Last week, Smartmom did what any smart mom would do to find out how to talk to her daughter about sex: She went to Babeland.
Only in Brooklyn can a store that sells sex toys with more hot colored vibrators, gelatinous looking dildos and S&M gear than you can count become the go-to place for parents to learn how to raise sex-positive kids.
And boy was Smartmom ready for The Talk. In fact, Smartmom knew she was long overdue for that ongoing conversation with the Oh So Feisty One about their bodies, their selves (to paraphrase the landmark book that gave Smartmom all of her info back in the 1970s).
But how do you talk the talk if your daughter refuses to talk back?
Needless to say, Smartmom was stressing. She was full of ideas about what she wanted to talk to OSFO about, but it was so much harder than she ever imagined.
Expert Amy Levine, who runs the Sex Ed Solutions class, got things started by asking the standing-room-only group of 30 or so parents, parents-to-be, non-parents, sex educators, doulas and interested persons to answer this question on a file card:
What do you wish your parents had told you about sex?
The big answer? Anything. They wished their parents had told them anything — beyond the basic birds and bees speech — about sex. But the answers ran the gamut: that sex isn’t shameful; that you don’t need to be in love to have sex; that sex includes self-love; that’s it’s something enjoyable and fun. Sexetera.
Smartmom had a long list of questions for Amy, who looked right back at Smartmom, who was probably looking a tad anxious.
“So what are the bases?” Smartmom asked. She was a little embarrassed, mostly because Smartmom was a late bloomer. She didn’t kiss a boy until Halloween night in 11th grade (actually she kissed three boys that night!). And she didn’t have her first boyfriend until a few months later.
The entire crowd jumped in to answer Smartmom’s questions. Talk about a supportive group.
“First base is kissing, second base is feeling up under the girl’s shirt,” Levine started.
“Third base is oral sex,” added a school health educator volunteered. “And a home run is…”
“That’s intercourse,” someone else shouted out.
Phew. Smartmom had her terminology in order. Now she could proceed.
“So what are the kids in middle school actually doing?”
Here Levine had an excellent suggestion. “Why don’t you ask your daughter that? We think we know everything but we don’t. Tell your daughter, ‘You’re the expert. What are your friends doing?’ In that way, you give her the power.”
OK. Smartmom jotted that down. She liked the sound of that.
“But how do you set boundaries?” Smartmom asked nervously. “How do you help her not feel pressured?”
There were some good suggestions from the crowd.
“Have a discussion about how you decide what’s right for you. And it doesn’t just have to be about sex. It can be about peer pressure, drugs, stealing, homework.” That seemed like an interesting idea.
Someone else suggested asking OSFO, “What makes a girl a slut these day?” Smartmom wasn’t sure about the wording on that one.
That came from the same person who said she taught her daughter to call her vulva her “crotch.”
“It’s what I call it, so why not?” she explained.” Fair enough.
Another person suggested that Smartmom should just teach OSFO how to say no and save face. Smartmom wrote that idea down, too.
Finally, Levine, a strong believer in having age-appropriate books around the house, suggested that Smartmom make sure to have some resources on hand.
“We have, ‘It’s So Amazing’ and ‘The Care and Keeping of You,” Smartmom shouted out.
“She’s way too old for those,” Levine told Smartmom.
“Get ‘Changing Bodies, Changing Lives,” Levine said. “It’s kind of the ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves’ for tweens and teens now.”
Ah, “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” Smartmom thought longingly of that book by the Boston Women’s Health Collective that was such a crucial part of her life from high school through her early 20s. Heck, that’s how Smartmom learned about vaginal self-exams, STDs, cystitis and assertiveness training.
Smartmom walked home from Babeland armed with all kinds of interesting strategies for talking to OSFO. She actually had to restrain herself from blurting out something as soon as she reached the apartment. It would be so easy to blow it. She knew she’d have to wait for a “teachable moment” as Levine calls them.
But Smartmom couldn’t wait. The very next morning during breakfast, Smartmom asked OSFO, “How are things going with …”
OSFO didn’t even let Smartmom finish her sentence. She stormed out of the dining room and slammed her bedroom door. Smartmom only saw her again when she was leaving for school.
“Have a great day,” Smartmom said, realizing that she’d botched yet another chance to have that much-needed talk with her little girl.
What she really wanted to say was this: “I trust you and believe that you’ll make good choices, I just want to tell you a few things …”
But she never got anywhere near that. Later that day, she ordered “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives” from the bookstore. As soon as she gets it, she’ll put it on the dining room table.
Maybe Smartmom should put a note inside it.
Or maybe she’ll just put in this week’s column.