Okay, Friends. I received a compelling email from a senior in high school and I would love to get your help answering it. It’s such a sincere, honest email with such heartfelt questions about an important topic. And I want to give a really good response. Here’s the email (with her name changed and any identifying facts removed):
My name is Lisa and I’m a senior in high school living in a medium-size city in Utah (I’ll be heading to BYU in the fall). As you probably guessed I’m LDS. I’m emailing you for advice among all people in the world because a) you’re a mom b) you’re LDS, and c) I like what you have to say especially about tricky topics like this. So here I go.
Today I was talking to my college age sister about a terrible law of chastity lesson I had in seminary and explained my frustration about how Mormons have such an unhealthy way about discussing sex. Saying “sex” in seminary is almost like a bad word. We also talked about the sex education in Utah which is definitely lacking and most parents don’t supplement their kids sex education in the home. This combination leads to curious kids who don’t really know where to go for good answers. In short, this combination leads to kids like me.
I’m 18 and about to graduate from high school and quite frankly all I really know about sex is what I’ve seen from movies. Maybe 50 or 100 years ago it wasn’t really important to know that much, but in 2017 I think that teens need to be equipped with this knowledge. I don’t know how to navigate figuring things out in my Wasatch Front culture. Today my sister said “when I was in jr high I thought sex was __ and__ and then I figured out it was so much more”. Unfortunately until today I thought that was the same definition of sex.
Before I go on I want to add that I have a normal family and very normal parents. Like my dad learns current songs on the guitar and my mom is obsessed with current fashion designers. I have great relationships with both of them. I know that they like the idea that their kids could come to them with any questions, but I know that they would probably feel uncomfortable talking to me about sex.
So here’s where I ask for advice and a few questions. How can I open up a conversation about sex with my parents? Who else should I go to for real information? As a parent is it difficult to talk about this with your kids? Do you have any recommendations for basic resources/literature? Any other thoughts?
As mentioned before I really do appreciate your approach to motherhood especially regarding tricky subjects such as this. Not only does it create trust between you and your kids but it prepares them to be functional teens and adults. I know this probably isn’t the kind of email you want to read but I thought that you could answer it with keen insight.
Thanks a lot,
Thank you so much for your email. I can see you have a ton of confidence just to write it up and send it. So high five to you! Way to go! As you know from our exchanges, I’m going to respond publicly here, and I also want Design Mom Readers to respond, because I think that teaching kids about sex is a topic that benefits from many experiences and many points of view. I also think you are not the only 18 year old that feels this way. Not even close. So I’m hoping this public post can be a help to others who feel just like you.
First, you’re absolutely right that as Mormons we generally do a horrible job of teaching kids kids about sex. And it’s not fair to you, and it needs to change. So thank you for bringing this up. It’s important.
Second, I don’t know you or your parents, but based on what you wrote, and your confidence, I think they seem pretty great. And I would 100% recommend that you share this same email with them — both your mother and father — and tell them you want to have a series of open, frank conversations about sex with them.
They are the grownups, and even if the topic makes them uncomfortable, it’s their responsibility to teach their children. And trying to help them avoid feeling uncomfortable should not be the priority; you getting the information and knowledge you need is the priority. From their point of view, they may feel like you don’t want to talk about it and that they are doing you a favor by not bringing it up. But sharing this email will be sure to open their eyes and help them realize you need them to talk about it. And the good news is, I can tell you from experience, the more parents talk about sex with their kids, the less awkward and uncomfortable it is.
Sex is very normal, and not talking about it is what makes it seem weird, uncomfortable and not-normal. So open conversations can bring it back to normal really quickly.
In addition to your parents, I hope you will also ask other adults in your life (teachers, church leaders, aunts) for open conversations about sex. The experience of sex is so personal, and everyone you talk to will have experienced sex differently in small or big ways. Their insights will help too.
Here are some things from my own experience with sex that might help. These are things I want my own kids to understand. From your letter, I get the idea you’re looking for real advice, more than just a reassurance that sex is good. My apologies in advance if this is too deep a dive.
I’m going to note: I’m not an expert or sex therapist and you know that. You wrote to me as a mother, and I’m answering from a position of an LDS woman and mother who enjoys sex very much, and has a healthy sex life. I know there are people, who for one reason or another, struggle with having a happy sex life. Perhaps we’ll hear some of their perspectives in the comments. Also, you didn’t mention same sex attraction, so I’m going to assume you are talking about sex between women and men:
1) You can read all about sex, and have lots of conversations, and feel like an expert. But until you’re actually having sex on a regular basis, a lot of what you learn or hear won’t really be helpful or make sense. The same thing is true for so many of life’s experiences, so it’s not just a sex thing. Just know that no matter how much you know ahead of time, there will still be plenty of things to learn even after you start having sex. I’ve had sex thousands of times and I’m still learning stuff (there’s always some new trend or new term I’ve never heard of before). So keep asking questions, and don’t feel embarrassed about it.
2) Sex has to be learned, it’s not like breathing or blinking. So if two people have never had sex and they decide to start having sex, it might not be much fun at first. It seems like it would be totally instinctive, but it’s not. You have to try different things (like try different positions, or different times of day, or different locations) until you know what you like and what works for you and your partner. That definitely happened for me and Ben Blair. We were both virgins when we got married and even though we knew the facts of sex, it still took awhile until we were any good at it. (By the way, it’s totally fine if one or both of you are not virgins if/when you get married. Just don’t marry a jerk.)
Also, what you like during sex can and does change, so you have to keep trying things throughout your sex life.
The nice thing is that even if both of you are new to sex, and the actual sex part isn’t that fun yet, all the stuff around the actual sex is still lots of fun. It’s super fun to be naked with someone else. Foreplay (caressing, touching, kissing, making out) is tons of fun. Laughing about sex with your partner (because there are awkward parts during sex) is also fun. The anticipation of getting to have sex that night is fun, and flirting all day is fun too.
3) Sex is way more awkward than it looks in the movies. On screen, two people are passionately making out, and then somehow they’re undressed and his penis is in her vagina, but magically, their hands haven’t stopped caressing each other the entire time. It seems amazing, but doesn’t really work like that. Sometimes pulling off your jeans looks super awkward and you fall over. Sometimes you’re cuddling and not quite sure where to put your arm. And during the learning stages, when it comes time for the penis to go into the vagina, you or your partner will need to use a hand to grab it and put it in the right spot.
So think about that when you’re going to have sex with someone. Is this a person I can be completely awkward with? What if I burp or sneeze (or fart!) during sex? What if I’m on my period? Will my partner be a jerk about it? Steer clear of jerks.
Related to this, what you or your partner has seen in porn is pretend. It’s actors. It’s not real world sex. Whatever you or your partner think you know about sex from porn, you need to set aside. It’s not sex ed.
4) Some couples give up on sex, or just conclude they have a crummy sex life, because it doesn’t seem that fun at first. Or at least it doesn’t seem that fun for the woman. And if she’s not having fun, then it’s not that much fun for the man either. Because who wants to have sex with someone who is not that into it? I get that. If I have sex and don’t have an orgasm, I’m not happy about it.
The general goal is for both people to have a lot of fun, and for both people to have an orgasm.
Not sure what an orgasm is? For men it’s pretty straightforward — they have an erection, then they rub their penis inside a vagina, or with their hand, and the energy sort of builds up and then they climax (climax is another way to say orgasm), and their semen comes out of their penis (another word for that is ejaculate).
