How many simple rules for dating my teenage daughter?
May 5, 2013 6:14 AM   Subscribe

My 15-yo daughter has been dating a guy for about a year, has recently become sexually active with him, and we're moving toward getting her on hormonal birth control. The fact that she even came to me to talk about this is a minor miracle. How can I encourage a sex-positive attitude? What boundaries and limits, if any, should I establish?

My daughter is a HS sophomore. Parenting her has been challenging and a little non-standard because of her mental health issues--mood dysregulation and social anxiety primarily. She has always been super squicky about sex and so having a proper "sex talk" until now has been difficult--she would typically shut down the conversation with shouting or literal fingers-in-the-ears "lalala I can't hear you" behavior. She's even uncomfortable hearing the words bra or panty hose, for cripes sake.

So, there's this boy. She's been friends/special friends/boyfriend-girlfriend with him for a little over a year now. Parent's intuition told me that they were more than just friends, but she hasn't been comfortable talking with me about him as more than just a friend until recently. She finally opened up a couple nights ago about the true nature of their relationship, in a conversation that opened with "what would you think if I told you I had a boyfriend?" while she was balled up on the couch in the fetal position, clearly terrified that I would disapprove of her even dating, even though she should know that I am Not That Kind of Mom. We talked about dating and relationships, what I thought about her boyfriend, etc. etc.

After a long while we hit the nitty gritty, about sex and pregnancy and diseases and birth control. Although she was still super uncomfortable, she fought her natural urges to shut down the convo and we were able to talk through different options, pros and cons, and how any sort of hormonal birth control is going to require a doctor's visit and a prescription and the doctor will want to do a pelvic exam and what that involves, and how if she considers herself mature enough to have sex she needs to be mature enough to get through that. I was really proud of how she handled her end of the conversation, and it felt like a huge breakthrough in being able to discuss the topic.

Ok, so, I think we're making good progress on that front. I'm happy she's in a relationship (I've always said I was more worried about protecting the boys from her than protecting her from the boys), and I'm happy that she seems more relaxed on the subject of sex around her peers than she is when confronting it in the context of adults.

What I'm not so sure about is the "then what?" What rules, limitations, guidelines, or admonitions are within the realm of appropriate in this day and age and that align with my values? (Those values, in a nutshell, are that "saving yourself for marriage" is not advisable, that sex should be fun, that sex shouldn't be something that men "want/take" and women "accept/give", anti-slut-shaming, pro non-heteronormative, protect yourself from disease, and you gotta be prepared to deal with the consequences). How do these things work out on the ground after "the talk" and after the decision is made to allow your teen daughter to be on BC? (I'm thinking about things like rules about boys in the bedroom, that kind of stuff...) What do I do about this tiny voice that is screaming "but she's TOO YOUNG!!" Is that the just the same voice that will be screaming "but she's TOO YOUNG!!" in the extremely near future when she starts learning to drive?

Do you have any resources for parent you recommend? I've been searching The Green and haven't found much on this particular topic; please point me toward any previouslies you think might be helpful.

(If it's relevant in terms of what will other parents might expect, we live in a liberal-leaning major metro area)
posted by SomeTrickPony to Human Relations (46 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

I asked a question not long ago about my kids - boys/older so not exact but there's good stuff in the responses.

One thing I have always told my boys is that they are responsible for their own birth control no matter what. It doesn't matter if she's on the pill. Condom, condom, condom. The pill protects against birth control only, and it needs a backup plan. Each individual person has to always try to have the long view in mind for themselves, not "we" are taking precautions but "I" am responsible for my own birth control.

I would say too that it's 100 times easier to have a quick back-and-forth on a regular basis than to have those cringe-inducing long talks about the birds and the bees. My son dated a girl for over a year who had two sisters with babies ... so when they went out I would say "don't make me a grandmother" or "be smart please" or "I have a college education and can't afford you, don't make a baby in high school." He would roll his eyes but it was much better than "son, let's talk..."
posted by headnsouth at 6:25 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

What do I do about this tiny voice that is screaming "but she's TOO YOUNG!!" Is that the just the same voice that will be screaming "but she's TOO YOUNG!!" in the extremely near future when she starts learning to drive?

Yep. Remember, you've known her for her whole life. On average, in your mind, she's 7. Considering how much more time you spent with her before she started going to school and hanging out with her friends and suchlike, that average is probably closer to 5. And you'll probably not spend enough time with her for the rest of her life to move that average to 12, much less 16.
posted by Etrigan at 6:42 AM on May 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

You are doing so good!
This is something one can't really plan for or control. The most important thing is that now, you are having a conversation in the best possible way - your daughter came to you, and it worked well. So now she is likely to do it again
posted by mumimor at 6:48 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

If I were you I'd direct her to the much-praised Scarleteen. It seems that that site's values match your own quite nicely, and since she prefers not to talk about stuff like this, she could educate herself there.

I was exactly her age when I started having intercourse. We're all different, of course, but in my case it worked out fine, especially since I was lucky to have a smart mother (like you!) who talked about birth control with me, and then supported me in getting on the pill. I dont think I was too young, even seen through the eyes of adult me.

We never had very strict/clear rules about boys in the bedroom; it was understood that my boyfriend and me were having sex, but also that no one else wanted to see or hear that. So it seems that the main rule we had was, apart from 'be safe' and 'be honest': be discreet.

Kudos to you, for being a smart and supportive parent!
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:48 AM on May 5, 2013 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, what a mature kid!

My first question would be about the type of sex ed she's received in school. Does she know about using lube with condoms, about different types of condoms, about how to put condoms on? When I was a teenager, my sister got me a copy of The New Our Bodies, Ourselves. There are other sexual health guides, and that one is pretty hippie-dippie, but it has a lot of information about various types of birth control. If she can stand it, you might want to talk to her about this stuff yourself (if she were less squicked, I'd say you should take her to a drug store and talk about condoms and buy her some, but that would probably make her feel embarrassed, buying condoms with mom). I agree with headnsouth that both condoms and the pill should be standard through high school. With the pill, get her a watch with an alarm, too. Don't assume she'll remember.

