Recently, I was staying at a preteen family member’s house, and both she and her friend had a LOT of questions about sex and puberty.
During our discussion, I made sure to drive home four key points I wish I had known when I was younger. The conversation was basic and educational, but seemed to really resonate with the girls I was talking to. Here is the advice I wish I had learned earlier, and what I plan on telling any other young girl that asks me about sex and consent.
You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with (even if that means stopping halfway through)
I know this one might seem painfully obvious, but it might not be to someone who is just learning about sex. At the risk of sounding like an afterschool PSA, I know that there’s a lot of pressure to “play catch up” to your friends, or have the same level of sexual experience as they do by a certain age. I wish that as a preteen I had known how unnecessary this game of catch up was, even though it seemed like everyone else was playing it too.
It’s also important to explain that consent can be given or taken away at any point of a sexual activity, not just at the beginning. When I was having this conversation with my family member and her friend, they both seemed very surprised to know that even if you were in the middle of a kiss with someone, you could still pull back and stop right there if you wanted to. I desperately wish I had known that it’s not rude to not want to kiss someone you’ve kissed a lot before, or to want to stop mid-kiss.
It’s about you too
As a young teen, I remember feeling as though I had a responsibility to the people I was kissing (or doing anything else with) to please them, and pushing aside my own discomfort for the sake of fulfilling this self- and societally-imposed task. I was 14, and already acutely aware of the notion that some men expect female sexuality as a show to be performed for them. This is something I wish I had been able to unlearn sooner and that I hope to pass on to younger teens; it’s not selfish to want hooking up to be fun for you too, so long as it’s completely consensual. I think that if I had understood this concept when I was younger, I might have had an easier time putting it in practice, and perhaps other young girls would too.
If you can’t talk openly about it, don’t do it
This is another hugely important and personal tip (who am I kidding, all of this advice is important and personal!). A sign of a healthy and mature relationship is being able to talk about your likes, your dislikes, your wants, and desires, in a sexual context or otherwise. If talking about these things causes either you or your partner(s) to break out in a nervous sweat, erupt into giggles, or completely shut down out of shame or embarrassment, there’s a very strong chance the two of you are not ready to actually do whatever it is you are trying to discuss. It doesn’t matter if the subject in question is merely holding hands or having sex.
It’s okay to have questions
And it’s even more than okay to ask them, especially if you’re asking a trusted adult or health resource. I know when many of my friends and I were younger, we feared asking questions about sex and sexuality because it could be awkward, or because we didn’t want to sound dumb and inexperienced in front of others. When you’re a preteen or teenager (or sometimes even an adult), you might feel tempted to either keep your questions about sex bottled up, or only ask your peers. While you can definitely learn valuable things from your friends about their experiences with sex and sexuality, there are some things that other preteens just won’t be able to answer, or that they might get very, very wrong. This is where asking a trusted adult or looking to a medical resource can be helpful. Planned Parenthood offers sex education classes at many schools, but if your or your child’s school is not one of them, they also have a fantastic list of resources on sex and sexual health on their website. Here are some of my favorite resources below.
Obviously, I had a lot of warped perceptions about sex and sexuality when I was younger, some of which I’m still trying to shake today. However, having a solid understanding of the advice above has really helped me to have a healthier relationship with both myself and others, and can hopefully do the same for other young girls.
Do you have any tips you wish you had known as a preteen, or that you want to share with a younger family member? Let me know in the comments below.