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?