You say you're considering rules about boys in bedrooms, which is a bit unclear. Will her boyfriend not be allowed in her bedroom? I don't think that jives well with this:

(Those values, in a nutshell, are that "saving yourself for marriage" is not advisable, that sex should be fun, that sex shouldn't be something that men "want/take" and women "accept/give", anti-slut-shaming, pro non-heteronormative, protect yourself from disease, and you gotta be prepared to deal with the consequences)

Not allowing him in her bedroom is just going to lead them to sneaking around, which isn't sex positive. At best, if he has more permissive parents, it means that they'll be having sex there. It's far better to provide her with a safe space to have sex (namely, her room). Which doesn't mean you shouldn't set down some rules about it. I think the first order of business would be to call up his parents and invite them and the kid for dinner. Get to know them as people, send the kids off to watch a movie (and probably make out) during dessert and talk to them about what your daughter has told them. Figure out where they stand on the whole issue, because that will have an impact on what you do. In a household where you're trying to encourage positive values about sex, I imagine that this would be something like: sleepovers only on weekends when you don't have homework, you have to have dinner with the family, you have to keep your bedroom tidy/wash your own sheets and you can't be loud. I'd keep extra condoms on hand in the bathroom and let your daughter know they're always there if she needs them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:55 AM on May 5, 2013 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Not a parent, but have done research on non-fiction resources about growing up for kids and teens. I have a couple of book suggestions for your daughter if she would be interested.

1. Girl's Guide to Becoming a Teen by the American Medical Association talks about sex in a matter-of-fact way and also mentions that neither party should feel pressured to do anything they don't feel ready for. It talks about birth control and STDs. It has two paragraphs about masturbation for girls which is way more than the average when it comes to these types of books


2. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. It's a little more text heavy but totally readable by someone her age. It also talks bluntly about having safe sex in a positive light. And, it also has diagrams of both male and female sex organs so it's not as much of a mystery.

Lastly a really good website suggestion for her would be GoAskAlice. It's by Columbia University and is specifically directed towards teens and the questions they might not be comfortable asking their parents.

Good job on your talk so far! It's sounds like she really needed that information and it's good that she was comfortable asking you. Now she knows she can be honest with you in the future when she needs to be. Try not to probe too much, even though it might be tempting to feel in the know.
posted by donut_princess at 6:57 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find Go Ask Alice to be really interesting/helpful, but that's more for her rather than you.

Also, I don't really know how to talk about this, but there's not a focus in popular culture on women having orgasms during sex (or having orgasms way too easily during sex, from my point of view) and I know many college-age girls who have had sex but never an orgasm. Learning how to have an orgasm, encouraging that kind of exploration--that's a part of a good sexual education, too.
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:00 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is there a Planned Parenthood location near you? If so, let her know about it and how to get it it on her own, so she has other resources besides you. Naturally, make it clear that you're still there for her
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:06 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

The best sex advice I got at that age was "Bad sex is just as risky as good sex, and many of those risks fall disproportionately on you. You deserve good sex. Hell, you deserve GREAT sex. Don't settle for less than you deserve, and don't have sex with anyone you don't like."
posted by KathrynT at 7:15 AM on May 5, 2013 [59 favorites]

This one is a few years out for me, but I have thought about it a little.

Don't get pregnant, don't catch a disease. Those are key messages.

I agree with headnsouth that you probably won't get a lot of long conversations about this with your daughter.

You might try to have a conversation about how to know when it is time to break up. This isn't easy. An awful lot of people, myself included, have stayed way too long in a bad relationship because we were scared/didn't know how/didn't know when to break up with someone.

The fact that your daughter came to you about this says that she trusts you a lot. Keep the door open so she can come to you again if needed. Sounds like you're on the right track here.

> anti-slut-shaming

I think promiscuity is bad for most people. Not for sky father reasons, but because most people naturally make an emotional connection when they have sex, and making and trashing those connections over and over messes them up and makes them unhappy.

Even if you think I'm wrong about this for most people, perhaps I am right about it for a minority of people. My assological impression is that young people today are under a lot of pressure to be cool and hip and very very causal in their romantic relationships. I have not been on MeFi very long but I have already seen many posts where someone is wretched because they were in a casual relationship and they found out too late their feelings weren't casual after all.

The point of all this is--you might offer, as an option, the idea that it is also okay to not have casual sex, especially if it feels wrong to her. Just because everyone is doing it, and a lot of potential partners will expect it, doesn't mean you have to swim with the current if it doesn't feel right for you.
posted by mattu at 7:18 AM on May 5, 2013 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: "No sex in your bedroom if you can't keep it tidy and wash your own sheets" is the BEST RULE EVER.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:19 AM on May 5, 2013 [23 favorites]

Not wanting to be overly technical, but what are the legal rules? What is the age of consent in your state? Are either or both of them violating the law? Guilty of a felony, perhaps? Can you be held liable as an accessory?

It would not hurt to pose these questions to a lawyer.
posted by yclipse at 7:20 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Consider having some emergency birth control like plan b on hand, and that she knows where it is, how to use it, and what to expect if she uses it. While she's old enough to get it without a prescription now, she sounds like the kind of kid who doesn't need to ask a pharmacist for it or, god forbid, argue with an old school one.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:27 AM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mostly agreeing with PhoBWanKenobi, except the talking to the boy's parents bit. Don't betray your daughter's hard-won trust by passing on to others what she said to you in confidence, especially not the boy's parents, that's potentially mortifying and your daughter might well withdraw her confidence.
posted by meijusa at 7:37 AM on May 5, 2013 [28 favorites]

This is maybe not the answer you were looking for, but I don't think you SHOULD steer her towards hormonal birth control. It has high potential for permanent side effects, i.e.: ones that persist decades after she's stopped taking it. One of these is permanently decreased sex drive. My mom became permanently hirstute after taking the pill for less than a year. And there's a slew of well-documented non-permanent negative side effects. I'd look for more links but I'm on a phone. My point is, hormonal BC is not like cold medicine that just keeps you from getting pregnant. It works by altering your hormonal makeup, and that's a big deal. Sometimes these alterations can be positive (clearing up severe acne, treating PMDD), but very frequently, they're not, and I think the cultural expectation that women/teenage girls subject themselves to them in order to be responsible sex-havers is pretty messed up.

