Before I was a mother, I imagined I was going to be terrific at talking to my kid about sex.
I had some experience in sex education – I made a video years ago that was used in secondary schools – and I'm generally pretty hard to embarrass. But once you've spent the first years of your life as a parent keeping the world away from your child's bits and pieces, it's hard to make the shift to talking about the idea of your child inviting anyone into their bits and pieces.
So if we seem to tiptoe around the subject, this is why. If you ask us when it's the right time for our child to start having sex, we are likely to say, "When they're about 35."
It's a parent's instinct to protect children from risk and while sex is lovely, it's a risky business.
Sometimes we find it relatively easy to talk about condoms and other kinds of contraception to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy. But really, the mechanics of sex – what goes where and the precautions you need to take – is only one part of it.
The most important part of any conversation about sex is CONSENT. That was in capitals because I am shouting it. Sex should always involve two people enthusiastically saying yes to being intimate with each other. Like, actually saying it, out loud. It's not about the absence of "no". Silence isn't enough because sometimes when we're scared, we freeze and stop talking. The word you are looking for is "yes".
Sex, especially with a new partner (but actually always), should involve someone asking, "Is this OK?" every step of the way. And if anyone ever says "no" at any point, even if they said "yes" earlier, everything has to stop. You're allowed to do that. No-one's genitals have ever exploded because someone said "no".
Keep in mind that sex really doesn't look like porn. It should be satisfying for everyone involved, fun, respectful and, most of all, kind. If any of those things are missing, you can ask for it to stop.
Fun fact: random hook-ups have always been a thing. There's a good chance your mum and dad did some. I'm also aware that I've never met anyone who said, "Gee, that random hook-up did fabulous things for my self-esteem and mental health." But I've met a lot of people who have felt a bit stink about themselves when sex didn't come with kindness and caring.
Here's a really good way of working out if you are about to begin a sexual relationship with the right person. Make a list of your favourite friends – male and female. Write their names down on a piece of paper, then write down the things you like about them. Maybe they're smart, loyal or generous, or you both like the same music and movies, or they make you laugh, or generally make you feel good about who you are.
And then take those qualities and look for them in someone you want to be intimate with. Because the thing everyone wants to find is someone we can always count on to be kind to us. And to be that person for them too.
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