I want to talk about intimacy and sex with you. At school, you’ll get lectures about protection and diseases. Good. And yet, sex is not just about love and babies, or herpes and condoms, but about mutual respect, and curiosity.
You may feel like you are supposed to know what to do before getting intimate with someone. You may want to show up perfect. But the point of intimacy is exploration and freedom, not perfection. Everyone is, literally, feeling their way around in the dark when it comes to sex. When perfectionism enters the bedroom, it’s not just dull, it’s dangerous.
Terrible things can happen when your desire to be perfect makes you pretend to know what you’re doing. The first things to go are honest communication and vulnerability. Without them, you are not having sex, you are just satisfying an urge and taking advantage of someone. Worse, you may try to force another person to do what you want, because it feels easier than being rejected, maybe even easier than asking permission. But you must never take another’s freedom and dignity; it is a trauma that stays with someone for life. Your responsibility during sex is to remember that you are with another human being, and someone’s child; treat that person with care.
As a teenager, you may experiment with illegal substances, because you think they make you brave. But drugs and alcohol don’t make you brave, they make you deaf and dumb. When you are drunk or high, especially in a group, it’s really tough to hear the voices of reason, or compassion, or a single, scared voice telling you to STOP. Listen. There is nothing attractive about drunk sex. The sexiest thing is to touch and be touched once you and the other person in the room have said an enthusiastic, undeniable YES. But to say yes, you need to talk, you need to ask for communication.
“Use your words,” I encouraged you at two years old. I’ll keep encouraging you now to speak your feelings. It’s ok to say, “I was feeling great a minute ago. But something is changing. Let’s pause and explore.” Don’t make it your goal to be in charge. Make it your goal to slow down, and discover what makes it fun for both of you. Intimacy and sex are apart of the process of knowing who we are, who someone else is, and what it means to be human. Notice how it feels when there is no fear, because there is trust, because there is conversation, because there is connection.
Maybe the repair of the world starts in the bedroom when two people see each other not as opposites, but as equals. When you choose to have sex or not is up to you, but please go armed with condoms and kindness. And then when you say yes, say it confidently, and let fear drive someone else’s car. Remember, if you ever feel stuck or uncomfortable, even if you feel that you got yourself into the situation, call me anytime. I’ll pick you up, no questions asked, and bring you home.”
If these words were helpful to you parents, use them, copy them, make a video with a cat saying them, just please don’t avoid the subject with your teens anymore. Christine Carter, my partner on the Brave over Perfect site, has these excellent 3 tips on how to get started
And, because it’s difficult to talk to our kids when they are rolling their eyes and slipping out the window, telling us they’ve “got this,” I offer one last strategy. Write a letter to your teenager(s) about relationships and intimacy that is more positive than negative. Start with the prompt: “The sex talk I never got, but wish I had…” I believe that the next best thing to talking openly about sex is writing down your thoughts and feelings, and giving those scribbles to your children, not as a report of your trauma, but as a map to healthy, positive relationships. It might seem like they don’t care. But I’d argue that they do, and that it might be one of the most important letters you ever write.
image credit: Flick’r, Blue Skyz