For women, there’s no semen, and it can be a little harder to figure out how to have an orgasm at first. But I think that’s mostly because we don’t talk about women and their bodies and their orgasms. Women typically have orgasms from stimulating (touching, rubbing, licking) their clitoris. Again, the energy builds up and then she climaxes/has an orgasm. (I’ve never tried to describe what it feels like, but recently I read a description that it’s like a pelvic sneeze.)
It seems like an orgasm would be an easy thing. In the movies, both people always have an orgasm, and they always have an orgasm at the same time. But that’s just movies.
In real life, it’s different. Depending on what position she is having sex in, a woman’s clitoris might not get any stimulation at all. For example, if the man is behind the women when they’re having sex, the clitoris gets zero action — in that case you can use your hand or your partner’s hand to help out.
My best advice: Figure out how to have an orgasm on your own. Consider it your responsibility. Once you have mastered it, it’s much easier to tell your partner what feels good to you, and how you need them to touch you so that you’ll climax.
This can get into a tricky place for Mormons or other religious people, because we’re talking about masturbation now. You probably already know, but just in case, masturbation means touching or rubbing your own genitals until you have an orgasm. Religious people are often told that masturbation is evil and they should not do it.
I disagree with this. Especially for women. I think it’s really important for women to understand their bodies and what feels good to them. I think mastering your orgasm before you get married or start having regular sex is important. Once you’ve mastered it, it usually only takes a few minutes, and gives you amazing endorphins. It’s a really helpful way to release energy when you’re stressed out and don’t have someone to have sex with.
Related to this, remember that your partner can’t read your mind. You need to ask for what you want, and communicate what feels good and what doesn’t.
5) You don’t have to do anything during sex you don’t want to do. Even if it seems like everyone else is doing it. For example, I’m never going to have anal sex (not sure if you know what anal sex is — it’s when a penis goes in a butthole instead of a vagina). I have zero interest, and there is no scenario where I think that anal sex will feel good to me. I don’t care how much my friend likes it, it gets a big no thanks from me. And that’s fine.
I’ll add: sometimes something you think is a no go, becomes a sure-I’ll-try-it down the road. That’s fine too. But you don’t ever have to do something you don’t want to do.
6) REMEMBER: Your pleasure during sex is equally important to your partner’s pleasure. If only one of you is enjoying himself or herself, or if only one of you climaxes, that’s pretty crappy sex. It’s bound to happen on occasion, but if it’s the norm, it’s not good for a relationship or a sex life.
Okay. That’s a start. There’s so much more — we didn’t even mention birth control! But again, it’s a start.
Now a couple of resources. A year ago I wrote about a book called Girls & Sex. It may feel overwhelming to you, because it deals with teenage girls who are actively having lots of sex and know all about it. But, I think the book is important as far as talking about how we prioritize the pleasure of men during sex (and that we shouldn’t do that).
Another great resource I recently learned about is called AMAZE. It’s aimed at kids who are younger than you (10-14 year olds), but has a ton of good straightforward information. It’s a collaboration between experts in the field of sex education, and they cover a wide range of subject material.
For any parents reading, AMAZE videos are really good to use as conversation starters — they cover the “mechanics” (e.g., puberty) and also the more complex topics (relationships, gender identity, consent, etc.). They really want to help empower parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their kids. I follow their Facebook page so that I know when they have a new video.
Again, thank you for writing, Lisa. I hope this helps get some open conversations about sex started in your home. Feel free to send more questions.
Dear Readers, it’s your turn. What advice do you have for Lisa (not her real name)? And parents, how often are you teaching your kids about sex? Do you have websites or books that you would recommend to Lisa?
P.S. — Here’s how Ben Blair and I first talked to our kids about sex — Part One and Part Two.
216 thoughts on “Teaching Kids About Sex: Advice About Sex for a College-Bound Girl”
This is such a great response to Lisa! I recommend the website Scarleteen for inclusive and supportive sex ed for teens and young adults. Lots of advice, resources, and message boards/chats, and it addresses all sorts of sexual and gender identities.
Thank you for the link, Tobie! I’ll share it with my kids.
The website Scarleteen.com is FANTASTIC for questions without judgement. It’s factual, clear, and open. I was open with my kids about sex and they’ve turned out to be happy adults.
I’m still actively fighting against the factless, shaming sex ed our public school district uses. They literally tell kids that condoms don’t work and that girls who have sex are like a used piece of gum. Parents, check your school districts if you haven’t already. You never know what a public school is allowed to use for sex ed legally.
That condoms don’t work? What in the world???
Yes, exactly what they say. It’s an abstinence based program and they say condoms do. not. work. They also tell the kids that condoms don’t feel very good either. There is much more wrong about this program.
Again, this is a public school!
Here is one the lessons used, again people PLEASE check your schools and see what they are using. Our program says they are fact based, but they are far from it.
In this lesson, girls are supposed to lose the ability to bond with their future husbands if they have sexual contact before marriage. We have seen our kids’ friends cry after this, thinking they couldn’t later marry and be happy. And I can’t fathom what a young rape victim thinks.
It depends on the state. Last I knew, abstinence only what was funded, so it’s not necessarily the school district you should contact, it’s your legislator.
Thank you so much for your candid honesty, Gabby! May I ask how old were your children when you started talking with them about sex? I have talked about basic puberty with my 8 year old (only child) daughter but not sex yet. 18 is way, way too late to start this conversation in my opinion!
We have our official first sex ed talk with each child when they are 8 years old. Then, we do ongoing talks after that, but not in any regular system. I included a couple of links in the P.S. if you want to read more about how we handle it.
Good for you, Lisa and you too, Gabby! Awesome conversation. Thanks for including it here.
Thanks for the support, Heather.
hi! First, bravo to Lisa for asking a hard question and bravo to Gaby for answering it truthfully. I used to live in and around the LDS culture (but was not of it), so I am somewhat familiar with the (lack of) sex education. I still remember the shock on my friend’s face when we were discussing sex prior to her wedding/sealing. I had suggested she have tissues or a wash cloth for clean up after sex (it’s a bit messy) and to use the toilet afterwards (because occasionally sex can lead to UTIs if you are prone to them). I think that because of the culture of abstinence them marriage, people feel like they have to start with sex right away in a marriage,,,but really, you and your partner should start where you feel comfortable. Being married opens the door for some couples to have sex…but that doesn’t mean you (or your partner) may feel ready for sex. Start with what feels good and safe and learn together (as well as exploring on your own). Cuddling, showering together, being close, might be enough. You may feel more unhibited a bit covered up with some clothing or a sheet. And you may have a different sex drive than your partner. Keep asking questions of each other and of yourself. Best of luck!
I love your comment M J. Even after marriage it’s okay to take it slow. So true! And I’m glad you brought up having a tissue or washcloth ready. I had no idea about the mess until my honeymoon.
That’s what bothers me the most about sex in movies.
There is no mess. Once the couple is done – no condom used obviously – he just gets off and they lie comfortable next to each other. Like there is no mess, like no one is lying in a (cold and later sticky) puddle.
Thank you for bringing up the mess.
I bought “It’s not the Stork” for my oldest when he was 4. Next year he turns seven and I Plan to purchase the next in the series. I am lucky because my mom was always open with me. She had me as a teenager (religious family; religious school; no sex ed) and she wanted to make sure I did not make the same mistake (though I’m sure I was a happy mistake ;-)). I went to the same religious school and the sex ed was lacking, but my mother was open with me about everything (masturbation, birth control). It made me incredibly uncomfortable (at nearly 40 I still blush talking about sex with people) but I was very happy to know what she told me. Also, I went to planned parenthood when I started having sex, and they provided great resources on birth control.
Woops somehow this ended up here and not above where I intended it!
