I had a healthy interest in boys when I was in sixth grade. My mom couldn't help but notice.
"I need to talk to you," she said out of nowhere one day. "Go wait for me in the basement."
The basement? Why couldn't we talk right here? I could only assume that I was in trouble for something, but I had no idea what. My mom seemed nervous, which I was completely unaccustomed to. When she came downstairs, she had a magazine with her and went straight for the World Book Encyclopedia. Opening a volume, she handed it to me and pointed to a specific entry. I didn't really understand it, but apparently this menstruation meant that blood was gonna come flying out of me when I least suspected it. This happened to all women, apparently. I was shocked that something so gross had been going on around me my whole life - and I'd had no idea.
Next, my mom opened one of dad's Playboys to the naked lady I already knew was in the middle. Mom pointed to different parts of the lady, explaining to me that these were the things I could expect my body to do over the next few months, or maybe years. As a fat kid, I was pretty excited to think that I was about to turn into a Playboy centerfold. I was sure I'd wield incredible power over men.
For the record, I still don't look like a Playboy centerfold. According to my mom, this can only mean that despite my advanced age, I must not have gone through puberty yet. The point is that even if you already think you know a few things, The Talk can have widespread repercussions not just on a kid's future sex life, but on relationships in general, marriage, gender roles, and more. Here are some things I wish The Talk had included.
The BasesWe've all heard the baseball metaphor for sex. As far as I knew, there were three bases. The man tries to get to each bases as fast as he can, while the woman tries to stop him.
Yeah, that's what I actually thought.
No talk about the fact that the word "no" meant exactly that. Come to think of it, I wasn't sure how to go about deciding whether I was supposed to be saying yes or no. When I did start dating, I had a vague sense that the more I liked someone, the more bases I was supposed to let him get to.
Instead, it would have been nice to find out that any man who cares about your feelings won't run off and tell his buddies what base he'd gotten to. I also would have appreciated knowing that sometimes, boys wanted to have sex with girls (and do other stuff too) even if they didn't want to be their boyfriend. When I finally did find that out, I felt like a serious fool for not figuring it out sooner. (What do you wish you'd known about sex sooner? Read more in What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Sex.)
What Men Want"Men only want one thing."
My mom told me this outright, at an age when I wasn't entirely sure what that one thing was. Whatever it was, I was not supposed to let them have it. If I did, they'd be "done with me." Yeah, that's an incredibly bitter and sad outlook on relationships, and on men in general. I wish I'd known that dates aren't sports playoffs where winning is everything. My date was not my sexual enemy, nor would a nice man try to make me do things I didn't want to. Most importantly, I wish I'd known that all men are not the same in this regard - or in most other regards for that matter. Saying otherwise is essentially like saying there's no point in hoping for anything better.
WatchamacallitThe Talk is not the time for euphemisms like "willy" or "hoo-ha." Also, it's important to know the anatomy and get it right. I've spoken to adults with children who still don't know that you can't actually see a vagina when a woman has her legs closed. (Psst, the part you can see is called a vulva.) Giving kids the proper terminology is something they'll thank you for later, even if they never actually use the word clitoris again. (Learn all about the female anatomy in 10 Things You Don't Know About Vaginas.)
Yes, my mom did explain to me the basics of what a condom is for, and that the pill existed. I had heard that there were other types of birth control, but they sounded terrifying to me as a kid. Come to think of it, intrauterine devices and diaphragms are still a little unnerving. I wish I'd know that I had not just the right, but the duty to insist that my partners wore condoms, or that even if I'd already said "yes," that it was OK to say "no" if he wouldn't wear a condom, or didn't have one. (Think you know all about keeping things covered? Find out in 9 Things You Didn't Know About Putting on a Condom.)
OrientationBecause we never talked about it, I wasn't even sure if my mom knew about gay people when we had The Talk. Any curious feelings I had were not discussed. While I later found out that my mom did actually know that homosexuality existed, she never discussed it with me. I wish we could have spoken openly about what certain feelings meant, and what, if anything, I should do about them.
The basic idea of who is in charge of our bodies is something that it doesn't even occur to many parents to discuss. Parents may not consider the implications of forcing a kid to eat something they don't want, or to hug a scary old relative they hardly know. But not teaching a child autonomy over their own body can instill a dangerous level of compliance and leave them open to victimization. I didn't always understand the subtle distinctions. I wasn't looking for sexuality around every corner, but it was there. Teaching that no means no isn't helpful if we don't even know when or who we have the right to say no to.
Who's in Charge?
I imagine my mom would rather hold her hands over the stove than to than discuss masturbation. And in this, she's not alone. Myself, I had the impression that "playing with yourself" was something only boys and loose women did. Sexual desire was something "easy" girls had. I also had the idea that if I did have sex feelings, I shouldn't tell anyone except my best female friends - and sometimes not even them. We know now that masturbation is normal, natural, and for some people, vastly preferable to a bad relationship. It wasn't until I saw a "Roseanne" episode on the topic that I learned that sex-for-one is normal, natural - and not a suitable conversation topic in polite company. (Learn more in How, When and Why Women Masturbate.)
The Magic Touch
This is a relatively recent term that brings society's sex issues into focus. Like it or not, men who have lots of sex are still studs, and women who do are still called sluts, although mainly by the profoundly unenlightened. This can be hurtful regardless of the facts or the motivation for the insult. I wish my mom had been clearer on the difference between what is morally wrong, and what is really OK (although other people might treat you like it isn't). I'm still not sure what my mom thinks about pre- or extramarital sex, or at what point in a relationship sex is OK. We never talked about it. But more importantly, I wish I'd known that anybody who says mean things to me because I like sex is no one I should be listening to.
Moms do the best they can when they give The Talk, mine included. Sexual openness and honesty have come a long way since I first figured out which end of the maxi-pad goes in front. My mom was terribly uncomfortable discussing sex. Therefore, our talk was something she wanted to get out of the way and never speak of again. I wish that instead of being a one-shot deal, The Talk had been the beginning of an ongoing conversation that grew and changed as I got older and relationships progressed. I wish I'd known her feelings on choosing a husband, when to end a relationship that wasn't working, or how to ask for what I wanted and say no to things I didn't. Like I said, I figured it all out eventually. But The Talk, along with subsequent talks, could have made the whole thing a lot less confusing.
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