By: Aletha Y. Akers
As a gynecologist (a doctor for women and girls) I talk with girls and their mothers about sex all the time. Whenever I start to think I have heard it all, something happens that surprises me.
During one of my recent clinics, the mother of a 14-year old patient pulled me aside to talk privately. (This happens a lot, by the way!). The mother told me she was raised abroad in a culture that considers talking about sex with children a taboo, especially talking with daughters. This mother was hoping to be more open with her daughter than her own mother had been.
The mother shared that she had recently caught her daughter looking at porn online. She told me the last thing she wanted to do in that situation was to punish her daughter or make her feel shame. The mother feared this would just drive her daughter’s behaviors further underground. She also did not want to make her daughter feel embarrassed about her natural curiosity about sex. Instead, she told her daughter that curiosity about sex is normal, and that wanting to know more was typical of young people her age. Her daughter opened up, and shared that she was curious about the mechanics of sex, which is what led her to search porn sites.
I was impressed that this mother was able to put her own anxieties aside so that she could identify what her daughter’s needs were. What I wasn’t expecting was her question for me:
“Can you recommend some websites that my daughter can go to so she can see more realistic displays of physical affection and sex than porn sites show?”
Miraculously, I didn’t see that question coming.
But, there was more that she wanted out of a website. She wanted a site that showed women being treated respectfully during sexual encounters. She wanted women presented not as passive bystanders during sex, but seeking pleasure as equal partners exercising their own sexual likes and dislikes.
Despite years of lecturing on this topic to health providers, community groups, and schools, I had no resources to list for her. I had nothing to offer. Well, not exactly nothing. I am aware of some movies that fit the bill, but while these meet the criteria this mother gave me, they are not developmentally appropriate for an adolescent with more limited knowledge about romantic relationships and physical intimacy.
As an advocate for adolescent’s right to developmentally appropriate sexual health information and resources, this mother’s question made me acknowledge that this is a seemingly easy void to fill; were it not for our own cultural taboos about being open with children about sex, sexuality and sensuality. Sex can sell shoes, perfume, and makeup—Just don’t talk about sex for sex’s sake!
Julia Sweeny hits the mark when she addresses the topic of how to teach your young adolescent about sex in the digital age in her TED talk, “It’s Time for ‘The Talk’”.