Thank goodness for Planned Parenthood. I know people have strong feelings about the organization, but I think there are mostly misconceptions and misunderstandings about how they help a community.
Great advice, beautifully written. I’ll bei filing the post for future times to prepare for talks with my children.
By the way, I’m not LDS and not US-American. Had a different education, specifically on this topic and still think you summed everything up that was asked for from Lisa. I could not think of anything to add (birth control being a separate important topic!)
Thanks Lisa and Gabrielle.
Forgot to add: condoms are important even if the question wasn’t about birth control. You never know who’s a jerk, except maybe a new husband who’s a virgin. But chances are you’ll be having your first intercourse with a more experienced partner or “the jerk”, and you deserve to be safe from sexually transmitted diseases! So please take good care of yourself and protect yourself under any circumstances.
Also, it is okay to ask someone to get tested by a doctor before entering into a sexual relationship with them. Especially if one of you is a virgin and the other isn’t.
Exactly! Better safe than sorry.
Once again, you have shown blown me away with you ability to be honest, candid and a very good teacher. Although I am old enough to be your mother, I find you to be a great role model. Thank you.
What a kind thing to say, Bobbekay. Thank you!
Agreed! Way to tackle a tough subject!
Great topic and discussion! I was raised Catholic and educated in Catholic schools, so I was absolutely UNeducated about sex. And the education I did receive (from friends, movies, and Bill Clinton) made me confused and embarrassed to ask any questions. I now have a 6, 4, and 1 year old, and I can’t wait to start having open conversations about sex and puberty.
I second everything Gabby said (and that MJ commented). I’d also add that sex and sex drive can change drastically based on a number of factors (I’m specifically thinking about periods, pregnancy, and postpartum). So respect where you’re at on any given day, and be open and honest with your partner about your needs.
Also, YES YES YES about the necessity of a very intimate comfort level with your sexual partner. It is so much harder (if not impossible) to orgasm if you’re distracted by self-conscious thoughts. None of us are perfect, and sex is only fun (in my opinion) if you’re with someone who you can share your imperfections (or simply human-ness) with.
“It is so much harder (if not impossible) to orgasm if you’re distracted by self-conscious thoughts.”
So well put!
I agree wholeheartedly with this, too.
Katie – with a 6 and 4 year old, you can start talking now. My mother would have liked us (5 girls) all to think we were immaculately conceived so we were told nothing. I have a boy. I also dealt with abused children the majority of whom never disclosed to their parents. So I got books since he was 1 about bodies and saying no is okay. I answer his questions. I’ve tried to never shame him. Kids touch their privates and I tell him, that’s ok for you to do but please do it in your bedroom. We’ve read the books together and he knows where they are and I’ve seen him reading them and then he’ll ask questions. Start now. Make it not a big deal. When he was 4 a 7 yr old boy at his daycare was molesting several kids – my son was the only one who told anybody – me! I know it’s because I was open about it. And how he could tell me anything or ask me anything. Bodies are awesome. I love how they work and want him to love his. Plus we also talk about no means no. No to tickling means no. Etc.
Nina, I love your response. Thank you for teaching your child that his body is for him, and to tell you anything.
Can I just add another lesson I’ve taught my kids and children I nanny (& their parents). Hugs are a choice. A child’s choice. “Would you like a hug?” Preceeds every hug initiated by the adult. And no is a great answer. Please, PLEASE do not demand hugs, coerce your child to give others hugs, act angry if they refuse a hug. Teaching them that they own their own bodies, and have control over what happens to them, is your first sex ed lesson (& imho, the most important). It’s awesome when small kids learn this, then start asking each other “Would you like a hug?” And merrily saying “okaaay!” when the other child says “No!” These are kids who are learning to respect each other on a deep level.
I thought your response to Lisa was so great, Gabrielle. And I especially loved that you encouraged her to go ahead and introduce the topic with her parents. I wish I had had this kind of info before I was married–my husband and I were both virgins and let’s just say there was a looooong learning curve that I was not prepared for.
I wanted to add one thing–though I am not LDS, I do have personal religious convictions against masturbation. Not trying to read those onto anyone else, but if Lisa happens to as well, I do think (looking back) that there are some other ways a woman could prepare herself for marriage/sex and that a couple could work on it together. Kegel exercises (squeezing the muscles you would use to cut off a stream of urine) really help strengthen and tone the muscles that your body uses to create an orgasm. Also, it seems to me that a loving, well-prepared husband (like you said, steer way clear of jerks!) would be willing to gently and patiently help his new wife experiment with her body and find out what her orgasm feels like before they proceed to actual sex and his orgasm. Chances are pretty good that his will not require the same kind of careful preparation, so why not work on hers first and lay the groundwork for many years of a fulfilled sex life for both parties? Again, I hope this does not offend anyone who disagrees with my convictions, because these are very personal choices and I respect others’ differing opinions–I just wanted to put it out there as thoughts for those who might share my beliefs in that area.
What a great response, Sarah. I truly appreciate it. A really helpful suggestion for those who want to avoid masturbation for whatever reason.
Such thoughtful comments about masturbation for those against it. Thanks, Sarah K.
This is a great comment and I echo it too, because I also (not LDS, but Christian) was too uncomfortable to masturbate much prior to marriage. However, I was surprised to learn over my first few years of marriage, that I don’t orgasm via clitoris at all. It’s penetration and my G-spot that work for me, and external masturbation (by me or my husband) doesn’t do much for me. So Lisa and anyone else reading this shouldn’t feel like something is wrong if they try masturbation and nothing much comes of it. Now that I know myself better, I know I need a vibrator (or my husband) to orgasm. So there’s my 2 cents. :-)
I remember being in high school and talking to a friend about masturbation. At the time, I felt like my body was gross, confusing, and not to be touched. I wasn’t especially religious, but my mom has some very conservative (read: sexist) views on sex and the body. After that conversation with my friend, I decided to try it and it took a really long time until I felt more comfortable with my body and with masturbation. Regardless of whether you’re interested in masturbation, touching yourself, feeling how beautiful your body is (because every woman’s body is beautiful) can feel really empowering and sexy. Feeling sexy is really important for sex for a woman, and most of us gather that sexy feeling from inside, from feeling beautiful, from seeing our partner see our beauty. So get to know your body, in a sexual or sensual way, and get comfortable with how beautiful and sexy you are.
I was going to say something similar, Sarah. Exploring our bodies and responses together was exciting for my husband and me in the early years of our marriage and sex life (both being virgins before marriage).
I agree wholeheartedly! I don’t think masturbation is necessary either. I think learning and having an open conversation with your husband from the beginning and figuring out what feels good together is such a bonding experience. And as long as he is kind, sensitive, and patient, the experience can be quite an amazing beginning to the marriage relationship.
So much good advice already given, what a great post. Here are some of the things I wish I had known:
Never fake an orgasm. That is literally teacher your partner the wrong thing.
Try to be as open about what feels good as you can. And ask your partner what they like, both during sex and before/after. Never wash inside your vagina with soap, it’s a self cleaning organ. You can wash your outside vulva with a washcloth and a very gentle soap though.
When something feel good to your partner, keep doing that thing. Not faster, slower or harder… just keep doing that thing. This took me far longer to realize than I’d like to admit.
Try to always pee after sex. If you’re having frequent urination or pain, head to the doctor.
Which leads to, you’ll need annual care as an adult woman. Once a year appointment is absolutely necessary.
Don’t expect your partner to always want sex. Our culture might have you believe that guys want to have sex ALL the time, but that’s simply not true.
“When something feel good to your partner, keep doing that thing. Not faster, slower or harder… just keep doing that thing.”
