A parenting wake-up call

It’s always been my philosophy to provide both my kids with a comprehensive sexual health and safety education to supplement the already good school program in NSW. My parents did that for me, and it made me confident about demanding conversations about contraception when required, etc. It’s a good thing.

But it was a lot easier when they were younger and unselfconscious about asking questions. Now I have to wait for an opportune moment to raise issues, and get in some education before they get too embarrassed to keep listening.

My daughter is 12, but looks much older because she is tall and curvy. She is increasingly uncomfortable about being noticed by older boys and adult men because of her looks. I worry about her apparent age and physical maturity getting her into a flirt/seduction situation that she’s not ready to handle because of her emotional immaturity, but at the same time I don’t want to scare her about the fact that boys will find her attractive and want to spend time with her. The balance is crucial.

So today I came across this moving post from Lauren, written while she was still at Feministe in 2003: Rape As I Know It. There’s a lot to unpack in that post, but the point I found most relevant to me as a mother was that Lauren was raped at age 13, and didn’t tell anybody, largely because she felt that it was all her fault.

I didn’t have the knowledge or language to know what had happened or what it was called, much less what it actually meant, until long after. All I knew was that I had done something wrong because I was too young to “have sex” – errant thinking. It was my dirty secret. I only admitting to “having sex” later during a drug counseling session. My counselor realized what the incident actually was as I described it to him, and he hurriedly left the room. When he came back into the room, he put the word to the event: rape.

I wanted my daughter to read Lauren’s story because I wanted her to know that older men do sometimes pursue younger girls, and that if anyone ever forced her to have sex it wouldn’t be her fault and that we would never blame her.

As usual when we discuss sex, she was embarrassed. She tried to persuade me that she didn’t need to read it with this statement:

But Mum, I’ll be alright. I couldn’t be raped, because I’m not interested in boys or sex yet.

FEAR. I’m trying to see this as a very timely learning opportunity, but it just makes it clear to me how much deeper my discussions with my kids need to be, no matter how embarrassed they are.

I also think back to my own teen years, when I too understood a great deal more about the mechanics of sex and contraception than most of my peers, but understood not nearly enough about dysfunctional interactions between people regarding sex. That lack of knowledge about how people make sex a minefield caused me several problems with men intent on seduction and me not knowing how best to handle that in later years.

Fellow parents, your kids really don’t understand as much as you think they do just because they know about condoms. Keep talking to them, and yes, keep talking to them about the nasty possibilities of dysfunctional sex as well as the pleasures of joyous consensual sex.

We’ve protected them well, mostly, so they think they’re invulnerable. We know that they’re not, and isn’t that scary?

Categories: education, relationships

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4 replies

  1. Great post. My teenage knowledge was exactly like yours – lots of mechanics, I knew about anatomy and periods and wet dreams and conception and contraception and STDs and getting-pregnant myths, and had read not only Where Did I Come From? but also the Joy Of Sex and Everywoman.
    But I figured somehow that everyone had complete sexual agency, that people didn’t actually _talk_ about sex, they just did it, and that sexual assault was a violent back-alley thing that happened Very Rarely, and To Other People (all Grown-ups), and that if anything like that ever happened to me, I would be mortified, not that it would ever happen to me of course. And it did, in my teens and early adulthood, a few times (from flashing to frottage to other stuff), and I was mortified and wildly embarrassed about all of it, and I never said a word.

  2. Thanks, Lauredhel. I agree it’s the failure to talk about sexual trust issues that’s a real problem. I dumped a guy in high school for bragging to his mates about sexual experimentation with me (most of which hadn’t happened), and I told everyone that the bragging was why I was dumping him. He confronted me with “why are you telling people this? If you weren’t telling everybody they (ie the other girls and guys not in his circle) wouldn’t know that I’d said anything what I said about you!”. (Edited for clarity – tigtog)
    Yes indeed, and that was exactly why I was telling everyone. I hope a whole lot of kids at that school suddenly got the message that trashing your girlfriend’s sexuality was disrespectful and outrageous and if she finds out then you don’t get to touch that sexuality anymore.
    Anyway, I was just reminded of this post by Sage: Sexual Harassment – Lessons on Anger
    She’s got some good links in there to some of her other posts about teaching kids safety in exploring sexuality.

  3. Thanks for the link – that’s a thought-provoking post. I’m especially struck by the normalisation of harassment, which has been on my mind lately.
    I have high myopia. I can just barely see the hand in front of my face, and everything beyond that is a blur. I wasn’t diagnosed till I was about six. I remember the time before that – I thought the way I saw must be normal, because that’s the way I’d always seen.
    I dealt with it, found ways around it, wangled out methods of functioning in the world. I sat close to the TV, or ignored it and read a book. In class, while the teacher wrote on the board and spoke aloud what she was writing, I would memorise everything she said. Ball games? I ignored them. I squinted my way through school eye tests, because they were “tests”, so you were SUPPOSED to “pass”. Above all, I never, ever considered the fact that my terrible vision was something that I should perhaps mention, or that could be fixed. It was just – the way things were.
    One day, someone noticed. I got glasses. The thing that struck me first – and I remember this as if it were yesterday – was that I could see the leaves on the trees. I had known, intellectually, that trees were supposed to have leaves, and I’d seen their pictures in books. But I’d never actually seen them before, seen whole, real trees in all their stick-y, leafy, complex glory. The truth about trees had only been pictures on a page.
    I’m hoping one day everyone will wake up and suddenly be able to see the truth about gender relations with that sort of clarity.


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