Condoms are a drag, but they'll protect your daughter from pregnancy without chemically changing her. (And if her boyfriend cheats or has already been with other people, they'll protect her from all sorts of nasty STDs too!)
posted by randomname25 at 7:40 AM on May 5, 2013 [18 favorites]

it is also okay to not have casual sex, especially if it feels wrong to her. Just because everyone is doing it, and a lot of potential partners will expect it, doesn't mean you have to swim with the current if it doesn't feel right for you.

I'm glad that someone else jumped in with this. I applaud you for creating an environment where your daughter trusts you with these really important conversations, but I also think it's ok to not completely squash your "she's too young!" voice.

Maybe she's not too young for sex in your view, but the fact is that most 15-year-olds still have a lot of child left in them - and having sex doesn't mean she has to jump into a grown-up type relationship with sleepovers and a condom bowl in the bathroom.

Rather than establishing a bunch of rules at the outset, maybe it's better to leave some space for her to continue to expand her own boundaries by asking you if these "next steps" would be ok? Maybe it hadn't occurred to her to have him sleep over. Maybe his parents wouldn't want him to sleep over. Maybe she doesn't even want to have sex with him every time they're together, and you giving them a big old green light to lock the doors and wash the sheets would be confusing to her.

(I'm probably showing my age and prudishness here, but I keep thinking about Judy Blume's "Forever" and how the kids were somewhat wistful about not being able to "go back" after they'd had sex.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:40 AM on May 5, 2013 [30 favorites]

The thing is, at 15 having sex with your boyfriend of a year would be in no way "casual." Hell, for most adults it wouldn't, either. Which isn't to say that your daughter should not be encouraged to follow her instincts. But I'd keep in mind that the vast majority of sex ed programs are pro-abstinence and a girl especially has likely absorbed a lot of negative messages about taking that first step (and positive messages about "saving" herself) already.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

You know what, you're doing well, it seems to me, but I favorited Kathryn's comment for this part: "don't have sex with anyone you don't like."

I had good sex ed, including really good information about contraception, and I had parents who were very focused on teaching us to make good decisions and plan for futures that did not involve becoming pregnant at 16 when it could easily have been prevented. They were pretty good about guiding me past boys who were disrespectful.

But the one thing I honestly wish I had gotten more information about: It's okay NOT to have sex as a teenager. Really. It's okay to think you're not ready, even if you're mature enough to consider all the angles. It's okay to masturbate and make-out and fantasize and talk dirty and get naked and all that stuff. But it also, really, honestly, truly okay to think "You know, I just don't like you enough to have sex with you" and then say no. Or to think "I'm just not sure how this is going to make me feel tomorrow" and then say no.

That's the one tool I did not get in my sex education. I got how to say "no" to someone I did not want to have sex with, but not how to say "no" to someone I kinda did want to have sex with. I think that's important, too. I don't really know how best to teach that, without coming across as advocating against having sex, but I think it sometimes gets lost in the conversation.

It's so obvious as an adult that having sex once doesn't mean you'll always have sex with everyone you date, but not so much as a teenager. It's also obvious as adult that being prepared to have sex doesn't mean you will, even if you want to. Upon preview, similar to what mattu and sweetie darling are saying. Sometimes in arming kids with the tools for good decisions about how to have sex, they don't really hear the "it's okay not to have sex" and "it's okay not to have sex again for a while".
posted by crush-onastick at 7:45 AM on May 5, 2013 [43 favorites]

Best answer: I'd take her to the gynecologist now. If you have a gynecologist you love who is gentle and patient and kind and shares your values, I think it's fine for her to see the same doctor you do (and if you're not seeing a doctor regularly, start; nothing drove me crazier as a teenager, or made me less likely to do what was good for me, than my mom refusing to take care of icky stuff that she insisted I take care of). If not, I'd call around to Planned Parenthood, or ask some friends, or even call your kid's school (without giving your name or hers!!) and ask the counselor there if there's someone they trust to refer young women to. Make sure she has a medical provider she can trust if she needs another adult or needs expert advise. But also, get her used to the idea that periodic pelvic exams and STD testing and birth control and other stuff like that are a routine part of her adult life now. They're not fun, but they're necessary. Also, if she hasn't had the HPV vaccine (and a current hepatitis vaccine, and whatever else she can get to protect herself), get that for her now.

In terms of rules, I love some of the ones suggested above about taking care of yourself. Birth control and protection are 100% her responsibility, and also 100% his responsibility. That is, each of them should be taking steps that, on their own, if their partner F'ed up, would keep them protected. And yes, rooms must be clean before company comes over.

I would ask her whether he's talked to his parent(s), and what the rules are at his house. Not necessarily so that you can have the exact same rules, but to get a feel for what the dynamic is on his side of the equation. If his parents have a rule that all doors must remain open and mom will check on them every 15 minutes, I think you're in a different situation than if the other family shares your values and is considering policies similar to what you're considering. In fact, if this is a serious relationship, serious enough for sex, ask her if you can meet them some time. Definitely don't talk to them about sex without permission/approval from both her and him, but get a feel for what they might be like.

The number one rule has to be that she has agency in this. If she wants to have sex with this guy twice, and then stop because she's changed her mind about being ready, she's allowed to do that, and if he pressures her, he's being a jerk. If she wants to have sex with this guy, but not with her next partner, she should do that. If she likes X but doesn't like Y, she's entitled not to do Y even if he really really wants to, and she's entitled to speak up and ask for X (though he's entitled to say no if he doesn't want to do X, and she needs to respect that).