Such good advice!
Dear Gabriel, this is a super important topic and you gave a great, deep answer. Thanks! I agree to every word you worte. And I had to laugh out several times while reading. You nailed it.
I also want to teach my (three) girls that orgasm for a woman is as important as for man. Otherwise, you loose interest in sex after having kids. And this is not good as a couple and for yourself. Sex is important. It connects you, it feels good and healthy and holy.
And I totally agree that masturbation for women is the key to their orgasm. If you never masturbate, it’s so much harder to get familiar with yourself. Boys masturbate so much earlier and more common. Why not girls?
My youngest has Downs Syndrome. I will also talk about sex with her before she’s 18 ;-) For her life, I want her to have a loving partner and a happy sex life like her other sisters. And I have to make her strong (like her other sisters) that nothing will happen to her that she doesn’t wants… that she doesn’t enjoys.
“I also want to teach my (three) girls that orgasm for a woman is as important as for man”
Yes. I totally agree. I think the book Girls & Sex is helpful for that conversation.
I haven’t read any of the comments yet so this may be somewhat repetitive. Our whole family (mom, dad, teenage daughter) read Girls & Sex. What a great book! It opened up a range of discussions we might never have had if we didn’t have the book as a starting point.
We’ve also used TV shows – Glee is a particularly good one – to address teen issues.
If you’re able to get your parents in the car, I find that’s a great place for potentially embarrassing conversations with my daughter. We can discuss sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. and no eye contact is required. It can make it easier to talk about something and easier to continue having those types of conversations outside the car. :)
The car conversation advice is so good and practical. Love it.
Yes to the car. Bedroom after lights out can be a good time to chat with parents as well
Hah my dad totally used the car method with me growing up but it honestly made me dread long car rides alone with him lol! He also made me go into Barnes and Noble with him and buy “It’s Perfectly Normal” (mentioned above) together. So mortifying haha (though I secretly loved having that book). He clearly had good intentions but it might have been better from my mom… my parents are divorced and she was much less direct (maybe her Catholic upbringing) until she assumed I knew the basics and then we talked openly. I had to ask HER to buy me a bra.
Pro tip: We don’t have serious conversations on every, or even many, longer car trips. And I keep my comments brief and non-judgmental. We only continue talking if my daughter wants to.
I figure I’m reminding her the door is open and hoping she takes advantage should she need/want to talk, which has proven true. It’s all about communication, right?
Coming from a super liberal surrounding in Germany this is so so fascinating for me. I grew up having to shield myself from too much information and expectations regarding sex because it seemed to me, everybody talked about it all the time and as soon as I hit puperty, people expected me to become sexual active (including my parents).
I am 40, I have two kids and I love their father and he loves me but I still have a hard time figuring out what I really want or like in bed because I spent so much time pretending I felt something when I didn’t feel anything.
So for me it sounds so romantic that two grown-ups are waiting to get married and then learn about sex together. When I was sixteen I had my first time so my friends wouldn’t think I am a freak. They all started with 13.
I can see how these are two extremes and I don’t think it is good to not talk about sex at all or tell kids to not have sex is the only working birth control.
I just wish somebody would have told me that whatever I feel is alright, and that it is really all about how to trust your instincts and senses. I so wish I would have trusted them more!
Thanks for sharing this.
“for me it sounds so romantic that two grown-ups are waiting to get married and then learn about sex together.”
I agree. I know it doesn’t happen for everyone, but it was such a wonderful thing for me and Ben Blair. Figuring it out together, with no pressure, and with someone we fully trust, was a big blessing. I feel like I got really lucky as far as husbands go.
same here. Grew up in Germany in with a very liberal mother and way too much information than I asked for. When I think about these conversations I still cringe.
@Sarah K – although for me masturbation is the key to orgasm, I totally respect your approach! We say: Many streets lead to Rome…
Omgyes.com is a great resource for women (18 and older!) who may need help learning how to pleasure themselves. It’s videos of women first talking about what exactly the do to achieve an orgasm then showing it in a separate video. It’s very classy and informative. It may be more than some conservative women want to watch but like I said they have separate videos of talking and showing.
I’m glad to hear from someone who has tried Omgyes and can recommend it — they advertise to me on Facebook all the time, but I haven’t clicked over yet.
Omg yes is tastefully done. Highly recommend!
I was going to recommend OMGYES, too! Great resource. Really enjoyed reading this exchange. As a mother of two girls 2 yo and 6 months, I definitely want to set the record straight early. Their father and I have agreed to be as straightforward as possible, but it’s also a scary place out there and I feel like anytime I rehearse the conversation in my head, I go to a more cautious place instead of a “sex is awesome!” place just because I’m worried for their safety. So I appreciated reading your response to Lisa where so much emphasis was placed on a happy and healthy sex life being exciting and fun and intimate. Because it is!
I would like to add this in reguards to OMGYES: for a young woman just wanting to know the mechanics of sex, this website is WAY too much information, and even though they try to present it in an informative way, you are essentially watching naked women pleasure themselves, which leaves you with some of the same damaging effects as watching porn itself. I would highly recommend to any LDS or other conservative teen, this step is highly unnecessary and even degrading. You DO NOT need to watch those videos to have great sex. Just don’t do it.
For the LDS crew, look up Dr Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. She did her dissertation on LDS women and sexuality. She has been interviewed on a lot of podcasts and written really compelling stuff too.
Here’s her link: http://www.finlayson-fife.com/
Brilliant, thoughtful, honest work from both of you. I’m so grateful to know that the world has young adults like Lisa and mentors like Gaby.
I cringed when I saw you write about sex as something you need “to get good at.” I fear inexperienced teens might misinterpret that phrase and feel pressure to master techniques lest they be judged deficient. I’m sure that’s not what you meant at all!
The key to great sex is letting go of self-consciousness, being imaginative and playful, tapping into your own sexuality, and being comfortable telling your partner exactly what you like or what you’d like to try rather than hoping they will guess or read your mind. That’s it. Assuming your partner is capable of those same things, the sex will get better and better. It is NOT about developing proficiencies beyond what I’ve outlined above because different people like different things!
Also: If you aren’t comfortable enough with your partner to tell them what feels good to you, you probably aren’t ready for sex.
Finally: Try to avoid porn. It is not a realistic depiction of sex and you want to discover what actually feels good to you and your partner, not what filmmakers have found $$$ sells well to men who want something to look at while they jerk off.
I agree the idea that “sex is something you have to get good at”, while some people clearly feel that way, isn’t true for everybody. I remember being afraid of my first time because I’d always heard that the first time hurts. This was untrue for me. It was a beautiful experience. My partner was kind, gentle, loving and we communicated with words in addition to body language during. I think a big thing that people who choose to wait until marriage need to remember is that sex is not a requirement on your wedding night. Even of it’s highly anticipated, one or both of you may need more time to ease into consummating. Allowing your physical relationship to evolve one step at a time is important and you may want to get comfortable enjoying eachother physically before having intercourse. Kiss, make out, get handsy, let the enjoyment of foreplay hello guide you to the next step.
Young people get very mixed messages about sex from our culture. A few general concepts I find helpful when thinking about and talking to young people about sex.
1. Sex is part of our bio-physiology, and thinking of it that way can sometimes elevate a bit of anxiety. Basically, we’re wired for it just like we’re wired to eat, sleep, and move, yet because we all have different personalities and different bodies, we sleep differently, we eat differently, and we express and experience our sexuality differently.
