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Four Daughters, Four Moms, Four Sex Talks

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happy_active_loved_17 asks:

I'm 18, and I've been sexually active for about three years. I met my current boyfriend in August of 2010 and we've been inseparable since. He just celebrated his 21st birthday. My problem is, my mom seems to think I'm her angelic, virginal teenager. (I'm one of five kids) She doesn't know I'm dating or that I'm not a virgin. Before I go away to college, I'd like to come clean to her. I'm just not sure how to do that without shattering her image of me completely, though it seems inevitable.
 So, how do I begin to tell her?

Heather Corinna replies:

You are not responsible for a parent having an idea about who you are that's about who you have been as a child, who they seem like they might want you to be, or who they think you are but are not anymore, and may -- and in this case, probably -- never have been.

I hear you expressing what sounds like a feeling that you need to protect your parent from having her fantasies or illusions corrected by reality. It's not on you to protect your parent: that's just not your responsibility. It's on your parent to love and accept you for the real person that you are, at every stage of your life.

As well, people aren't angels, at any age. People are only just people, and the expectations other people have of us should square with what's real. You having sexual development, a sexuality, and some kind of consensual, caring sex life which people most typically have, being people, doesn't make you a bad person, less of a person, or a person with any less integrity. All it makes you is just a plain, old person, like your friends, me, your Mom and everyone else. It sounds to me like you yourself might feel that something about you isn't as good as it used to be because you're dating or because you have been sexually active, or like these things make you some kind of disappointment. Please know that's not true. If it is, then most people in the world, usually starting right around the time of life you're in (and usually outside of marriage, if that's an issue: we know that over the last 70 years or more, the majority of people who have been sexual with others have been so before marriage if and when they do marry), are not good people because they date or engage in some kind of sex, which I sure don't believe, and I hope you don't, either. I don't think the world is primarily populated by bad people.

People have sexualities, even though we don't all have the same one. Most people want or have some kind of sex life with others at some point, too, and the most common time for people who desire that to start to experience and express those desires is in adolescence. Sex and our sexuality can be a happy, healthy and beneficial part of life which can enhance the whole of our lives and who we are. It doesn't always, but they both have that capacity, especially when we have positive, healthy attitudes about them and express or enact our sexuality in healthy ways and, when other people are involved, in the context of healthy relationships where everyone involved cares about one another and treats one another with care.

So, I think it's important that you try and let go of worries that she will think of you differently, because I think it's important for her to love and accept you for exactly who you are, and to also accept that you're wanting and engaging in something that is very common for people during your time of life. She herself may well have felt or expressed her own sexual desires at or around your age. Even if she herself did not, she probably knew plenty of people who did. I also think that it's likely your fears about her potentially changing opinion of you are probably bigger than the reality of how a change in her understanding of you and your life will actually play out, especially when she's had some time to process this.

I have no doubt that if she is a loving and caring parent, that even if this may be challenging for her -- as it can be for many parents -- she's going to want to love and accept you for who you are, and also learn how to be your parent when as the nature of your relationships changes, as it will, from how it was when you were younger and at a different time in your life and personal development. If she has conflicted feelings about your choices right now, hopefully, like the adult she is, she can take responsibility for them, do her own part in sorting through and managing them, and in talking with you, own the things that are really about her own adjustments, and if she's going to voice concerns, have those be concerns she has that are really about you, not about her.

It's obvious that you're concerned she'll feel disappointed with you. I very much hope she won't be, but I do think you can express to her that you have that concern, and it's hopefully one she'll assure you you don't need to have, even if it turns out she's not in total agreement with your choices.

How we communicate with our parents with things like this tends to vary a lot, because parent-child relationships are just as diverse as other kinds of relationships. If you two have dealt with tough issues or conflicts before in ways that seem to have worked best, then you can approach this that same way. If you haven't, you can check out some of the cues I'm giving to other people on the rest of this page.

In your case, you might even start by talking about your worry -- this is what I hear -- that her love and acceptance may be conditional, based on ideas about you that aren't real. You could also voice that being loved and accepted for the adult you're becoming, rather than just for the child you haven't been in a while, is really important to you. You can also voice that worrying she values you more for who you're not than for who you are is putting a barrier in your relationship that's making you feel like you can't be honest with her, and that you don't want that kind of barrier. If talking first about that issue goes well, and she gives you some support and reassurance around this, then you can disclose what you want to with her about your sex life.

My gut says the chances of this being a conversation that results in you feeling a lot better, and the two of you getting closer because of this conversation are very good. I hope I'm right in that, and hope this goes well for you. I hope you can know that even if it doesn't, or if it takes some time to work all of this out between you, that that won't mean something is wrong with you or that you aren't a good person. All that'll mean, probably, is that your Mom has some of her own stuff to sort through, be it about sex or just the adjustments parents have to make over time than can look a lot easier than they often are.