I had adults in my life who had the following policy: wherever you are, whatever you're doing, if you or anyone else need help, call me, no questions asked, and I will help you. In fact, if you just don't want to be there anymore and want to come home, call me. And that's true whether you're at a friend's house watching a scary movie or whether you're at a cocaine-fueled orgy that you broke curfew to attend. It's basically like a universal "Good Samaritan" law for life. Yes, we're going to have a long talk later about what you were doing at that illegal dogfighting parlor and about why that's really bad, but when you need help getting out of there, you call me, and I will help you. I think that's the best possible thing that any adult can give to any young person who is still figuring out how to deal with the consequences of her choices.
posted by decathecting at 7:50 AM on May 5, 2013 [27 favorites]

Thinking more about it, the idea of talking to his parents is less one of "Daughter told me they're schtupping. What now?" and more one of "What are your family values and rules about relationships?" This is mostly because yes, your daughter (and possibly her partner) is underage and you want to be sure you're on the same page as his parents in order to avoid legal problems. IANAL. I agree, though, that you don't want to go too far in violating her trust, even as you want to normalize both their relationship and discussions about it.

That being said, making condoms available is different than a condom bowl in the bathroom, and again, the comprehensive sex ed that many of us received (and was featured in Forever) is largely a thing of the past. Which is why it's important to suss out the values that she has gleaned from school and peers before you seek to respond to any message you assume has been part of her sexual education thus far.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, the article that randomname25 linked to is total junk, but it also doesn't support the premise that birth control pills are dangerous or cause permanent side effects. I'm sorry your mom blames her mustache on the pill, but that doesn't mean that it "caused" anything or that it's "dangerous." The word "permanent" never appears in the article, nor does it appear in the press release for the "study" they're citing (but not linking to or giving any actual information about).

Do not base medical decisions on articles you read on the internet, especially ones that cite "studies" without actually, you know, giving you the study. Your doctor is the best source for medical information, and if you don't trust the medical information you get from your doctor, get a new doctor; the Daily Beast is not a doctor.
posted by decathecting at 8:00 AM on May 5, 2013 [30 favorites]

Best answer: I think others have covered the social/emotional parts of your question really well but I just wanted to mention that current standards of care for the GYN care of teens do NOT involve routine pelvic exams/Paps, which are now recommended to start at age 21 regardless of sexual activity or contraceptive use. (If there are troubling symptoms that's another story.) Routine chlamydia/gonorrhea screening is recommended yearly for sexually active teens, but that is easily done with a urine test. Contaception can be prescribed without a pelvic. I definitely think that the conversation you had about being prepared to be responsible for the medical aspects of sexual activity is important and really useful, but I also wanted to make sure you knew the current guidelines so that she's not surprised if her doctor tells her something different!
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't get pregnant, don't catch a disease. Those are key messages.

Right. But don't forget to add the absolutely crucial "But if you do..."
posted by Sys Rq at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: how if she considers herself mature enough to have sex she needs to be mature enough to get through that.

As much as I think you guys had a great conversation and I'm happy for you that you are happy for this, I'd separate the "Don't like doctors/pelvics/whatever" issue from whether she's mature enough to have sex, moving forward. That is, these two things are actually unrelated--she may be mature enough to go to the doc and not mature enough to be sexually involved or vice versa--and as much as I think this was an okay thing to say at the time, I would not make it a bigger deal than this going forward.

So I'd focus on

- sexual health - condoms as well as birth control for her if she wants it, HPV vaccination, encourage her to have a good relationship with her doctor
- sexual agency - knowing how she can ask for what she wants and knowing how to set up boundaries and enforce them appropriately (it can be really tough for shy people to not get browbeaten into something they don't want in a sexual arena sometimes so taking care to talk about that ) and suggesting resources for her that are not just from you (Scarletteen is really good resource, there are a lot of other ones)
- house rules - you're welcome to have them, they should probably be realistic and not just a "don't ask don't tell" sort of thing.
- ethics - agree with SysRq I think too many families just had the "don't get pregnant" conversation without the additional "If something unexpected happens we are still here for you" part of the conversation

I was sexually active at about that time and my mom used to basically treat any guy I was involved with as a potential rapist (that he was trying to "get" something that I didn't have/want to "give") which was unpleasant for everyone. Try to model healthy attitudes with whatever your own relationships are or even the ones you talk about concerning other people or the people you talk about on TV or in the movies. Best of luck and congrats to you for having this difficult conversation fairly decently.
posted by jessamyn at 8:19 AM on May 5, 2013 [10 favorites]

I would try get a personal recommendation for a gyn for your daughter. If you can't, I'd try to speak briefly, 2-3 minutes, on the phone to the doctor to ensure she shares your values about sex before taking your daughter in to see her. (I had a friend in college who was told by a gyn that she was a "good girl" because she had not yet had sex - you don't want the doctor saying that kind of crap to your daughter).

I'd also let her know that you will take her to the doctor anytime, and she does not need to discuss the specifics of what's going on with you unless she would like to. This is especially important if there is not good public transportation where you live. It's great that she's been so open - and says such good things about your parenting and your relationship with her - but if she say, thinks she has an STI and is embarrassed to tell you, it's important that she is able to get to the doctor.

I agree that having Plan B accessible at home is a really good idea. (If it were me, I'd also tell her she is free to give the Plan B to a friend if the friend needs it & is unable to purchase it.)
posted by insectosaurus at 8:30 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mother of two daughters in their 20s here (and an 18 year old son). I agree with decathecting and Jessamyn - for us the key things were be safe re pregnancy, disease and relationships. Know that it's ok to not want to have sex, even with someone you've had sex with before.

We always emphasized that we had their back - call any time needing us and we'd be there. We did do the proverbial box of condoms in the bathroom - I never wanted someone in the heat of the moment to have to have a conversation with us about needing contraception since that is not likely to happen. I disagree very strongly with the advice to talk to the boy's parents. it's great if you can meet them and get a sense of who they are but it's also potentially very intrusive and your daughter could well end up resenting it and having the opposite effect than what you had in mind. We did meet one boyfriend's family and even went camping with them. Others - no way and it would have clearly caused more problems than it would have avoided.