2. Sex can be messy–emotionally and physically–and that’s okay. it’s not a cause for shame or drama. It just is.
3. Sex isn’t a product–or an end goal–it’s a on-going process.
4. Sex does not equal spiritual worth. Our sexuality and sexual expression is only a small part of who we are.
5. Sometimes our parents aren’t the best people to talk about sex with. Counselors, teachers, and respected friends and community members might be a better fit.
“Sex is part of our bio-physiology, and thinking of it that way can sometimes elevate a bit of anxiety. Basically, we’re wired for it just like we’re wired to eat, sleep, and move, yet because we all have different personalities and different bodies, we sleep differently, we eat differently, and we express and experience our sexuality differently.”
This is so good.
I love “4. Sex does not equal spiritual worth. Our sexuality and sexual expression is only a small part of who we are.” this sentiment, and hope people are driving this home with their kids/students/young people in their lives, because it’s so important and yet our culture in the U.S. does not support this notion. I’m really lucky to have great sex with my husband and am pro-sex for everyone, as long as it’s consensual and informed sex, and cannot imagine how difficult it is for teenagers to navigate the confusing cultural standards that exist today.
I love your letter, Gabby, and I’ve printed it to refer to when I talk more about sex with my children as they enter their teen years. To Lisa and other teens I would add this:
I am Mormon and while my mom was very open in talking about sex to me, I felt very unprepared by her and my young woman’s leaders in navigating sexual feelings and dating in college. I was taught that if I dated other Mormons I would be ‘safe.’ The Mormon guys would know and also follow my standards in regards to physical intimacies from kissing all the way to PIV sex. That’s not true. There a very large gray area in what Mormons think is okay before marriage and still be temple worthy for marriage. But we don’t talk about it and we should. I discovered that some of the Mormon men I dated would often push me for more physical intimacy than I wanted than the non-Mormons I dated. I was also unprepared for how to handle my body screaming, “Yes! I want more. More kissing. More caresses. Let’s take our clothes off!” and my brain shouting, “NO! I’m not ready for this!” All young people need to know, no matter what they think about sex, is if the body and brain are disagreement, listen to the brain. It will be very hard because those sexual feelings are very powerful but if the brain is saying “no” (for whatever reason) to not listen leads to regret and the sex (or whatever physical intimacy they are engaged in) loses much of its pleasure.
Another thing I’ve always planned on making very clear to my daughter (and any other young girl I have the ability to influence) is her right to say ‘no’ to anything she does not want or does not like. That she has the right to say what she is comfortable with in terms of physical intimacy and sex. She has the right initiate and stop. And those boundaries or standards or whatever she wants to call them, do not repress her, but give her the freedom to explore her sexuality until SHE is ready to expand them.
So often girls/woman feel that we must nice or kind to boys/men even if its not in our best interest. A guy who completely gives you the creeps asks you out but you don’t want to hurt his feelings? Say No. Never say yes to date or anything else with a guy who creeps you out. Say no thank. You don’t have to say anything more or make an excuse. A guy takes you out on a date expects a kiss or more for taking you out? You can say no. Kissed him before? You have the right to say no to kissing him again. A yes to a date obligates you to nothing more than your presence on the said date and you even have the right to walk out on the date at any time (I’ve walked out on one myself). And if a guy you are dating (and you wonder if you are in love with) ever says that your standards/boundaries/ whatever about sex and why your not having it with him are repressing you, their not. They are repressing HIM and keeping HIM from getting what he wants and please see Gabby’s note on jerks, even if it breaks your heart.
“A guy who completely gives you the creeps asks you out but you don’t want to hurt his feelings? Say No.”
Ugh. YES to this statement. I work at a large university and I see this all the time.. If a guy who you’ve said No to continues to make advances, ask you out, follow you, talk to you, you should again tell him directly that he needs to stop talking to you (yes, even if it feels like you’re being mean), and then you should talk to an advisor, Title IX coordinator, or other professional at your school. Men are taught that women need to be “caught” and that the only way you get a woman to go out with you is to wear them down. It’s not cute, it’s not sweet, IT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT. Under no circumstances should you ever feel like you have to do anything because someone has asked you out, talked to you, etc several times. Title IX expansion has been developed to protect your rights on a college campus, and you should depend on them to make sure you feel safe and protected on your campus. Sexual harassment is never okay. It’s never cute, it’s never a reason to say yes.
Such good advice. And don’t you think romantic comedies contribute to this? Guy-meets-girl, girl HATES guy, guy won’t leave her alone, suddenly she realizes he’s her one true love, etc. Do successful, healthy relationships ever start like that?! Not to excuse any harassment, but I wonder if men, and also women, sometimes grow up seeing those types of portrayals and then don’t recognize harassment when they see it (or do it).
Oh my goodness, YES! It’s a hard place for women AND men. We teach men to be the chaser, that girls WANT to be chased, and biologically that may be true (think about a cheetah in the wild). It gets more complicated because we aren’t cheetahs in the wild, we need to have consent and EMPHATIC consent! But culturally we also teach women NOT to be the aggressor, because that’s considered slutty or too forward or whatever.
As an aside, my husband (of almost 10 years) and I got together because I told him I had a big crush on him… He LOVED it, and that was it for us. That push-pull is so hard, but there are still clear lines that should NEVER be crossed. I am totally loving this conversation!
We at AMAZE are moved by your post. It sounds like you’ve done incredible work taking a series of situations that left you feeling ‘unprepared’ and turned them around to create an open and empowering dialogue with your daughter. So often when we talk about the pressures on teens to have sex we focus on the external pressures – peer pressure and the media, but we fail to acknowledge the role of hormones and our internal curiosities about sex. I think your point about ” if the body and brain are disagreement, listen to the brain” is so well stated. We often don’t give young people the credit they deserve when it comes to making decisions about their own bodies. The media often depicts teens as being driven by sex and hormones, but we know that when given the information they need to make an informed decision, young people will make the decision that is best for them. Beyond the decision to have sex or to not have sex, we also want to emphasize that the topic of consent is the foundation to any romantic relationship and must be honored and respected by both people in the relationship. At AMAZE we strive to provide young people with the information they want to know about sex, in an age-appropriate and empowering way. No shame. No stigma. Your post echos those exacts sentiments, and we appreciate you sharing your experience with the readers of this blog.
Cassy, your comment really resonated with me. I am not LDS, I’m not even religious, but I was a late bloomer (I was just waiting on a non-jerk, and that takes awhile even if you’re not waiting until marriage). The struggle between heart and head is real, and even as I matured and when I was no longer a virgin, I had to reexamine my thoughts of, “Am I thinking no because I really don’t want to, or because I don’t want to be ‘a slut.'” I had sexual needs too, and this guy wasn’t a stranger or anything, but there’s still that perception of men who have x number of partners are just men, but women with the same number are sluts. (And pardon the word, that’s just the term that was used back then.)
I completely agree with the saying no instead of saying yes to be polite. However, I do worry, because there are psychopaths sprinkled into the jerk pool. That shooter in San Diego and recently one near me at a community college near Dallas both killed women because they had rejected them. Whaaaaat? I mean, still say no to someone you don’t want to date, but if someone starts approaching stalker-status, talk to authorities and stay alert!
Yes! Amen! Your response is spot on Cassy!
“All young people need to know, no matter what they think about sex, is if the body and brain are disagreement, listen to the brain.”
I’ve experienced the regret (& thankfully also the healing, though it was not easy or quick) of not listening to my brain in this situation.
“And those boundaries or standards or whatever she wants to call them, do not repress her, but give her the freedom to explore her sexuality until SHE is ready to expand them.”
Yep. There is so much FREEDOM in living according to our personal convictions and/or our faith convictions. This is something I didn’t understand until I lived it and experienced it. Boundaries seem restrictive on paper, but when you know WHY you believe what you believe, they are truly a blessing not a burden!
