Sex was a dirty word in my house growing up. Not anymore.
When I was growing up, I couldn't talk to my mother about sex. Not that she wouldn't have been honest with me — my mom was an open book — but I was an angsty tween who wanted privacy, and the thought of talking about that was horrifying to me. Not to mention, my mom claimed she had been a virgin on her wedding night and expected the same for me (typical Irish woman).
But at 17 and so in love with my first boyfriend (and yes, a virgin), I started taking birth control ... secretly. I hid the tiny packet in a hippo money box so my mother would never find it. Yes, I felt oddly guilty but I also felt a little sad that I couldn't tell her about something so momentous in my life.
Now that I'm a mom myself, I hope that my relationship with both my kids will be different. I want us to discuss sex. Not the nitty gritty, of course — some things are private — but I want them to come to me with their worries, to discuss whether or not they feel ready, to talk about buying condoms.
Sex shouldn't be taboo. Here's what I want them to know when they're ready:
1. It's OK if you're not virgins on your wedding night.
And it's OK even if you never get married. Heck, I don't even expect anything at all from you except that you make educated decisions about when to have sex and who to have it with. I trust your judgment and I trust you to trust your own judgment. Sure, we all make mistakes, and I fully expect you will to, but that's just part of growing up.
2. Respect yourselves and other people, too.
Trust your gut and be proud of the decisions you make. My mom always worried that I'd run off with some undesirable man who could barely string a sentence together and never hold down a job. But she didn't need to worry — she raised me to want the best for myself. To respect myself enough to believe in the choices I made, and make the RIGHT choices.
So I was never going to date a waste of life who sat around all day getting stoned; I was always going to want to date someone who had ambition, passion for life and who was on a similar path as me.
3. Always carry condoms.
To add to that, it's just as important, son, to make sure you're aware of your responsibilities when you have sex. Don't leave it up to the woman or assume she's taken care of it. Sex is a two-way street; the same goes for protection.
Likewise, dear daughter, I want you to carry condoms too because as we all know that the pill may protect against pregnancy but it doesn't protect against sexually transmitted diseases. It's old-fashioned, but the phrase "no glove, no love" should apply. It isn't forward or slutty for women to carry condoms; it's sensible.
4. Never feel pressured into having sex.
Because once you have sex you can't go back to holding hands. You just can't.
5. Please be in a relationship when you start having sex.
Rather than just flitting around having lots of sex with different people. Not because there's anything wrong with sleeping with multiple people, but you grow more as a person and feel safer to sexually explore when you're in a caring, loving, monogamous relationship. Trust me on this one.
6. Only do what you're comfortable with.
Having sex is one of life's great pleasures. It connects you as a couple, it's good for your health, it relaxes you. Sex should be a pleasure, not ever something that you're forced into or feel obliged to do. I want both of you to feel good about yourselves and your bodies, and to never feel ashamed about your sexuality in any way.
7. Don't be afraid to talk to me.
Sex isn't taboo but the more my mother made it feel like it was, the less likely I turned to her for advice or help. For example, when I was 14, I came home with a case of thrush. I was mortified that something was wrong "down there," and when I finally confessed to my mom, she said, "Have you been messing around with any boys?"
It wasn't until my doctor explained how innocently the infection can occur (I got it from the swimming pool) did she believe me. I want to be the opposite of my mom. I don't want you to lead a secretive teenage life. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, if you're having sex, I'd rather it was under my roof rather than somewhere unsafe.