We made sure to have lots of sources of information around - some books, pointers towards Scarletteen and Planned Parenthood. The key being that not all kids want to talk to their parents about this stuff and it's good to have multiple sources of information that you've vetted available.

Most important of all is to make sure that your daughter knows she can talk to you safely and that you will be supportive. I don't think you can repeat that often enough.

On preview totally agree with insectosaurus about Plan B - we sent our daughters off to college with it as well.
posted by leslies at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

1) Echoing what others have said, buy some Plan B emergency contraception and let her know where it is.
2) For a number of reasons, but especially since you mentioned your daughter's mood dysregulation, I highly recommend you and she look into the IUD (either the Paragard, which is non-hormonal, or the Mirena/Skyla, which contain very small amounts of progestin). Depending on where you live, you might have difficulty finding a doctor to do the insertion, but more and more clinicians are learning that IUDs and implants are safe and recommended for teens.
3) Also, as others have said above, it's important to have a conversation (with yourself, and with your daughter) that goes beyond, "Don't get pregnant." Because shit happens. If your daughter were to get pregnant, would she have an abortion? Would she decide to carry to term and adopt out that baby? Would she want to parent? How would you feel about each of those outcomes?
4) Finally, you're doing a great job. I just wanted to let you know that.
posted by cowboy_sally at 8:44 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have not been a teenage woman, nor the mother of a teenage woman. I did do a few years of research on the teenage demographic as part of a job once upon a time. One thing I specifically recall was the great variance in self-possession that was exhibited by teenage women.

One study involved speaking with teenage women first, and then their mothers, in their family homes. One 16 year old could be literally a wonderful joy to be with, whilst the next could be 16-going-on-12, and the next could be 16-going-on-30.

Love and boys came up quite a lot (not specifically sex). What I noticed was that the attitude toward love and relationships and boys were often very similar to the teenager's attitude about life in general.

The self-possessed, aware teenagers had parents that treated them like young women. They talked about things like college, and trade school. They were involved in volunteer activities, or clubs. They had responsibilities that were increasing with their capabilities. This group tended to be sex-positive. They had boyfriends, they loved them, but they also had friends and saw their relationships for what they were – part of their lives, rather than the point of their lives.

From the parenting perspective, the general attitudes of the parents of these self-possessed teenagers tended to be benevolent dictatorships, of sorts. The parents treated the children as young adults, but they did say there were times still when they had to step in, and sort them out. They realised that doing that cost a substantial amount of trust capital, and therefore used it very sparingly. They realised that sex was going to be part of life, and treated is such – relatively pragmatically.

The very young 16s acted like sexualised little girls. They talked about boys incessantly. They did not seem to have identities of their own, rather their identities were an amalgam of the activities the parents had set for them, and what their social scene at school dictated to them. These were probably the most sex-negative group, as one could see that they would have a hard time doing anything unpopular for any reason, regardless of the potentially long-term consequences. They didn't talk about college or the future, beyond "that's what happens next". They did not seem to have a strong ambition orientation, rather their orientation was on maintaining their status as a childlike daughter to the parents, and a popular student at school.

From the parenting perspective, the general attitudes of the parents tended to the helicopters one would suspect. They were terrified of the world, of rap music, of movies, and their dominant style seemed to be control, rather than inspiration. They focused on the SATs, rather than on the child's capabilities and long-term dreams. They spoke about how their daughter's composure at school reflected on their own standing in the community. Their view toward love, relationships, and sex was somewhere between demeaning and fearful. The "girls" (not "women") were too young to have functional feelings, and sex was something that was really off limits.

The very old sixteens were pretty much the diametric opposites of the young 16s. They were a bit hardened, often from economically-challenging backgrounds. They talked about the jobs that they had, what they wished they could be doing with their lives, instead of what they were doing with their lives. They didn't seem to really care about school, it was something they had to do, to get to the next place. To move to a city, or to get married, or to get a job, or a college. There was a relatively dispassionate approach to life here. Their views toward boys, love, and sex seemed to be a bit jaded. Sex was something men wanted. Boys will do anything for sex. It can be great in the right situation, but you really have to know the guy. There could even be a power orientation to it.

The parents of those sixteen year olds were the opposite of helicopter parents. Rather than treating them like children or growing teenagers, they treated them like adults. They spoke about them like adults, and in most cases seemed to see them as adults. The kids were responsible for their own lives. "I'll help them as much as I can, but they're really adults. They live with the lives they make for themselves." As such, love, sex, and relationships were part of their children's lives in the same way they were part of their own. The children in this group in general seemed to want more attention and involvement from their parents – they wanted to be kids a bit longer – but that wasn't in the cards, so they took heed.

So not sure if this is helpful at all, but in terms of how to raise a sex-positive teenage girl, I would say a lot of it doesn't have to do with sex at all. It's going to be about ensuring she has a future and a direction – goals that would be completely disrupted and destroyed by making Bad Sexual Choices.

Overall, it sounds like your daughter has a tremendous amount of trust in you, and connection with you, so keep up whatever you're doing to make that happen. Not all teens and parents are so lucky to have such open channels of communication.
posted by nickrussell at 8:48 AM on May 5, 2013 [43 favorites]

Personal anecdotes follow:90% of risky behavior I got into as a newly sexually active girl of 15 would have been eliminated by permission to have sex at home, a promise of a ride home from anywhere, anytime, no questions asked(this last part is really important, because I would totally stay in dubious places/situations rather than risk getting in trouble), and an always full box of condoms in the bathroom drawer.
I understand wanting to give a long talk on sex and feminism and enthusiastic consent but just being there to listen if she wants to tell you something will be worth so much more in the end. I am eternally grateful to an Uncle who brought me a stack of library books out of the blue one afternoon(including Our Bodies, Ourselves) - no speeches mind you, just random book delivery-and a cousin who simply asked if I was happy with how things were going - and when I said yes, said that was great. It was the only time anyone talked about my having sex as though it was something other than an unfortunate, probably bad idea that made them a little unhappy.
If you want her to feel supported, just don't treat having sex as a minor disaster. Saying that 'its important that you only do it if you enjoy it' is not going to have a sex- positive effect when paired with 'girls who have sex have to get a pelvic exam'.
posted by velebita at 9:36 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Do not argue with other commenters. OP is not anon, you can contact her directly with additonal info if you need to. Don't start fights here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:51 AM on May 5, 2013

Consider the implanon or another implanted contraception as her back-up with condoms. Teenagers are not reliable enough with drama plus their often hectic schedules to take a daily pill. A gynaecologist for one of my kids recommended we try the depo-provera jab first for three months to see whether she had any big reactions (hormonal contraception for some people like me can have really severe side effects, like constant PMS) before investing in a three-year implant. Month by month, they are cheaper than the pill as well.

