental landmarks, I’m realizing that even though we’ve been chatting about sex with her since she was about 5, a lot of that involved shuffling topics around because she wasn’t old enough to understand.

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She’s hitting puberty young — it will still be a few years before she’ll be ready for any kind of sexual activity — but some of the stuff that I need to tell her needs to marinate for a few years in order to stick. So very suddenly, I find myself starting conversations about masturbation and birth control alongside conversations about guitar lessons and Minecraft.

It has to be done, because I need my daughter to grow up knowing certain things that I had no idea about but wish someone had told me before it was too late. Pity my daughter, dear reader, and pity me, because the only thing grosser than thinking about your parents boinking is thinking about your kid boinking. Deep breath, here we go.

1. The only invitation to sex is a literal invitation to sex.

I hate that I have to start here, because this is going to sound ominous, and really I would prefer to start with number 5 (no peeking!), but the fact is, you might not hear this anywhere else, so listen very carefully.

Your clothing is not an invitation to sex. Your body is not an invitation to sex. Making out is not an invitation to sex. Having sex once is not an everlasting, open-ended invitation to have sex again anytime. Walking alone at night is not an invitation to have sex. Wearing makeup, giving a handjobs, living under the suspicion of having once, maybe, given someone a handjob are not invitations to have sex. Having too much to drink? Not an invitation to have sex.

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Literally the only invitation that you will give someone to join you in getting down is saying, “Would you care to join me in some sex?”

Anyone who acts otherwise is at best an asshole and at worst a rapist. Avoid these people like herpes. Similarly, treat your partners this way and secure invitations from them to have sex, too.

2. Sex is not supposed to hurt.

Open up a romance novel or watch a sexy movie about a girl having sex for the first time, and you will almost certainly read or witness some jive noise about “pain subsumed by pleasure,” or “crying out at first” or whatever, where this is weirdly supposed to be romantic and tender. The truth is that sex is not supposed to hurt. Not the first time, not anytime.

If it hurts, you’re going too fast, or you and your partner may not be communicating well. You might need more lube. You might need more foreplay. What you definitely need is to speak up, stop if you have to, and you and your partner need to puzzle out how to proceed pain-free. You don’t have to accept shitty, painful sex because it’s “supposed to hurt for girls.” It’s not.

On the other hand, understand that when you have sex for the first time, it will probably not be mind-blowing and, yeah, if the excitement means you’re moving really fast, there’s a chance it won’t be comfortable. You know your body better than anyone, and if you need to stop or slow down, say so.

3. Masturbate.

Without shame, but privately, and with a hand mirror if you need to. Learn what your body looks like, what it does and what you like, and the chances of number 2 becoming an issue for you shrink significantly. What you want is important, what you like is important, so learn what it is and then make sure that the sex you have later isn’t something that you’re tolerating but enjoying.

If you need some accouterments or accessories but don’t want to tell me, I will give you my credit card for two hours, which should be plenty of time to find what you need, order it and wipe the history. But really, you don’t need to do that. I’ll take you shopping, and I will make it as not-weird as humanly possible.

4. If you’re not ready to say it, you’re not ready to do it. Full stop.

If you cannot ask your partner, in plain English, to touch your breasts; if he cannot ask you in plain English if you are OK with oral, then you guys are not ready to actually do those things. Really.

Consent — both giving and getting it, and doing so enthusiastically — isn’t just important. It’s everything. Sex is not the leviathan taboo that you think it is, but it’s not nothing, either. It can in fact be a huge deal, and you need a certain maturity level to participate, so don’t pass Go until you can ask for what you want for in no uncertain terms. Again, this applies to your partner, as well.

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5. Sex is pretty damn great. Beware the people who try to convince you otherwise.

Your vagina is not a sports car, and your virginity is not a piece of gum. We are not religious, but even if we were, I would have a very difficult time telling you that Jesus peers into our bedrooms and gets a big sad when two unmarried people go at it. Sex is not dirty. Sex is not wrong. Sex is not a thing that will taint you or that you will automatically regret.

Sex is, however, a really awesome thing that you can do with a partner or by yourself that feels pretty awesome and gives you a pretty sweet dopamine spike. It feels amazing, can sometimes be hilarious and messy, you should enjoy it, wanting to have sex is not weird. (Not wanting to have sex isn’t weird, either, but whoops there I go again.)

