By Jen Holman
I never had “the talk.” My mother, bless her, looked away as she shoved an archaic religious book at me. It was sterile, a technical manual with a parts list and instructions for installation and operation. It also presented as fact the correlation between purity and worth, a shallow minefield I must now navigate as a mother of daughters.
Remember Elizabeth Smart? At 14, she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City and rescued nine months later. She now speaks out about the lasting emotional damage of tying a young woman’s worth to her virginity. After being kidnapped, she recalled a metaphor she’d been taught equating girls to pieces of gum. A girl who’d had sex before marriage was used, like a chewed-up piece of gum. “Who wants a piece of gum that,s already chewed up?” she asked. “No one." Though Elizabeth Smart had no choice in the matter, she felt “hopeless, useless, dirty.”
Certainly, there are variations of this same idea. In Victorian times, women who’d lost their virginity were “ruined,” but “damaged goods” is currently popular. I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall a single instance of these same terms being applied to boys.
Speaking of boys, good grief, I am not looking forward to that version of “the talk.” Mine is too young yet, but I’ve been thinking about it, as has my husband. Of particular concern is a healthy understanding of consent, and instilling respect for women (and himself) considering easy access to pornography. Technology has eliminated the hoops kids years ago had to jump through, like access to an uncle’s VHS stash or a parent-free night and a subscription to Cinemax. Now, kids can simply enter search terms on their phones and free hardcore videos appear.
We want to reach our kids before this happens for a number of reasons. It’s important we’re both the first source and primary resource when they have questions, because despite what they may have heard, everything on the internet is not, in fact, true.
To date, my experience with “the talk” has been difficult—for both parties involved. I had to have it with my daughter much earlier than anticipated when she overheard my friend discussing an unexpected pregnancy. I’d already given her all the usual blow-offs. You know the ones. We loved each other so much God gave us a baby. Cabbage patches, storks, angels, Amazon—whatever. She wasn’t buying it. Like certain fairies and bunnies, she saw straight through the façade and wouldn’t be satisfied without the truth. So, I gave it to her straight. She found the whole thing utterly repulsive, and was relieved to know we only did it three times to conceive her and her siblings.
There was no sex ed in my tiny rural town. The high school basketball coach taught a semester of health class, pointing to fundamentals on an overhead projector. I don’t want my kids to feel ignorance or guilt or shame— or worse. I want them to be safe, healthy, informed and respectful.
As parents, we must all do what works for us and our own families. Some parents may deliver “the talk” with confidence, while others look away and push a book into mortified hands. Whatever your method, I wish you luck and a kind audience. If you have a moment, send me happy thoughts for the same.