Linn15 asks:

I am 15 years old and me and my boyfriend have had sex 3 times. We've been safe with condoms every time but im still worried. i want to get either the birth control pill or the patch but theres a problem...my mom. i cant be honest with her about my sex life or she'll freak out. i want to be safe but i feel like my mom is getting in the way when she should be wanting more than anything for me to be safe. any advice on how i can talk to her? because i dont want to go behind her back but i will if i have to.

It's hard for me sometimes to answer questions like this, because people aren't always good at accurately predicting how parents will respond, or about getting why a parent might validly be upset, if they are. I've experienced people saying a parent will totally freak out who has freaked out. I've also experienced people saying a parent will freak out who wasn't going to freak out and doesn't freak out. It can also be easy to project our own fears and feelings unto parents with this: if we feel freaked out or scared, we can assume they'll be, even when sometimes, it's really only us who is doing the freaking out.

Of course, sometimes, parents get upset when it's sound for them to feel that way, like if and when their child (not saying you're a little kid, just that you are your mother's child, and will be no matter how old you get) seems to be in way over their head, is having sex within a relationship where a parents knows or suspects they may be being exploited or abused in some way or is breaching trust. Sometimes when young people think their parents will wig out about sex, and they do, it's not sex itself they're wigging out about, but the context it's happening in, the way it's happening or the fact that from what they know of you, there are some things you feel you're able to handle, but they think, or even know, you're really not.

When we're young, and sex and sexual relationships are totally new to us, it's very easy for us to be unrealistic in all they require, all the bad stuff that can happen, and how easily some of it can happen. For sure, some parents just don't want their kids to have sex, period, or outside certain contexts like marriage, even if they themselves didn't follow those rules, and I don't think that kind of expectation is fair or sound. But I think it's safe to say a lot of parents who are concerned about their kids having sex often do have valid concerns.

So, I think the goal here is to talk to your Mom so long as you don't worry about it being truly unsafe if you do, and, if she and you have conflicts with this, to suss out together what they are, and which of them are sound and things it makes sense for both of you to be concerned with. This is one of the ways you can benefit from talking to someone older who knows and loves you, after all: they can help you know or see things you might not right now, and, ideally, help you make sure that whatever choices you're making really are the best ones for you at this time.

Obviously, I can't know how your mother will react, or how accurate your prediction of her response will be. I don't know her, and all I know about you and your relationship is what you have told me here, which isn't very much.

So, first things first: if by "freak out" you mean you feel or suspect your parent will do you any kind of harm -- like kicking you out of the house, physically attacking you or abusing you in some other way -- then, as it always is, my advice is NOT to disclose this to a parent. Of course, just like I also always advise in conjunction with that advice, I'd also say that if you think any of those kinds of outcomes are possible if your mother discovers you're being sexual with a partner, it's probably not a good idea to keep doing that regardless. That's because, in time, this probably will get discovered, even if you don't tell her about it, and then you'll be facing a double whammy: having had sex behind her back and having lied about it. I'm not saying if that is what happens and she does any of those things she'd be justified in them. Nothing justifies abuse or depriving a young person of shelter. Rather, I just want to be sure you're safe, and are making choices most likely to keep you safe. I think we can both probably agree that as awesome as sex can be, it's probably never going to be awesome enough to risk having a place to stay or your physical safety. Too, if you feel unsafe in your home, then no matter what, please tell someone you trust who can help you.

If you don't think those kinds of outcomes are possible, but "freak out" means something more like that she gets upset with you, she imposes some limits on you, she imposes some limits on your boyfriend, or you two just have to deal with not agreeing for a while, but safely, then I think it's worth trying to talk to her and be honest. For both of your sakes.

Having some limits imposed or working through some upset with your Mom probably isn't a bad trade-off for not having to be sneaking around and lying, feeling like you have to keep a big part of your life secret, and going without support and help from a parent when you're just starting your sex life, a time you probably need a good deal of both of those things. It can also be tough to sort out our feelings about sex or a sexual relationship when we automatically feel bad about it because we're hiding it. If it really isn't healthy for us, we can mistake bad feelings as being about secrecy when they're really about the sex or the relationship. And that's no good.

I think one of the best ways to initiate conversations and disclosures like this with parents is to lead them by saying that you really don't want to have to be dishonest with them: you want to be able to be honest and open; you want to go about your sex life in a way that doesn't wind up messing up your relationship with your parent. That's a big deal, and it's also a choice that shows real value in your relationship with your parents. As you probably already know, when we care about someone and our relationship with them, hearing that they're invested in keeping our relationship a good one is a really big deal that means a lot.

It also often means a lot to a caring parent to know that you want their help and their support: that you feel you can count on them and that those things, coming from them, are meaningful to you. That's the person a good parent wants to always be for their child.

You can also set the stage for this by telling her you've been worried she'll be upset, and if she is, you want to try and work that out together. You can let her know she can talk to you about her feelings, you just hope you can both talk to each other about any convicts you might have with what you're about to say in ways in which you're both kind, respectful, and as calm as possible.
Then I think you just kind of put it out there: you have started being sexually active, you have been safe about it, but you think you could be safer, and that includes adding a second method of birth control to your condom use. You'd like her support in that and, ideally, her help with that.

