My dear child, I want you to have a better sex life than I did. I want your puberty to be less distressing than mine was. I want your first partnered sexual experiences to be pleasurable. I want your body to be a temple of nice touches and healthy foods. I want you to get tested regularly. I don’t want you to feel ashamed if you get your first STI. I don’t want you to be afraid to tell your doctor that you have a yeast infection. I don’t want you to be nervous to tell your partner that their nails are scratching your insides. I don’t want you to be afraid to ask me questions. I don’t want you to feel inadequate because you don’t have a large penis or perky breasts. There is a saying that Parents wish for a better life for their children than they had, and my wish for you on Mother’s Day and every day is for you to grow into a sexual, confident adult. I have a few ways that I will support you in this.
Sex is a big word for all kinds of pleasurable activities that people do with their bodies; sometimes sex has to do with genitals and sometimes it does not. You’ve perhaps heard that sex is something that “a man and a woman do when they love each other.” Sometimes this is the case; sometimes it is not. I have had fun sex with nice people that I didn’t love, who didn’t love me, but we treated each other with kindness and respect. When you’re older, I’ll explain that some people have sex for money, we call them “sex workers,” and those people deserve respect like everyone else. Some folks don’t like sex at all, we call them “asexual,” that’s normal also. Sex is a big part of life, but it doesn’t control yours; you get to decide how you wield your parts.
Your body is normal: Hair will grow out of many places, and all of you will change over time. Armpits, toes, chin, upper lip. Some of these places will be considered “cool” or “pretty,” and some will be called “gross” by people who are trying to fit in but don’t listen to those people. I never liked having hairy legs, but you’ve noticed that mommy has fuzzy armpits; you can decorate and groom your body however you like. Hygiene and health are important for everyone. Not all women have vaginas, and not all boys have penises, lots of people have breasts, and everyone has nipples. Strive to be a good person, and don’t pick your friends based on their parts.
Let’s talk about sexual health: Any time that you share touch with a person, be mindful of viruses and bacteria. Germs spread by coughing, by rubbing the skin, by sharing bodily fluids like blood, so it’s always a good idea to be mindful of what you put in your body, and how. When you’re older, I’ll show you ways to ask your potential partners to discuss how you will practice sexual touch safely, and how to ask for what kinds of pleasure you prefer. Most people are nervous when they talk about sex, but you don’t have to be. In fact, studies show that people with positive attitudes and associations around sex are more likely to: use contraception with partners, communicate risks with their partners, and report more fulfilling sexual interactions.
You can ask me questions, and I will practice age-appropriate answers. When you were five, you watched me change a tampon in the bathroom and asked why I was bleeding out of my vagina. This is a good question, and I told you that most people with vulvas shed blood about 1x a month; this usually means that they can have babies. You accepted this answer because I did not indicate shame around a normal function. In fact, it seemed kinda boring for you, because I didn’t sensationalize it. If I don’t have the answers, I’ll tell you, “I don’t know, but I can try to find out.” Your mommy has a list of helpful resources for adults and teens.
I will practice not “yucking someone else’s yum,” There are a lot of things that people do that might look unusual, as you’ll discover! Some adults like to put things in their butts; some people like to dress like ponies and pull their partners in a carriage, some people like to wrestle in lube with their friends. If it’s not for you, you don’t have to participate, but don’t discourage other people who can play safely and consensually.
If you want to change an aspect of your appearance, as mommy has, we will talk about the risks and benefits. Some people get tummy tucks to be happy and healthy; some people shave their hair off. Fads and fashions move so quickly that I wouldn’t dare prioritize your happiness around a haircut or outfit. If a person is mean to you based on how you look, they are not your friend. There is a saying that “Mean People Are Suffering.” Let them suffer alone.
You can love people no matter their gender: I support your pursuit of affection and mutual trust between the people that make you feel safe and supported. You’ll notice that a lot of people think that only boys and girls can get married, but that’s an old way of thinking; love and communication builds a family. By the way, you don’t have to get married!
I will teach you to set boundaries, and I will model them. You don’t have to hug grandma, or me, or your dad, or anybody if you don’t want to. Family members do not have an entitlement to your body. As an adult, I know that most sexual assaults on minors are committed by a parent or family acquaintance - I am giving you the tools to prevent any situation where you feel that someone is owed access to your body, simply because of who they are in your life. When you and I play tickle or wrestling games, I stop when you say “Stop!” or “ No no no”, and I proceed when you laugh and say “Yes yes yes” or “More!” This is how I teach you to state your touch boundaries, and you build confidence. I’ve taught you to practice these phrases: “That doesn’t feel good right now.” “Please don’t touch me without asking.” “I’d prefer a shorter hug.” “I don’t like it when…” “It feels good when…”
And this is how you learn to ask for your pleasure: There is no shame in asking, “Can you turn the water up warmer?” whether you are in the tub at home or the pedicurist station. “Are you able to give me a few neck squeezes?” You ask at bedtime. “Could you tickle my toes softly?” I’m your parent and I am teaching you how to ask for specific types of stimulation and touch from another person. This will come in very handy later, because “How do I ask for what I want in bed?” is a VERY common question. Quite simply, my dear: you ask.
...without fearing rejection: There will be people in your life who don’t like you as much as you like them. This means that you two are incompatible, and that is okay. I will not teach you to get angry at someone who rejects your romantic interest. The attraction has to be mutually pleasurable to be safe and fulfilling.
I will teach you how to identify red flags in other people: Some people feel entitled to your body, entitled to your time, entitled to your attention. These are the people who will take without asking, who will push you emotionally or physically. These are the people who will ignore your requests for more space, who will touch your body and tell you they didn’t, these are the kids who weren’t disciplined for pulling hair and snapping bra straps. These people exist all over the world, in schools and bars and offices, and I can’t always be there to protect you from them. But I can teach you how to see them, how to stand up to them, how to avoid them, and how to model these practices for others.
I’m not going to spank you: Most health professionals agree that using pain in discipline increases the likelihood of mental illness and trust issues later. I don’t understand how violence is supposed to teach children ethics. Yes, I get angry sometimes, and I’ll show you some anger-management tips, like screaming into a pillow, doing jumping jacks, and counting to ten. Yes, you make me bonkers frustrated sometimes, but I’m learning to cope in better ways that don’t create psychological problems for you later.
I won’t freak out when you discover masturbation: It is normal for children to explore their genitals, albeit maybe not in the grocery store. When my mom caught me rubbing my pubic bone on the couch at the age of eight, I had never heard the word masturbation; I didn’t know that some fetuses supposedly do it in the womb and that people in labor do self-touch for pain management. I know these things now. If you want to touch your genitals because it feels right, that’s something you do on your private time in your bedroom, and please wash your hands afterward.
I am not a perfect person and I am not a perfect parent, and I’m not a perfect lover, but I’m trying to do better for you, my child. I am grateful for the education and activism in human sexuality that has allowed me to know more than my mother and father did. I hope to leave a better world for you, and for your partners. Happy Mother’s Day.
Elle Stanger is a sex worker and sex educator with a BA in Criminology from Portland State University, and she co-hosts the award nominated podcast UnzippedPDX. You can follow her work at stripperwriter.com.