Please do not allow someone to convince you that sex has a depreciating effect on your body or self or should have a transactional value in your relationship, because that will leave someone feeling bad, and if sex has you or someone you care enough to have sex with feeling bad, you need to reconsider.

6. Love is great, but respect is key.

OK, this is where I start getting into trouble. Because every sex talk I’ve ever given you starts with “When two people love each other very much,” because that’s like the “Once upon a time” of reproductive health talks, and also because 6 is not the age to talk about casual sex with a kid. Ten doesn’t seem like that age either, but then again when it’s your kid neither does 30, so I’m not going to even go there. What I’m going to tell you is this:

Sometime in your life, whether by design or not, you may find yourself having sex with someone that you do not love. Maybe that’s because you don’t love them yet or maybe that’s because you guys are better off as friends, and you never will. Maybe you don’t realize that you don’t love them. These feelings are noodly and weird. As your mother, I would of course prefer that every person you have sex with is one that you love, but as a person who lives in the real world and has had sex a few times myself, I know this won’t always happen. Love isn’t always present. Respect must be.

Respect your partner and only sleep with people who respect you. These are people who will acknowledge and not try to circumvent your boundaries. They will not slut-shame you, and they will not slut-shame other people. They will not make you feel bad about your body, and the two of you will work together to make sex something you both enjoy. When and if you part ways, they won’t dog you and you won’t dog them.

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7. When I say ‘sex,’ I mean all of the sex.

I mean oral sex, digital penetration, mutual masturbation, handjobs and anal sex. I mean all. Of. The. Sex. I think you’re straight, but if you’re not, I also mean the sex that you will have with your female or otherwise identifying partner. Personally, I don’t really know a whole lot about that, but you’ve got a whole lot of nice lesbian and otherwise-oriented people in your life, and they love you, so I’m sure they’d be willing to give you the appropriate birds-and-bees talk. That will probably also be weird.

8. Practice safe sex.

Birth control is a fantastic invention; some methods, like condoms, prevent a whole spectrum of STIs, and some, like the pill, just protect against the ultimate STI: adorable babies. Use them. Practice using them. Talk about them with your partner. Do not waste your time with people who try to manipulate you away from protecting your sexual health and your future. People who do do not respect you, which should automatically disqualify them from having access to your body, and do not let yourself get carried away and compromise on this. There is no bigger mood killer than a little pink plus sign or having to disclose to every single partner you will ever have that you have herpes.

That being said, know that if you think you have an STI or think that you might be pregnant, you need to tell me or your dad right away, so that we can get you whatever you need, whether that’s a shot of penicillin or some resources on pregnancy. Do not waste time screwing up the courage to tell us because you are afraid we will judge you. We won’t.

9. Porn is not sex.

Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not appropriate for children or even teens, but the Internet exists, and you will probably find some. So let me say this: Porn can be fun (when you’re older, oh my God I’m sorry I can’t stop). Porn can also be problematic. Porn often shows women in demeaning situations, and outside of meaningful context, porn can give you or your partner ideas about sex that are unhealthy or downright inaccurate. Porn is not evil, but porn is also not a documentary or an instructional video or a list of required sexual acts. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex. Porn is not sex.

10. Sex is emotional.

I know that I’ve been talking a lot about sex as though it’s as boring and blasé as brushing your teeth. Mostly that’s because when you start talking about sex in a way that makes it both dirty and cheap and sacred and venerated, that has a way of f*cking a person up and, yeah, those people are usually girls. I don’t want you hinging things that you don’t need to hinge on sex — an act that has so much gravitas only because people suck at talking about it. Things like your self-worth. Things like your sense of autonomy. These things are more important to your identity than the status of your V-card.

But please understand that it is not as unremarkable as brushing your teeth. It is a wonderful thing that is made more wonderful by the complexity of emotion. It has real-life consequences, and it is not meaningless. You are allowed to think of it as a big deal, and you’re allowed to treat it like one. In fact, I think that you should. Because your emotions matter, whether they be happinesses or heartbreaks. Take care of yourself, take care of your partner and have fun.

Careful, respectful, consensual, satisfying, well-informed fun. I love you. Now let’s go get some bubble tea.

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