Find a great gynaecologist for her if she doesn't have one already. Get someone she's comfortable visiting on her own to ask tough questions and promise to pay the bills without asking what they were for if she doesn't want to tell you.

Talk to her a little often. Much better than one deep conversation.

Oh, and beside the obvious sex ed books, etiquette books for teenagers are surprisingly good resources for responsible social behaviour in a range of situations, including romantic stuff. Having a Joy of Sex and Our Bodies, Ourselves (the classics!) on the bookshelf without fanfare is also useful.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:03 AM on May 5, 2013

It's really great that you want to guide your daughter through this, and it sounds like you have a really good relationship, but respect her privacy. I never wanted to talk about my sex life with my parents - yuck! - but I do wish that they had been a little more proactive and helpful re: birth control. It's a tricky balance to strike, but a large part of being a teenager is figuring shit out on your own. Sex is very personal. Not something I want to (now or ever) talk about on a regular basis with my mother, but to each her own.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

PLEASE give her a book, any decent recommended book. I'm a googler about stuff my parents wouldn't talk to me about, but you can't guarantee she will, so aside from recommending sites (scareteen/go ask alice/etc.) a book will guarantee that she can access information any time she needs to without stigma.

You don't always need a pelvic exam for HBC as an uncomfortable teen, I know I didn't have one when I went on at 19. Although, I went off it for mood swing/loss of sex drive reasons and do make sure she knows being on it is not a requirement to have sex, if it's really bothering her. Multiple friends of mine got a hormonal IUD in high school, which I actually think is a great option to consider for a horny and forgetful teenager. One friend also got the arm implant for similar reasons.

If you've ever had an STD or an abortion, or helped a friend through either, or had any other negative/regrettable sexual experiences, maybe tell her about it? I know a friend of mine was very, very comforted when, after she told her mom about her abortion (after the fact) her mom shared the story of her own. My friend said she probably would have told her mom and gone to her for support had she known the story earlier, and for that reason made sure her younger sister knew her story. I think that it can be nice to have the reminder that you have also been in her place, once, if anything ever happens that she is afraid to talk about, is great.

And I spent a lot of time over the last while sleeping over at my 20/21 year old boyfriend's house, since he's living at home - he'd been at college for two years and his parents were obviously going to let him have sex if he wanted to (and thus left us alone/actually bought a new, bigger guest bed/didn't comment about the condoms we forgot to put away), but the fact that they were very friendly and inviting to me was incredibly positive for his relationship with them and talking about sex and our relationship, I think. So invite boyfriend to eat dinner with you and make sure that daughter knows boyfriend is welcome in your house, not just in a "you're allowed to have sex here" way but in a "we fully support your relationship and want to get to know him to and not in a judgey way" way.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:08 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, I was never really ashamed to talk about sex with my dad, however when I did lose my virginity at 17, and told him about it, I got a totally opposite response than what I thought. He didn't talk to me for 3 days. (Now I think we both agree that was silly.)

So I want to thank you for being open. Yes, she may be young, but you can't stop her so you might as well help.

My dad ended up having a conversation with me and the boyfriend at the time about the responsibilities of safe sex and pregnancy (However on my own I was already using condoms and told my dad I wanted birth control.)

As others have said, focus on sexual health, and boundaries. People have already talked about sexual health, but I agree that you should get her to Planned Parenthood or something where she can get a ton of pamphlets and feel free to get advice or ask any questions. (Also point her to the Planned Parenthood website.)

You also should enforce good boundaries. Let her know she doesn't need to give into peer pressure and that if she doesn't want to do something with someone, she can say NO. Guys are pretty good at sweet talking their way into a girls pants, and I'm pretty sure that's what lead to my 4-week fast track to non-virginity when I had previously only kissed a guy.

Give her power in knowing she is the master of her own body, and has total control on what to do with it, and how to treat it right.

Be open for her to come to you with questions. A good thing is to maybe giggle at a sexual joke a TV then maybe you can lean into her getting more comfortable with the subject.

The other thing is empathy for her. You were her age.

For example, my husband (at the time boyfriend) and I were planning on visiting home from college. My dad's rule was no boys in the bedroom with the door closed (If I had a group of friends over, the door could be closed.) So I asked my dad before my boyfriend and I were planning on visiting, "Does my boyfriend need to sleep on the couch, or can he sleep in the same bed with me?"

He said he would think about it. Cut to him meeting his wife, my step-mom, Jenn. The next time I asked his response was "Well I don't make Jenn sleep on the couch." And his response then changed.

My husband (at the time boyfriend) had to stay at my place for about a month between houses. My dad was all "I don't like him living with you." Cut to my dad moving in with Jenn before they got married and it changed to "Well you have to get out of your current place" and being totally 100% fine with my husband and I living together before we got married.

That being said, examine your motivations. My dad was upset with me about me losing my virginity because he did it differently, and waiting until he was married. However my dad and my's situations were so much different than each other that the old "Well I did it this way" didn't seem valid to me.

Still know that no matter how much you try to teach her about health, boundaries, and sex, she will still do what she wants, but do your best to instill confidence in her to make the best decisions for HER (not the best decisions for you.)
posted by Crystalinne at 11:34 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, it sounds to me like you are doing a great job! As a Mom myself (of two young men), it's wonderful to have this discussion with the Mom of a young woman who so clearly wants to help her daughter navigate these sexual waters with sensitivity and calm, rational decision-making.

