Tag Archives: Sex Talks

Coaching on Coercion

I read that essay on Aziz Ansari and “Grace.” I related to Grace since I have experienced a similar situation a few times in my day. I never thought I had been assaulted, but I definitely felt like I had experienced something incredibly unpleasant and really wrong. I’ll say this, none of the situations I found my way out of featured a dude who apologized after the fact.

Yeah, been there, done that.

And then I developed some skills. I learned how to avoid those situations whenever possible. I paid attention to my spidey sense. I learned to gracefully and ungracefully extricate myself from situations that made me uncomfortable. I learned to find my own voice about consent.

Sadly, I didn’t get to this place until I was probably in my early 30s.

I have tried to normalize conversations about sex and relationships with Hope. I’m certainly not encouraging her to go out and get her swerve on, but I want her to feel confident about herself, her body and her ability to make good decisions about all of this.

Since last summer we’ve spent more time talking about sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement. We talk about assault. We talk about catcalling. We talk about harassment. I try to be frank and direct with Hope, but I’m also sensitive about what kinds of things might be triggering. I bring it up in the car since that seems to be the super safe space for us. A lot of what we’ve discussed are pretty clear cut cases of sexual misconduct. After mulling over the messy case of “Grace” and Ansari, I realized that even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about consent with Hope, I hadn’t coached my daughter about something more subtle and insidious in sexual relationships—persistent coercion.

You like the guy/gal. You’re hanging out. Things get a little hot and heavy. You don’t feel as comfortable as you did 3 minutes ago. You kind of put your hands up and push back, but things get a little more insistent. You break away, but your partner tries to soothe your fears; maybe says they just dig you so much; they are really, really into you and don’t you dig them too? You do, and you might even say that you want things to slow down a bit. You might even say no verbally. Your partner goes back to the pursuit, a little stronger, a little bolder; whispering how into you they are and how this feels so right. You don’t think it feels totally right, but you dig the person and don’t want to wreck the flow. You might even feel like you still have control of this situation, but maybe losing that control kinda quickly.

You consent to do a few things; they do a few things and everything continues to escalate. Both of you are breathless. But it doesn’t feel so right so you try to slow things down again, but the pursuit, gentle as it may be, continues. You also still really dig this person and you begin to wonder what will happen if you really stopped everything right now. Will the budding relationship end? Will it get violent? You don’t think they will *really* hurt you will they? Will you seem like a tease after what you’ve done already? What will happen now? Can you even stop this right now after you did what you did? Was that consent for *everything?* And how do you stop or slow down things again without a making this a big deal? The cycle goes on and on until you are just worn down and you just give in and ‘consent’ to activities that you really don’t want to do. Afterwards you feel like crap, but your partner might not even notice, not because they are a rapist but because their twisted concept of consent means y’all are both cool with what just went down.

Yeah, that scenario. Is it assault? Not really. Did you consent? Worn down is a better characterization. Do you have regrets? Forever yes. Do you continue seeing that person? Maybe, maybe not.

I recently asked Hope had she heard about the Ansari/Grace story. She’s heard a little, so we did a recap and I asked her what she thought about it. We batted that around a bit, and then I got a bit more specific—“What if you were Grace? What would you have done and when?” And because it can’t just be a gendered lesson, “What if you were Ansari? What would you have done and when?” Everyone should learn about giving and getting consent. We talked about how to extricate ourselves from situations that don’t make us feel good. We talked about more than just regular safety concerns; we discussed the need to feel good emotionally about our decisions and choices. We talked about that middle ground that seems to exist between enthusiastic consent and reluctant consent.

This was probably one of our more delicate conversations about sex. I shared about some of my experiences and how old I was when they happened so that Hope would understand that I was older and still not as sure of myself as I thought at the time. I shared about how I felt after a particular situation, and noted that that relationship didn’t go far after that. I never demonized my partners, but I also didn’t portray them as the knights in shining armor that a 16 year old girl probably would either. We were and are just regular folks making some not great decisions at a point in our lives. I talked about what I wished I had done differently.

For her part, Hope shared the goings on of a date she had last year and how she handled herself. I was glad she felt comfortable enough to share with me. #thrilled I was so proud of her, and coached her on how to identify coercion and things to say and do in the future to be clear about her expectations and her ability to give or withhold consent.

Sure, we’ll still talk about just good decision making regarding sex, but I’m realizing that it’s this grayish area that I will continue to talk to my daughter about. When she becomes active, I want her to feel confident in her choices and to have skills to react to unwanted pressure. I want Hope to be in control of her whole life, including the sexual life that she eventually chooses.

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Parenting in the Era of #MeToo

As my fellow sisters continue to take to social media to share their experiences around sexual harassment, assault and other predatory behavior, I’ve been thinking about how all this affects Hope and kids like her.

