I love my mother, and she is very accepting of me in most areas of my life, but she can’t seem to handle the idea of my becoming a sexual being. She doesn’t want me to read Reddit, Scarleteen, OR EVEN ROOKIE (and won’t buy me the Rookie Yearbooks) because they are, in her words, “inappropriate” for me. She regularly checks my internet history and acts as if I’m sick or perverted for wanting to learn about sex from healthy, positive sources. I’m not even remotely sexually active, and it’s not like I go around spouting sex-positive opinions in front of her, but my mother’s rejection of the very stuff that feeds the unique, artistic, creative parts of my brain makes me feel oppressed. I would like to have a reasonable discussion with her about all of this. Do you have any advice about what I can tell her? —Liberated & Humiliated, 15, St. Louis
First of all (and there’s a slim chance you don’t already know this, but just in case), L&H, I want to tell you about the wonderful world of private browsing. Most web browsers, including Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, have an option in the “File” menu that lets you look at websites without saving them to your browser history. In order not to arouse (hahaha) suspicion, use this feature only for forbidden sites and keep another, non-private window open in which you occasionally click around to more-innocuous sites. Then GO FORTH AND CHECK OUT ALL THE HOT ’N’ SEXY EDUCATION THE INTERNET HAS TO OFFER.
More important, though, I want to commend you for leaning more heavily on the “liberated” side of things than the “humiliated” part—it must be difficult to have a parent who is so profoundly dedicated to making a normal, healthy, and electrifyingly rad part of life feel shameful and wrong, and you seem to handle this with great thoughtfulness and maturity. Your mom should realize how lucky she is that you’re even trying to talk to her about this stuff to begin with! [In cartoon old-lady voice] When I was a teenager, my mom would kick my boyfriends out of the house if she caught us even cuddling under her roof. Instead of wanting to help her understand, I just started going to their houses instead. If I had been mature enough to actually talk to her instead of huffily slamming whatever bro’s car door in her face and otherwise pushing her out of my business, she and I both would probably have been much better off for it. Your mom, though misguided, is most likely coming from a place of love and concern for you, and although you disagree with her, it’s good to keep that in mind. #empathy #giveitupformoms #butseriouslyalsogiveitupforprivatebrowsingtho
I admire your patience and willingness to stay open with your mom, and am so glad that you have the presence of mind to understand that your interest in sex isn’t, like, “deviant” or anything—especially as you’re not even having it yet! If you think it’s possible to have an open discourse with her, next time she demeans your interest in a thing that most of us are literally programmed by our biology to be interested in, present her with the facts. Tell her that roughly 70% of people begin having sex during their teenage years, so your interest in it is far from abnormal. Tell her that knowing the safest methods for avoiding sexual risks like STIs and unwanted pregnancy—and how to have consensual, positive experiences—is important to you, even if you don’t plan on getting it on anytime soon, and that it should be to her too: According to this study, teenagers represent only a quarter of the sexually active population, but account for almost half of new STI cases each year, and one-fifth of all accidental pregnancies. Ask her in a non-accusatory way if she’d rather you not have the information you need to protect yourself while also letting her know that it’s unrealistic for her to expect you to stay a virgin forever. Say something like, “My health is important to me, and leaving my reproductive health out of that would be irresponsible. I don’t see anything wrong with my having the information I need to take care of myself.”
I also want to note that you aren’t required to have these conversations. In some (not all, but some) cases, it can be better to leave our parents out of the sex-loop, for everyone’s sanity. You say you’re not the one starting these conversations, either, and if your mom is constantly bringing up how sexuality is actually just perversion or whatever out of nowhere, that’s a little troubling to me. If she’s making you uncomfortable at any point, just firmly tell her you don’t want to talk about it anymore and/or leave the room, and if she continues to raise her disapproval with you after you tell her what your boundaries are, I would recommend mentioning her behavior to another trusted adult or two. (I know “trusted adult” is an oxymoron, especially when it comes to matters of ~the loins~, but just find someone who you think will listen to you without judgment.)
While you sound like you’ve already got this on lock, I worry that others in your situation might begin to internalize your mom’s brand of sex-negativity, and the LAST thing any girl needs is to hear from yet another source in the world that boning, or being interested in boning, makes you a morally bankrupt slut-witch. If trying to talk it out just isn’t working for you, drop it, and rely on the resources you’ve already found in addition to places like Planned Parenthood and discussions with responsible friends/adults to help answer your questions. And seriously, give that private browsing window the workout of its life. X ARS
It seems like men I don’t know always want to call me “sweetie” or other such pet names. For example, when I get on the bus, the driver always calls me “sweetie,” even though I have never introduced myself or made any indication that it is all right to call me this. This morning, I was leaving the dentist’s office and the nurse remarked that I had no cavities, which prompted a man sitting nearby to blurt out, “Good girl!” It happens other times as well, but the point is that it needs to stop. I feel demeaned and annoyed whenever strangers do this, but I don’t really know how I should respond. It always catches me off guard, and though I always try to ignore these people and/or look as annoyed as possible, I never feel like I’m making a difference. How do I respond to these comments in an effective way? —Mar, 15, Minneapolis
As a onetime 15-year-old living in Minneapolis, I extra-identify with you, Mar. People calling you “sweetheart” can be infuriating, and “good girl” is just condescending—you’re a young woman, not a toy poodle that just successfully pooped on command. These “pet names” get to me even more because they’re also a reminder that the world has taught the men who use them that their opinions on everything are of high value, while teaching you that these men’s praise (or even glancing regard) is supposed to be taken as a compliment. Like you, I’ve tried many different responses—on various occasions, I’ve said, “Go fuck yourself,” ignored the dude completely, and opted for a castigating “Really?” or “I’m not your sweetheart.” Just go with whatever feels right or honest to you in the moment, but unfortunately there’s no foolproof comeback in these situations.
If this is a problem with someone you see all the time, like your bus driver, would you feel comfortable just firmly saying once (which, hopefully, will be enough) that you don’t appreciate these nicknames? Try telling them your name is not “sweetie,” it’s Mar (if you’re OK with being familiar with them in that way—if not, just stick to the first part). Or just flip it back at them so they can see how ridiculous it is: “Since you feel comfortable calling me ‘sweetie,’ should I address you the same way?” Anything that can be done to make people understand how ridiculously they’re behaving is a good way to get them to stop. But in the end, it’s not your job to explain it nicely. You are entitled to let these folks receive the reaction they earned by showing them how irritated you are when they call you these things. —Jessica