I found nickrussell's comment 100% relatable, because I have seen teens falling into the categories he describes, from the smart and relatively confident young person to the creepily childlike yet hyper-sexualized teen unprepared for life's real challenges.

I also think leslies' advice is spot on.

I usually agree with PhoBWanKenobi, but sorry, think she is WAY off on the advice in this thread! I'm fine with any girl's parents talking to me about their daughter and my son and want to have good communicationwith them in general, but WOW, calling them up after your daughter has opened up to you like this to ask them what their rules are about sex?! That would be a total breech of trust! Do NOT do that to her!

Talk to her, talk to her boyfriend when they are at your house. They're people, too. I'm betting he can tell you what the family rules and values are in his own home. And your rules should be based on what you believe is right in your own home, anyway.

And given how squeamish your daughter is about talking with you (good for her, and good for you, for getting past that!), the ideas about talking to her about lube and taking her to pick out condoms at the drugstore (!) are just not going to work here, either.

You are her Mom, and you sound like you are a very cool Mom, but that is not a Mom/daughter thing. Would you want to go lube shopping with your Mom?! Please.

Get her the books, though, by all means! Books can answer embarrassing factual questions about body stuff in general. Deal With It stikes me as a good resource for your daughter specifically-- though it may be a bit young for her, I think she'll appreciate the frank, matter-of-fact yet lighthearted tone, especially since she is embarrassed talking openly about this stuff (we've all been there!) right now. The book might even help as an icebreaker, in an "Oh my god, I cannot believe anyone calls breasts 'tatas'! How lame is that?"

Once she's a bit older, Body Drama is another good one. It's definitely geared towards girls heading into college, but the pages and pages of real women's body parts (yes, including vulvas) are excellent for young women already getting bombarded by perfect bodies in the popular over-the-counter fashion magazines.

Just a note on the "don't get pregnant" messge: Several young girls our boys and their friends know have become pregnant before the age of 18. A friend of mine was pregnant at 15, and that's been thirty years ago now.

I can tell you what they all had in common, then and now: their parents treated them like potential criminals just waiting for an excuse to break the law. In their homes, the laws were DON'T HAVE SEX, DON'T GET PREGNANT. OR ELSE. But that was all they were told; no one appeared to trust them enough to explain why. So they lived up (down) to expectations by having unprotected sex (and now they are all pregnant).

We have teenagers over our house all the time; my sons' best friends are like our adopted second family. We've had discussions about every topic under the sun, from birth control to drug use, depression and feeling isolated (a teenager in my youngest son's school committed suicide recently) to college, financial debt and uncertainty about what the future holds. it saddens me to hear how little understanding and genuine empathy seems to be going on in some of their friend's home lives.

These kids are amazing people! They are capable of handling more than we give them credit for sometimes. I learn a lot, just listening to them. I think we do them a disservice when we don't take the time to explain why we worry, and what our hopes are for them. They hear what we are saying more often than we think they do.

Keep up the great work, OP!
posted by misha at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think as a mom of teenagers (all boys) - the best thing is to keep talking and be as open as possible. You sound completely awesome and one thing I can relate to is being completely surprised by my kids' sexual activity. They are your little babies and the next thing you know, they are doing grown up things - I digress. I told my kids that they should always take "maybe" as a no and "no" as no. They are responsible for their own bc and should never assume that their partner has thought of it. I think you can translate that to a young lady as well. I like that she opened up to you and you kept your thoughts to yourself. I know how hard it was when I found about it the first time. One thing I did (that may not work for everyone) is buy a box of condoms and leave a few around, in the bathroom and in their bedrooms etc.. Now I definitely have 2 who have not had sex but I have 2 that have. I did notice that those condoms disappeared and one of my kids said he gave a couple to a friend. Anyway that's all I've got. Good luck.
posted by lasamana at 1:12 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

In terms of having open conversations, there is a great toolkit online called 100 Conversations ( that was created by teens and young adults to help parents & supportive adult-people have exactly the kinds of conversations you are thinking about. Full disclosure - I work with some of the folks who made it, but it really is a cool free resource that has lots of prompts you can use to help keep the lines of communication open. You sound like an awesome mom!
posted by rocketing at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was very, very recently a teenage girl. Others have said pieces of this, but I think it's really important to reinforce.

My parents never talked to me about sex, but I got the information I needed, from friends and the internet and a couple of minimally informative public school health classes. I knew that I didn't want to be pregnant, and rigorously took the necessary steps to ensure that this didn't happen.

The information I didn't get, was about healthy relationships and consent. My parents had a stable, loving relationship, and I think they simply assumed that I wouldn't put up with mistreatment. But I had no idea what constituted mistreatment, and the media I consumed made boundaries look like hazy suggestions that were sexier when broken. Without explicit messages about what a healthy relationship looks like, I didn't know how I should expect to be treated. I didn't know that sex was only supposed to happen if I wanted it to, and that I didn't need to want it all the time, or whenever my date wanted it. As a result, when I became intimate around the same age as her, with my parents' tacit support, and excitement about me reaching a new milestone, I got treated pretty badly.

Socialization is a powerful thing, and especially for people who are a little skittish about sexuality like your daughter, dating and sexual intimacy can be a rude awakening to modern societal norms and pressures. She and/or her date might not know themselves well enough to know what they each want. My equally awkward dates and I had different expectations about what would happen in our relationship, and they had strong reactions when I pushed back. Which makes sense, given that 76% of high school boys and 50% of high school girls believe that forced sex is acceptable in some circumstances. Try to give her the gift of finishing high school and college without having survived sexual assault or rape, like at least 1 in 4 college aged women have.

I'm sure that the person she's dating is wonderful. I'm sure that he will never mistreat her. But it is your responsibility to make sure that she knows the warning signs for abuse, how to respond when someone pressures her, what constitutes manipulation in a relationship, and that she is to protect herself and her body at all costs, no matter how much she likes the person or wants to please them.

