This season, I got addicted to “The Real Housewives of New York City,” which is reality show on Bravo. I got caught up in the mystery of how people who seem to have it all can lack kindness, gratitude, sincerity and joy…but I digress.
In the final episode, Jill sits down with her daughter Ally, who will begin college soon. Ally laughs nervously as Jill, looking equally ill-at-ease, says it’s time for “the talk.” Ally giggles and sinks deep into the couch cushions. Jill presses on, “Yeah, we need to have the talk. There’s the drug talk and the sex talk. Which one do you want to have?” Mercifully, the cameras cut to another family’s drama.
Why did Jill think it was OK to allow cameras to film such a personal moment? Did she think one conversation would deter her daughter from using drugs? Or that one conversation would cover all the issues related to sexual health and decision-making? Why had she waited so long to talk about these issues with her daughter?
This episode came on the heels of a recent survey of mothers and daughters co-published by O and Seventeen magazines. The Mother-Daughter Sex Talk Survey queried more than 1,000 15- to 22-year-olds and 1,000 of their mothers. Clearly, Jill and Ally aren’t alone in being disconnected when it comes to talking about sex: 90% moms said they had talked to their daughters, while only 51% of the teens recalled such conversations. Only 22% of moms think their daughters are uncomfortable talking to them about sex, while 61% of girls actually are uncomfortable. I suspect the results would have been similar among fathers and sons, but since Mother’s Day is coming soon, let’s focus on the survey at hand.
The result of the conversational divide illustrated by the survey is that 46% of girls who had intercourse didn’t tell their moms; 78% have had sex without using a condom (56% without any form of contraceptive); and 65% lied about or didn’t tell their mothers they were having sex.
Maybe moms really are talking and their daughters are simply tuning out if all they hear are warnings about infections, pregnancies and reputations. But suppose moms were to spend more time listening than lecturing? And suppose moms were to make it clear that their love is not conditional upon their daughters making specific sexual choices?
Girls want to learn from their moms, not be lectured by them. According to the survey, girls want to learn about the emotional side of sex — they want to know how to deal with their feelings and how to manage relationships.
While it’s most effective when parents begin teaching about sexual health and values early on, it’s never too late to start. This Mother’s Day, set aside time for a private mother-daughter conversation about sex. Avoid the “I’m not ready to be a grandmother” warnings in favor of, “I want you to be healthy and happy young woman, and your sexuality is part of that. Can we talk?”