I would add that I recommend not putting pressure on you and your significant other to have an orgasm every time (especially if you are two women and sometimes it can take time, or that is my experience). Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, but you still feel intimate and close and have fun with your partner. Taking the pressure off makes it more fun and allows you to lift more of your inhibitions. When it does happen it’s exciting and wonderful.
Hats off to you Lisa for seeking out information that you need!
Agreed! Sometimes we focus on me, sometimes we focus on my partner, sometimes we both orgasm. It helps that my partner is very conscientious about making sure I get what I want/need; sometimes I just want to enjoy PIV sex but am not in the mood for orgasm (it can take awhile if I’m not), or sometimes he’s not feeling it but is happy to help me feel it, and that’s fine.
this is so great. the only thing i would add is that there is more than one type of orgasm for women. (men too, actually) clitoral, which you mentioned, is one. there is also vaginal, g-spot, breast… and others. :)
I am not a commenter… I am an observer through and through… but this. This topic is important and I appreciate how well you’ve approached this answer in a frank and informative way, while still discussing things that need discussed.
While I love everything you’ve said, something I would add is, regardless of when you hope/plan to have sex, i.e. after marriage, please know and understand all of the different contraceptive methods before you find yourself in a sexual situation. I think “protection” tends to be another tricky subject, where some people believe that knowledge of contraception leads to sex, while others believe everyone should know everything. IMO, I think knowledge truly is power. The more we know about different options, the better we can be prepared for when the time actually comes- whenever that happens to be. I think some of the resources already listed are probably good options for education regarding contraception. Also, talking to parents, teachers, aunts, or even a family doctor, could be helpful in understanding different options in regards to “protection”/contraception.
Lisa good on you for asking and Gabby thanks for your very practical answer. Lisa I would highly recommend you listen to this podcast http://www.athoughtfulfaith.org/the-truths-about-marital-intimacy-a-critique-of-wendy-nelsons-sex-talk-helfer-parker-and-de-azevedo-hanks/
What a thoughtful, thorough response! I, too, am LDS, but I was lucky to grow up in a house where conversations about sex were pretty open. I have all sisters and I think it was important for all of us to know that my mom enjoyed sex and had a healthy sexual appetite (so often we just hear that it’s the men who want sex and a woman’s duty to fulfil that need which is not the case at all!). Sex should be enjoyed by both partners!
My husband and I were both virgins when we got married, but we had a lot of discussions leading up to our marriage about sex and our expectations, desires, etc. and we kept a very open dialogue once we got married. Good communication is key to any healthy relationship and that includes communication about sex. It’s so important to be able to communicate openly about what you like/don’t like , what feels good, what you’d like to try etc. with your partner (so yeah, make sure he/she isn’t a jerk). I chose not to masterbate before I got married, but was lucky to find a husband who was very open to helping me explore my body and to my surprise, I had my first orgasm 2 days after we got married. It was a ton of fun for my husband and I to figure it out together. And like Gaby said, it’s an ongoing conversation and things change (bodies change, babies are born, there are new toys or positions to try etc) so we’re always figuring it out which keeps it exciting.
When I was at BYU, I took a marriage preparation class and my professor was incredible. During one of the lectures on sex, he put a diagram of the clitoris up on the overhead and explained it’s function in female pleasure and made a huge point that both men and women needed to be very familiar. I was shocked at how many people (many of them women!) were unfamiliar with such an integral part of the female anatomy. We can certainly do better.
I loved reading about your experience! I’m so glad people are sharing so openly. Reading about you figuring out your orgasm on your honeymoon reminded me of my own experience.
Before we were married, I would have orgasms just by making out — fully clothed, etc.. So I loved making out, and as an added benefit, felt no big urgency to have sex because I was already enjoying myself. But then, when we got married and started having sex, the whole thing felt so different, and seemed so much more complicated, that I was no longer having orgasms.
It took me a full month to figure out how to orgasm while having sex. And I distinctly remember thinking, during the month where I hadn’t figured it out yet, that we were going to end up having a sad sexless marriage, because I didn’t find sex-without-an-orgasm to be compelling at all.
And then, when I finally did figure it out, I remember thinking that if I hadn’t known how good an orgasm felt before I got married, I don’t know if I would have stuck with sex and committed to figure it out. Happily, I did know how good it felt, and that it was worth taking the time to master.
Anyway, all that to say: I’m glad it only took you two days. : )
Funny how we define “sex” and “virginity” no? To my mind if your taking part in partnered sexually stimulating activities you’re sexually actively. So I’d say you were definitely sexually actively before marriage. An LDS loophole perhaps? That said; I do understand that PIV is important/intense/intimate in a special way too; not to mention how babies are made.
Hahaha. LDS loophole? No. I think I just orgasmed really easily. I know what you mean about funny definitions, but I definitely would not have called myself sexually active then, or now looking back. At the time, I was very much like Lisa and I barely knew anything about sex, and would have considered it a very bad thing if any touching or nakedness was going on.
That said, I think it’s not unusual for Mormon kids to get really good at doing everything but having PIV sex. I definitely felt like that when I was engaged — sort of asking how far can we go without crossing the line? Turns out my lines were pretty darn chaste, and Ben Blair’s lines were even more chaste than mine, but we still managed to have a good time.
So many great comments!
I would add that it’s VERY important to take a look at your body–with something a bit bigger than a hand mirror–and find clitoris, urethra, vagina, and anus. Then when you’re ready to try PIV, you know where P should go!
And also, research the menstrual/hormonal cycle! Knowing what discharge is normal, fertile, and not normal, is crucial for your health! I love the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility (which is not exclusively about getting pregnant, but about understanding the way the female body works!).
I love that advice about knowing your cycle, Kelly. It’s such a good indicator of overall health, yet we’re never really taught what “normal” is or what a red flag is.
I loved your response to Lisa and all of the other commenters! One thing I would like to add is specifically for Lisa.
Lisa, Please know that after you read all of this knowledge and advice from dozens of grown women, you will “know” sooooo much more about this topic than any boy or man that she has sex with.
I mean, we’ve just given her so much info it could take her a decade to understand what we have written here.
So true! So much of this is meaningless until an active sex life actually begins.
Just wanted to comment and say thank you for this wonderful, thoughtful post.
I echo @Sarah K’s complete comment and would say I think part of true intimacy comes from being really vulnerable with each other and discovering new ways together for both partners to reach an orgasm.
A few things I would add. With practice, the husband can go longer and learn ways to help him not climax too soon. It’s okay for her to take as long or as short as she needs and to say she isn’t finished enjoying the experience and her husband yet!
I feel that it’s completely up to her I if she decides to remove any genital hair. It’s not whatever the husband prefers!
Even though I fully understood the mechanisms of sex and greatly looked forward to it, I wasn’t prepared for hurt feelings when I wanted sex and my husband didn’t after we got married.
Sex is such a living, breathing, wonderful part of marriage!!!
And, yes, foreplay is so good.
Also, I live in Northern Utah and when I talk about sex-ed with my friends, the majority are excited and honored to be open as possible with their children. I think the stigma is shifting within Christian religions.
It is important to teach that sex is a beautiful and wonderful thing in the right context. It isn’t shameful. We are sexual beings and my sexuality, ability to orgasm, and sex life is just as important as my husband’s. I love sex and crave it and the intimacy that it brings to my husband and me. Some couples have different levels and desire and you have to navigate that. Communication is key. After sex you might need to address what worked and what didn’t. Lots of foreplay. Try different kinds of lubrication. We always have several in the nightstand.