I can't predict how this conversation will go, but all of that is a good foundation for a good start, and if you can also both employ things like active listening skills, even if you two have conflict, chances are good that you'll be able to work it through. That can also be helped by both of you being willing to make some compromises, and telling each other you have that willingness. For instance, your mother might ask that your boyfriend be part of these talks, too, or that he spend more time with your family so you all can build some trust together. She might ask that you slow things down some sexually, or put sex on hold until you have started using another birth control method besides condoms, and have used it long enough for it to be fully effective. You might need to ask your mother to recognize the importance of your relationship to you, to work on accepting your boyfriend or to give you some room to express your sexuality in safe ways. If both of you can work to meet in middles like these, things will probably go a lot more smoothly.

I think it's fantastic you're willing to make this effort, and that doing so is probably a much better deal for you, your relationship with your boyfriend and your relationship with your mother than keeping this hidden. And like I said up there, the chances of her finding out or figuring this out at some point are high anyway, so rather than dealing with her reaction to you having sex and being dishonest, just fessing up and asking for her help strikes me as a much better deal.

marysue1234 asks:

I'm sexually active, and I'm perfectly comfortable with it. I'm not on birth control, but I really want to be. Seeing as I'm not 18, I can't just stroll into to the OBG and ask for some! I talked to my mother about it and told her I'd like to be on the pill because I get a heavy period... I want to be honest with my doctors, but I'm not ready to tell my mother about my sexual life yet. My question is: do I have the right to doctor-patient confidentiality even though I'm a minor?

You don't list what country you live in in your profile, so I'm afraid I can't give you an answer about what your rights are. But whatever healthcare provider you're thinking about seeing certainly can give you that information. Just call that clinic or office and ask them to tell you what rights minors have with sexual healthcare in their practice, before even making an appointment. Given it looks like you are probably in North America, chances are that you do have privacy and confidentiality protections. If you are in the states, if you use Title X providers -- Planned Parenthood clinics are Title X providers, so are many other public health and independent clinics -- that you absolutely do have those rights and protections.

You probably can just walk into any clinic and ask for a birth control method without your parent's permission or consent in you prefer that. However, it seems like this is something you and your mother have already talked about, so it you might have a supportive parent in this. That's a great opportunity, because it can make managing all of this easier on you. It might help to know that even though plenty of people do use hormonal methods of contraception for things other than contraception -- like for the management of menstrual issues -- a whole lot of parents also know that saying that's what someone wants it for is often a way of asking for it when what it's really wanted for is to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes parents know that because they did the exact same thing.

So, it may be she already knows or suspects you're sexually active anyway, and just hasn't pushed you to talk about it because she's trying to respect your privacy and boundaries. If you don't want to keep this secret, and she didn't react negatively when you talked about birth control with her before, you can probably talk to her and be real.

elabeg asks:

is it ok to use my moms vibrator when she is not home?

Not unless you ask her, she says it's okay, and then you always cover it with a condom.

Sharing sex toys is a way to share bacteria and wind up with infections yourself, or wind up landing your mother with one. Sex toys are a lot like underpants: we probably don't want to share them with anyone we're not sexual with, and people should respect that they're ours, and not borrow them without our permission. We'd also probably be pretty yucked out if we found out someone else was using our underpants without telling us.

So, if you don't feel comfortable asking her for permission? Figure it's a no-go. If you do and she says yes, both of you would need to be sure you're sharing it in a sanitary way, which means either boiling it between uses if it can be, or, if not, covering it with a latex barrier every time. But your better bet, I think, is to ask her to get you one for yourself or to find a way to get your own. While in the United States, people have to be 18 to buy sex toys classified as sex toys, know that the "back massagers" or "muscle massagers" you can find at pharmacies or stores like Target are usually just versions of some of the best vibrators there are, and people of any age can buy those.

A P.S. to parents: If you're a parent reading this piece, I hope you're a parent who has initiated communication and supportive talks about sex, sexual health and sexuality with your tween, teen or college-aged child. If you have not, I hope you can see how putting the burden on them to try and initiate these talks is one hack of a burden, and how avoiding this communication can create real barriers in your relationship with them, and real barriers for them getting extra support so many young people need to have healthy sexual lives and relationships. I know and understand that talking about sex and sexuality can be awkward, difficult, and even scary for parents. But if it's any or all of those things for you, please consider how much more so it usually feels like that for a young person. They need you to initiate this and to model open, honest communication about sex and sexuality. They also can really benefit from your help in making choices, and I firmly believe that with that guidance and support, their sex lives are far more likely to be like what you probably want: as happy, healthy and beneficial as they can be. When young people tell us that their parents were big influence in sexual choices that they feel were best for them, and really benefittted them, or in a sense of their sexuality that feels comfortable and healthy, it's always about parents who talked with them, and made real efforts to engage in open communication, never about parents who gave only or mostly silence.

written 28 Jul 2011 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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