The other day I found myself exclaiming to my two daughters, sixteen and fourteen respectively, don’t have sex until you’re in your twenties, but here are some condoms.
I’m not sure if there is a better example of sending a mixed message.
I should explain. The other night I discovered my oldest daughter had spent the night with her boyfriend.
Now, I have consistently brought up sex with them and with their older brother who now lives on his own with a gaggle of twenty something young men in West Oakland. And I have consistently been rebuffed, scoffed at, silenced by their stares, punctuated with a rolling of the eyes or a sigh of exhaustion.
But I don’t let it stop me. I know I’m not someone they want to confide in, and I actually cringe thinking about it if they did. But I want to approach the discussion of their bodies, their rights, sex in general differently than the terse warning I received from my father to keep my dick in my pants or the silence around the subject from my mother.
There is nothing wrong with sex; it’s powerful and beautiful and a profound ritual of entering adulthood.
Clearly, it’s also something they see all around them so to pretend they aren’t aware of it, even that they don’t have opportunities to engage in it, would be blatant denial.
And parenting by denial is never a good approach to raising children.
However, even though I broach the subject any chance I get, we don’t actually talk as directly as I’d like. And that’s why I know I need help, from other adults in our lives to examples of people or movements reclaiming the body, offering other ways to view sex, that might empower young women.
Sadly, there’s not a lot out there for them; besides a few adult women in their lives that they can turn to in need, there is almost nothing in mainstream society that speaks to young women about their growth and desires in sex positive, yet realistic and honest ways.
So I find myself saying things like, I don’t think you should have sex until you’re older; however, here are condoms
But now I also add every chance I get, and remember…
…you can always stop, you can always say no, even after you’re in the car, in the room, out of your clothes, in the bed.
No means no.
Stop means stop.
In an attempt to provide those positive examples of body ownership and empowerment, I searched out zines about self--defense, about sexual abuse, about sex positive experiences, things written by other young women.
And then, I rediscovered Riot Grrrl. The ferocity, the anger, the arrogance. There is one image of a group of young women holding hands, one without clothes, across her chest and belly black marker declares: Every Girl is a Riot Grrrl. [...]
I was never a riot grrrl but because of them I was forced to think closely about what I let my son do at ten and what I let my daughters do at the same age. Because of Riot Grrrl, I challenged myself to address sex in positive, open ways; I encouraged my son and my daughters to speak with other adults in their lives if they couldn’t speak to their mother or me.Things can be hard to discuss, but I want the courage to do it. [...]
So I work hard to see my daughters both as young women and as individual people, not limited to their gender, but not disconnected from it, to respect my children’s autonomy and privacy as young people.
I am learning to let go of my kids and trust their power.
I am learning to keep on talking despite feeling uncomfortable.
I am learning to listen to them.I am still learning about myself through fathering.
Read the whole essay here: Riot Parent, Riot Kids Reflections on Teen Sexuality, Becoming a Feminist, and Riot Grrrl by Tomas Moniz from Rad Dad 22. You'll find it well worth your time.