I have listened to Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and found her podcast really informative and interesting about sexuality from an LDS perspective.
Another thing, is to not feel pressured to have sex on your wedding night. My husband and I were exhausted after a long day of wedding activities, but we had sex anyways. We’ve talked since, and kind of wished we’d just waited until the morning/next day after we’d rested…
Good point! We didn’t have sex on our wedding night. But we did in the afternoon. We got married in the morning, followed by a family luncheon, but didn’t have a reception until the evening, so we ended up with a free afternoon, which we spent in bed with each other for the first time. And then that night, when we were exhausted after the reception, we ended up falling asleep instead of having sex.
We actually made a point of having a super relaxed wedding so that we, hopefully, wouldn’t be too wiped out to have sex.
A couple-friend of our got married the same summer and planned not to try sex at all until the next day.
Someone else mentioned, and I just wanted to echo – early on in my relationship with my now-husband, I would get really hurt if he didn’t want to have sex whenever I did. It became sort of a stressful thing for both of us, and even now (13 years later) can be a touchy subject. It is so true that men don’t like to be pressured or expected to be ready to go at any and all times any more than women do. And this can be a hard thing both while dating and after marriage if you aren’t willing or able to talk openly about it.
My son’s second grade teacher the book “Talk to Me First” by Deborah Roffman, and it’s been a great resource. I’ve found it to be helpful in psyching me up to talk to my kids constructively about sex while also taking some of the pressure off.
Thanks for the recommendation!
I love, love, LOVE the teaching of Mary Flo Ridley (www.birds-bees.com) She’s a national speaker with so many great tips. She encourages parents to start the conversation early so that children learn that the subject of sex is not taboo. They learn that their parents will tell them the truth. Everything is age appropriate – she certainly disagrees with whoever decided that parents should have one magical conversation with a child at the onset of puberty that will *poof!* answer all of their questions & make the rest of their sexual journey a piece of cake. It simply doesn’t make sense! While her website may seem geared towards little ones, she actually talks extensively about how to progress the conversation as your child ages….so that hopefully he/she isn’t fleeing the nest feeling overwhelmed and uneducated about an extremely important topic. I had my doubts about starting the conversation so early, but I used her methods and found that it made all three of my children more comfortable talking openly with me. I am not LDS, but I am a Christian. Mary Flo’s methods work well for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Completely agree with you, Marcia! Mary Flo Ridley and The Birds & The Bees training helped get started with these conversations. I felt like I had a plan and was ready for multiple conversations (starting at young ages) with my kids. Highly recommend http://www.birds-bees.com. They have online video training too!
I second all these comments on Birds and Bees! Such a great resource to talk to your kids about sex! http://www.birds-bees.com.
Completely agree that Birds & Bees (http://www.birds-bees.com/) is a fabulous, fabulous resource! Starting the conversation early and giving our children a safe space to ask questions is so important! We love Birds & Bees!
Lisa (although I know that’s not your real name), I love your boldness in asking this question. And Gabrielle, I loved your answer.
In addition to all the suggestions from these commenters, here’s a really good TEDx talk called “Unlocking the Door to Your Authentic Sexual Wellbeing” by a sex educator named Emily Nagoski. The video is posted at her blog, along with a transcript: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/blog/2016/02/12/my-tedx-talk-unlocking-the-door-to-your-authentic-sexual-wellbeing/
As she says, “SPOILER: the keys are CONFIDENCE and JOY.”
Lisa, I wish you a wonderful sex life, whatever that ends up looking like for you.
Oh and one more thing, particularly for Lisa and young folks like her who may not have had sex before and are curious and exploring: if you’re doing a lot of exploring on the internet, especially about something like “how to have exciting sex,” you may notice that you see a lot about various kinds of restraint or bondage, particularly for the woman.
Here’s what you should know: some people are into that, but it’s not the definition of what sex is or what makes sex fun. Honestly, it became trendy the last couple of years because of some bestselling novels I won’t go into here because that’s another topic. :) But if that makes you uncomfortable, you just don’t like it, or you believe it’s wrong, that’s totally fine — you don’t need to enjoy that to be normal. And like Gabrielle mentioned, you never have to do anything during sex, or during foreplay, or while making out, that you don’t want to do. Only you can decide what you like, and you are totally normal.
I have no doubt you’ll have tons of comments, and all the better! This is so important to not just talk about, but to think and talk about in thoughtful ways. I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more and thank you for addressing the writer’s awesome letter. My only objection is the idea that LDS people are singular in not great about talking about sex in a healthy, positive ways. My objection is that most of my peers (i.e., parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers — none of whom are LDS) are really not great about talking about sex. I live in the suburbs 12 miles from Boston. I was super surprised at the 4th grade parents night (to talk about sex ed) how rampant the giggling and snickers were — from parents. In personal conversations, countless neighbors and friends have lamented having even to tell their daughters about their period or talk to their high school kids about sex. The whole topic was very taboo.
I hate to sound defensive, but the horrid chewed gum/broken rose metaphor (which I’ve never heard first-hand growing up LDS) is sadly present in a lot of conservative religious cultures, but simply because someone doesn’t adhere to these religious beliefs doesn’t magically make them great at being comfortable and forthright talking to their kids about sex. Besides that small objection, a huge THANK YOU for this excellent response!!
Hi Susan, just to clarify, I certainly didn’t mean to imply Mormons are the only people who have a hard time talking about sex. I was just responding to Lisa’s concerns about what she had learned at church and in her home, and that it hadn’t been adequate.
Great topic. I find Dan Savage’s podcast to be very honest and detailed. As a straight woman, I find it helpful (and interestin!) to be reminded that there are many ways people can be intimate with one another.
The other thing I find important about sex is how different your experiences can be. Orgasams vary in the lead up and what they feel like. Sex with one partner is very different than with a different partner. Sometimes sex can feel great with someone who is not a great partner for you. Other times, sex with someone who is a great partner can be awkward. Prioritize the great person and the communication and, in my experience, sex gets better as your relationship deepens.
I LOVE this post. I agree with everything except the masturbating. This was such a thorough and thoughtful response. I agree with another commenter about the book The Act of Marriage. My sister gave it to me before I got married and I devoured it. I had next to no idea what sex was about. My sister talked to me about everything and I’m so grateful! Anyway, I just wanted to say that instead of masturbating, you can have a really intimate connection with your partner on exploring and figuring out your bodies together. Life is long! Sex in my marriage is always changing. We have our ups and downs and experiments and it’s really fun figuring it all out together. I love finding a new position or new way of having sex. It keeps it exciting and passionate. One thing that has been fun – when my husband and I are both physically fit and trim and flexible is when it’s the most fun! So good. So good. :)
Great post Gabby.
First, congrats for even wanting to know more and being proactive about it at your age. I sorta thought I wasn’t supposed to even want to know about sex. (I’m LDS too).
As a 40 year old woman who has been married for 12 years (I was a virgin before marriage) I just wanted to say that you can STILL learn new things at my age! I just read a great book called “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform your Sex Life.” By Emily Nagoski and there was a lot of research backed information that I (and I would say most) people don’t have a working knowledge of when it comes to sex. It was fascinating! And informative! And so very kind.
However, it’s definitely written with the assumption that you are sexually active–so a lot of it might not make a lot of sense but there is so much great information you may want to consider giving it a read. I want to give it to my girls when they get older.
Probably the most important overall point is that often we view sex from a male point of view and so when women’s body don’t respond in a way that is typical of males, the assumption has been that something is wrong with them. (And sadly, even in liberal pop culture these myths get regurgitated over and over again.) So just because your body doesn’t respond the way your boyfriends or husbands body does–there is nothing wrong with you! You’re just not a man! You’re a woman! Huzzah!
