I think you'll want to cover everything you can think of (get in the car and drive, or order in pizza) and three items you might have been inclined not to mention. If your daughter is 13 or 14 and moves in what you think is a pretty active boy-girl crowd (you hear whispers of dating, hooking up, "she's such a slut"), you need to talk about oral sex and anal sex as well as intercourse. On the one hand, I am all in favor of mutual sexual pleasure that does not have anything to do with procreating. Making out, petting, everything but—whatever the kids call it, I encourage it if everyone's having a good time. And this, I think, is the heart of talking to young women about sex. I want my daughters to know that the best sex comes with love. (Most of the time; I don't plan to talk to teenage girls about the real, if awkward, pleasures of a one-night stand. That has to wait for college.) The worst sex, the kind that can leave lifelong scars, comes with coercion, shame, and fear. The third thing you might not have thought of mentioning is gayness. It's possible that you are absolutely positive your daughter's straight; it's possible you don't even want to mention gayness to your sporty, short-haired dateless daughter; it's possible you're pretty sure your daughter's gay, but you don't know how to broach it. No matter! If you're not gay yourself, read up a bit. Tell her that positive self-regard and consensuality are still at the top of the list. Tell her that being gay is part of the way someone's made, and it says no more about them than the color of their eyes. Tell them that some people find themselves attracted to both sexes, and that's fine, too (after all, some people do have one brown eye and one blue). But please, speak. 

This is, of course, a harder subject than "What's that?" and "Here's how." But it's worth the effort and even the eye-rolling. There have always been, and always will be, young women who give a man a blow job while thinking, "I wish I was dead." There are young women who find themselves pregnant because they couldn't face what was actually happening or couldn't bring themselves to "interrupt the moment" when facing a reluctant or annoyed partner. There are, as we all know, young women who like a boy well enough and are prompted to have sex because of his constant complaints and threats to go elsewhere. Young women who are just this side of rape by virtue of their reluctant, exhausted "okay." Young women who think that the boy's status (athlete, BMOC, wunderkind) will become hers, through the transfer of sex. Please, talk to your daughters about self-deception, about recognizing their feelings and acting on them. Teach them to take a moment (even in the bathroom at a bar) and ask themselves: "If I was my best self right now, what would I choose?" Teach them that despite our other girl-messages of putting other people's feelings first and being nice, when it comes to sex they come first, in every way.

Some of this is hard to do with conviction. Like mothers who try to conceal their fat phobias and make an effort to eat normally so as to spare their daughters an eating disorder, some of us have to fake it till we make it when it comes to talking about sex. It's always best to lead by example, but it's not always possible. Not all of us are lucky enough to like our bodies, like sex, and know that what we do in bed is a good and healthy choice. Even if that's not the case for you—for your daughter's sake, talk as if it is. And if it's not the case for you, you might give yourself a good talking to.

Get more direction on having The Talk from sex therapist Laura Berman


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