My mom presented sex to me as a big responsibility that I was taking on, a sign of maturity. I thought that by ending up involved with someone who was manipulative, and ultimately abusive, that I had failed to protect myself and make good choices, failed to take responsibility. I thought that she would chastise me for being negligent rather than support me. She liked the people I dated and welcomed them to the family. I was worried how she would respond if I told her that my date didn't respect my boundaries. Would she even believe me? She has no idea how some of my dates treated me, and still asks after them fondly. It's great that she's in a relationship and that you're pleased about it. And, your daughter needs to know that you are in her corner, you will believe her and support her, no matter what.

If she has sex, there is a chance that she will get pregnant, no matter how careful she is. Especially at 15, there's a fine line between honoring her maturity by taking another step back, and making her feel as though she is all alone. If she needs an abortion, I'm assuming that you will pay for it and accompany her. She should know that now.

So it's not just "don't get pregnant," it's "don't let anyone push your physical boundaries," and "don't let anyone make you feel bad about your body or your sexuality, or how you respond to intimacy." It's you expressing your belief that couples should practice verbal consent, especially when they first start out, and that the two of them should discuss what they'll do if she were to get pregnant. If they can't talk about sex and its potential consequences, then they shouldn't be having it.

And most importantly, you need to let her know that you have high standards for how she should be treated. That you know that she is just learning about relationships, and that you will be there, 100% on her side, through her first fight, her first breakup, the first time she's cheated on. Her first queer experience, her first one night stand, her first heartbreak. The first person who tells her that if they're really in love they'll have sex right now, and proceeds to ignore her boundaries when she's drunk.
posted by femmegrrr at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2013 [25 favorites]

I got how to say "no" to someone I did not want to have sex with, but not how to say "no" to someone I kinda did want to have sex with. I think that's important, too.

Repeated for emphasis! Imagine that I have pasted here a Treaty of Westphalia-length comment with nothing but those words.

Please also let her know that even if she's said yes once (or more), she is allowed to say no to the same partner or a different partner, at any time, for any reason.
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think a few things are worth getting across -

- Sex should be nice. Not scary, not guilty, not pressureful, not full of worry or shame about your body/abilities, etc. You want a partner who you feel comfortable enough with to have it be nice. If somebody teases you in a sort-of-mean way, that's not somebody you want to be having sex with.

- Relationship partners should be comfortable meeting your parents and making normal conversation with them. No skulking and hiding and mumbling. We will be nice to them, and they should be able to look us in the eye and talk with us like normal people.

- There are lots of sexy things to do with someone you like other than p-i-v sex. Most of these are a lot less risky in terms of disease/pregnancy/etc and may also feel emotionally less weird/less of a big deal. Some of them might feel like a bigger deal than p-i-v sex. You can say no to any of it, a la carte, your call. There's no required hierarchy where you consent to anything "below" what you've already done. There's no requirement that if you're dating someone, there are certain things you "have to" do.

- Porn is unrealistic and not a good way to learn how to do things/what to expect. Boyfriend should know this too.

- A boy will be just fine if he doesn't get to have sex. (When I was a teenager there was pressure around the idea of "blue balls")
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:15 PM on May 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

There is a lot of good advice here. Here is another vote to make sure you stress her body, her rules.

Can I also say how impressed and proud of you I am? I realize that is a strange statement from a random internet person but I mean every word. I hope I can handle the situation as well when the day comes that my children reach their teenage years.
posted by Silvertree at 7:43 PM on May 5, 2013

and how any sort of hormonal birth control is going to require a doctor's visit and a prescription and the doctor will want to do a pelvic exam and what that involves, and how if she considers herself mature enough to have sex she needs to be mature enough to get through that.

No, no, no. This makes me livid. There is no medical reason to have a pelvic exam to be prescribed hormonal birth control (at any age, not just for teens). The only medical test needed to prescribe the pill is a blood pressure check. She does not need a gynecologist, just a regular doctor (or an NP if those can prescribe where you are). As previously mentioned, if she wants STI screening that can be done with urinalysis.

Furthermore, I know you're a concerned parent and freaking out, but it's disgusting the way you are framing this, as if getting to have sex is a reward for enduring a doctor's visit. Everyone upthread talking about your daughter having agency, her body, her rules? That applies here too.

Pelvic exams not needed for birth control

(In fact, people without symptoms probably should not be getting pelvic exams ever, not your daughter, not you.)
posted by Violet Hour at 11:00 PM on May 5, 2013

Info about Plan B / emergency contraception, which I agree y'all should keep on hand.

HPV vaccination, definitely.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:22 AM on May 6, 2013

I've posted this before but I highly recommend my former sex ed teacher's books: and They cover a lot of the same ground so it's probably not worth getting both. You have done a great job already and I think Roffman's approach will be appealing to you given what you've said about your goals and values.
posted by holympus at 1:42 PM on May 6, 2013

Speaking as a former 15 year old girl:

1) books are awesome

2) find her a good ob/gyn who she can talk to frankly and whom she knows won't report back to you. My mom found me an aunt-like granola-crunchy midwife/ob/gyn who I felt comfortable with. I didn't end up calling her after my initial birth control appointment, but it was nice to know she was a resource.

3) treat it as a Thing People Do, rather than the usual hysteria that you see in the media and online these days.

More generally:

4) Tell her stories about other people who've broken up well and not well, and how they managed it. You don't want to hint that it's applicable to her at the moment. Breakups don't mean she's failed, or that he has. I see teenage girls (and I was guilty) of being really cruel or really doormats.

5) Remind her that Being Nice is not all it's cracked up to be. I put up with some Bull.Shit! because I was trying to be "nice."
posted by small_ruminant at 4:51 PM on May 6, 2013

My best friend is 23, and has a beautiful two year old, because hormonal birth control isn't 100% effective. Strong suggestion on condoms + hormonal birth control, for both STD and unplanned grandchildren being, well, not-great.
posted by talldean at 8:10 AM on May 11, 2013

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