I would also second Dr. Jennifer Findlayson-Fife.
Agreed! August will make 22 years of marriage for us and there’s still plenty to learn. Thanks for the book recommendation! It sounds really good.
Gabby, your readers are so awesome! What informative, thoughtful comments. Thank you for this post!
Well done Gaby & thank you to those who’ve shared…soo much goodness here for Lisa & so many of us!
One thing I wished I’d understood better is that because sex is such an intensely beautiful connection of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual…emotions can surprise/scare/excite/embarress/etc. you or your parnter.
When everyone talks about sharing/being open with your partner about what you like or don’t like…this can simply be the way you feel emotionally.
No matter how long ago, trauma of all kinds can trigger positive, confusing and terrifying experiences before, during, or after sex. While there are so many things that would fit under this umbrella, the ones that have affected the sex life/happiness of my husband and I were pregnancy, sexual assault, and sexual abuse.
While i was very lucky to have avoided marrying “a jerk”…it took so much love and patience in both of us to work through my past experiences. I found professional help and reached out to friends who I could confide in, & question…i appreciate my husband for the journey we’ve taken together and am so glad we can continue to enjoy this part of our marriage ❤
Another reference is the book Our Bodies Ourselves. My neighbor in college came from Korea and had zero information and all kinds of questions about sex and this was a great reference.
Thank you for the recommendation!
We believe in starting to talk to our kids at about age 3. If we don’t give them accurate information about their bodies, sex, sexuality, gender identity etc. they will get information elsewhere (which may or may not be accurate). In addition our own values are a part of our conversation. We are Unitaritan Universalists. Our kids get comprehensive sexuality education in their religious education classes. The curriculum is called Our Whole Lives Sexuality. OWLS. It is a joint curriculum from the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ. It is a curriculum that goes from k-12 and into adulthood. Our son will have a 1/2 year of OWLS next year in 5th grade and our daughter had a full year of it in 8th grade this past year. When I say comprehensive I mean EVERYTHING. Having them go through OWLS is one of the best gifts I could ever give to them. Truly. In addition to us, they now have other trusted adults to go to within a safe community. Their peers are learning along side of them. I recommend looking up the curriculum. It is life changing. I truly wish we had something like this when I was growing up.
1) OWLS made me laugh because it reminded of the Harry Potter finals that have the same name.
2) The program sounds amazing! I’m off to google it to learn more about it.
My midwife used to teach this program, and recommends it. She also recommends the books “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris and “Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask)” by Richardson & Schuster.
You’re honesty and openness is wonderful and refreshing. Thank you! I’m LDS, and a mother of 3 teens. Yes this subject is a tricky one. I’ve stuck with the idea of being as open and honest with my kids about sex as I can. I must admit, the LDS culture can make it a little tough. It’s hard seeing so many young kids rush to get married in their very early 20s (which is the pot calling the kettle black since I did much the same) mainly because it feels like they are just super ready and curious to start a physical relationship and feel that’s the only way. Then they find themselves with a family without taking the time to truly know who they are as an individual. I feel that the more young adults can talk openly and honestly about things especially with older folks and can demystify sex, it can hopefully lead to happy healthy relationships… with their partner as well as with themselves. Heck, I’m in my 40s and still trying to figure it out!
“It’s hard seeing so many young kids rush to get married in their very early 20s (which is the pot calling the kettle black since I did much the same) mainly because it feels like they are just super ready and curious to start a physical relationship and feel that’s the only way.”
I hear you! I too married very young at 21, but still worry my own kids will feel pressure to marry too young.
I’m with the commenters above about the importance of protection- for both STI and pregnancy concerns.
I also think it’s important for everyone to have a safe word, even if they are having the most vanilla of sex. Everyone should have a way to turn down or stop whatever is happening at any time.
I love this post. I love this open, frank conversation!
I would like to address the topic of birth control, because while it may be a whole other topic, I also firmly believe it is the topic that should proceed the conversations about the nuances of sex.
I was raised LDS, and grew up in a household that did not talk about sex. Abstenence was the only option, so further conversion was not optional. At 16, I wound up pregnant, because I had never been educated on how to prevent that from happening.
Lisa, you may be saving yourself for marriage which is a choice I respect, but should you come to a time where you feel you are ready to be sexually active before you are ready to have children, your first step is to explore your options for contraception.
As a woman, it is your choice as to whether you would like to carry and birth a child into this world, so it is very important that you commit to that when you are comfortable and ready.
Planned Parenthood was an incredible resource for me. They provided me with education and affordable care when I knew I was on my own in my situation.
Sex is wonderful and natural and healthy. It also produces babies.. so before you consider it… even if you are married.. be sure you are sufficiently protected if you are not quite ready to produce your family.
I appreciate your comment, Davina. I agree, knowing your birth control options is super important.
I’m surprised more people haven’t brought this up! Thanks for sharing, Davina. This is an important topic. While I fully acknowledge that all doctors may not feel the same on this subject, I am training as a pediatrician and part of my job is to be available to talk to you in complete privacy about sex, especially how to stay healthy and prevent pregnancy and STDs- no judgement, no worrying about if Mom and Dad find out. I hope Lisa knows her doctor (or a sexual health center such as Planned Parenthood) can be a great resource for these important topics.
I’m a nurse who deals with sexual function at work but it’s easy for me to fall into slang or generalized terms (like vagina) in my life. I’ve been trying to get into the habit with my ten month old of using anatomically correct terminology in the bath and talking about consent when we go to church or the doctor. I know she doesn’t understand now but hopefully by the time she does it will be second nature to me to talk frequently and easily about sexuality. I want her to grow up empowered in her body not confused!
Thank you for this thoughtful and important post.
Trying to use correct terminology for female genitalia, instead of saying vagina for the whole area, is frustratingly difficult. I wonder why that is?
I have always found it difficult to use the terms because of a conservative upbringing where shame was (I think unintentionally) linked to body parts, and also, the names are so ugly! Vulva? Sounds like vulgar. Labia? Sounds slimy, or like a disease. It is too bad our lady parts don’t have beautiful names that honor their versatility and general amazingness.
Really enjoyed this thoughtful post and the great comments.
If you think “labia” sounds weird, how about “shame lips”?? Yes, that is the literal translation of the actual Dutch term (“schaamlippen”) for a woman’s labia. How such a word can still exist in one of the most progressive and sexually open-minded societies on this planet is beyond me…. :S
Such good advice here!!! What I have to add may seem so simplistic, but depending on your level of experience, maybe it will be helpful. I always tell my kids to remember that their brain needs to be the boss of their bodies–kissing feels good! Sex feels good! But sex is pretty weird if you actually think about it (my kids are still so young that they can’t get past the weirdness aspect!) and so we talk about how your body has really really strong hormonal drives that have evolved to push you past the weirdness part and on to the part where you can make babies and continue the species! (Framing this in evolutionary terms makes sense to the dinosaur-obsessed set…). So we talk about how you need to let your brain be the boss and not let your body do the driving unless you are in a safe relationship with someone you really care about–because your body’s urges are so strong that it will make choices your brain regrets later. Anyway, just something to think about if you haven’t had a lot of high school makeout sessions. :-)
Gabrielle, thank you for your incredibly real and honest response to Lisa’s letter! I’ve been a reader of your blog for some time now and have always admired and been inspired by it! I hope many of your readers will use this post as a conversation starter with their own kids. I have 2 daughters, 28 and 33 and I feel like I may share it with them too! Thanks again!