The estimated reading time for this post is 5 minutes.

The car has become a place for my daughter and I to have special conversations, conversations that we don’t want to have with anyone else around. This evening’s conversation centered around sex.

What, you don’t talk to your middle schooler about sex?

I really recommend that you think about that. I could cite studies about how kids who have parents who are open with them about sex usually have sex later (I am living proof of this), and I’m sure one of us will at some point, but really. Do spend some serious time thinking about how to talk to your pre-teens about sex.

Anyway, if you’ve listened to our podcast about periods, you know that my daughter is on birth control because her body just Won’t. Stop. Bleeding. She was staying at my house tonight, and she realized when her phone’s alarm went off that she had actually left her pills at her house. So off we went, leaving her brother behind at my house with other adults. I asked how her period was going, if it had stopped yet (it’s off and on, which is better than constant), if it’s gotten lighter or heavier (lighter when she does have it), etc.

This led to talking about pads vs tampons.

Funny story: at a sleepover with her best friend, her pad ended up falling out of her underwear into the toilet, so she had to fish it out. Good times.

We talked about proper disposal of pads and tampons, including what to do if she’s in a restroom that says something like “Please do not flush sanitary/feminine products in the toilet.” I told her that when she’s a little older, we’ll get her a soft cup, which will hopefully be much better. I explained that the reason I hadn’t done it yet is because she’s not finished growing yet, and I don’t want her to be uncomfortable because even the smallest cup is too big still.

This led to a conversation about tampons. When she first started wearing tampons, they were super uncomfortable, both upon insertion and while inside. Now, however, she says that unless she is in a specific position, it’s generally comfortable. I, of course, thought this was great and said so.

Then we started talking about why tampons could be uncomfortable, which led to talking about hymens, which led to talking about having sex for the first time. I talked to her about how for a lot of women, sex the first time can hurt and even bleed. I talked about the historical implications of this (hello, bedsheets being waved around from castle windows the morning after a wedding as proof of virginity) and the faulty logic that led to those traditions. I talked about how some women don’t have any hymen to speak of by the time they have sex, and some women have such a thick hymen that they have to have it surgically taken care of. I told her about me bleeding the first 7 times I had sex because of my hymen (though I did not tell her the age, and she did not ask).

Then we started talking about sex specifically and what can make sex hurt besides the hymen being intact. I told her that the body does things as it becomes aroused that get it ready to have sex – blood flow increases, the vulva swells, vaginal lubrication increases. If you don’t spend enough time in foreplay (which is what helps the body prepare for sex), then it’s entirely possible that sex can hurt. At the very least, it’s likely to not feel nearly as good as it should. We talked about how humans are one of the very few mammalian species that has sex for pleasure, and if she’s with a partner who is not making sure that she is feeling good, then she shouldn’t be having sex with that person.

She was quick to assure me that she doesn’t want to have sex for a long time. I was quick to assure her that it was entirely her decision, that we weren’t having this conversation because I thought she was ready. We were having this conversation because I didn’t want her to start having sex because of reasons similar to mine. I was not prepared in the slightest for what sex was about, what it entailed, what it meant, what I could expect. All I knew was that I had heard about this thing, and I was curious, so I jumped right in.

She started laughing; she knows me.

Then I looked at her and said, “Whenever you decide that you are ready, I want you to go into it knowing that it is supposed to feel good. You are supposed to feel pleasure from it. And if you don’t, then you have the right to stop. You don’t have to keep going. Sexuality is a spectrum. There are asexual people who don’t ever really want to have sex; some of them never have sex their entire lives. Then you have hypersexual people who have sex all the time with a lot of different people. Then you have the entire spectrum in-between. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, don’t let anyone force you into doing things you’re not ready for, and make sure you’re having fun with whatever you decide to do. And if you do decide you’re ready to have sex before you’re an adult, please come talk to me so we can make sure you have appropriate birth control.”

This was the first conversation we’ve had about sex that started delving into some of these topics. Foreplay and what some of the physical changes of arousal are, that it should feel good, the hymen, what can make it feel bad, that she can come to me when she’s ready so that we can get her on a form of birth control – all of those were topics we had not discussed or even touched on before. Yes, I know she’s younger than some. But if I don’t start covering these topics as the flow of conversation directs us towards them, I feel very strongly that I will be failing at one of my most important parenting tasks, which is guiding me children into adults who are functional in and interactive with the world around them.