Hope is 16. We watch the news, and I try to keep her abreast of current events. Last year, we sat and watched Bill Cosby’s legacy tumble down as numerous women came forward to say he sexually assaulted them. For me, it was painful to watch the Jello pitchman, Cliff Huxtable, lovable, funny guy I grew up watching shed all of that and be revealed as a sexual predator. He wasn’t a part of Hope’s youth, so it was more removed for her.

But the moment that we’re in now where the revelations are weekly or daily, where a senatorial candidate has been accused of trolling for girls close in age to Hope, where social media is flooded with stories of #metoo: it’s kind of triggering for both of us.

So many kids have a history of sexual abuse; nearly 1 kid in 10 among all kids, and over 1 in 4 of US kids 14 to 17 years old. When this latest moment launched, Hope and I had a really personal #metoo discussion. I shared my stories with her, and she shared a little bit of her story too. I thought it was important for me to talk about things that I felt were violating, so Hope could continue to develop her own benchmarks. We talked about limits, about how to defend ourselves against unwanted advances, and about who and how to tell when something unwanted happens. I wanted this conversation to help both of us feel empowered.

A few days later, on the way to school and while listening to a pop culture podcast, the topic came up again. This time I focused on being clear with Hope about my hope and expectation that she tell me if she’s ever hurt. We’ve already established that I have a tiny bit of Huck from Scandal in me, and I promise to try not to straight up murder anyone who hurts her (torture might be more fulfilling anyway). I wanted her to understand that I want her to be safe and that I am prepared to do whatever I need to do to make that happen.

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We’ve had talks about dating safety and what that looks like In practice. We talk about consent and slippery slopes that aren’t consent. I posted this summer a podcast series that I listened too, The Heart, that explore how many women are “gently” pressured into sex when they were clear they didn’t want to have sex. The show explored how insidious pressure can be and how easily a no can be converted to not a yes, but a “well, ok, but I’m not really into it.” We talked about always making sure you have bus fare and that maybe, just maybe I should let her in on my Lyft app so she can always get a ride if she finds herself in a not so safe situation. We talk about how you can hold your keys so they can be used as a weapon.

We talk a lot.

And still, it feels like we’re oversaturated with news of predatory behavior.

Earlier this week over breakfast as we watched coverage about Matt Laurer, Hope asked, “Is that the one who flashed himself from the bathroom?” No that was allegedly two other guys. “The one from that Netflix show?” No he seemed into assaulting men and being an a-hole to both genders. “Ok I know it’s not Bill Cosby because this guy is white.” I finally remind her that we used to watch Today until they did Tamron Hall wrong, and I switched to CNN. “Oh…oh yeah.”

There’s seriously so many stories tumbling around that it’s hard to keep up.

I try not to be alarmist with Hope. She has enough anxiety without my contributions, but I do want her to be aware of what’s happening and how relevant the discourse is to her life. More importantly, I want her to learn so she can be safe in ways that affirm her confidence and security. It’s hard though; it’s hard right now when we’re having conversations about high profile predators in positions of power making decisions about other people’s lives. This is some scary ish.

The best I can do, is keep talking, keep affirming, and keep my inner Huck contained.

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Keeping it Real

We are in the mid-teen stretch. Band season has started, and school starts in another week. Hope and I are, as always, trying to find our way in the world.

Recently we were out doing some school shopping. We needed to pick up all kinds of things, and the next thing I know Hope wants to talk about really personal stuff.

She wants to have the conversation at Target on a busy afternoon and not with an inside voice. It’s always Target. Seriously that damn bullseye.

Seriously

I really started talking to Hope about sex about two years ago. I decided early that I wanted to be the mom that she could talk to about anything. We have our own little code for initiating these conversations—our code tells the other that this is a time for grace, no super emotional drama, no attacks, no drama. We focus on facts, but I do get to share my opinion as long as it is presented respectfully and focuses on helping her with her decision making and not imposing my will. My daughter has survived a lot of things; I want to be her ally. I want her to make good, informed decisions. I want to teach her values, and help her understand how values play out in your life. I also wanted to deliberate about promoting body and sex positivity.

All of this isn’t just laying groundwork; it’s about rewiring. My daughter is still young, but there are some really icky things that are in her original wiring that need some work. So, I work hard to be positive.

I also think it’s been important to talk about agency, choices, emotions, and control. Often during these conversations, I find myself recounting my observations about some of her decisions—not critical, not saying they were wrong, just how I read them and how other people might read them. I also share what I think the motivation might have been. It also makes me reflect on my own life and choices; I find myself reframing my own life lessons and distilling them for her.

I love that Hope feels like she can talk to me about this stuff. I didn’t have these kinds of chats with my parents. That’s no shade on them; Hope and I have a bit of a different situation because of her history. Every now and then she will mention that she had these confabs with her friends and she will say that the kids wished their parents were able to talk to them. #winning

So, how did our conversations start? Well, I came up with some logical statements that I thought would meet my daughter where she is at any given time. They are also so simplistic that sometimes they make us giggle—not just because of the subject matter but because the statements should be obvious on their face.

ABM’s Logical Relationship & Sex Chat Mottos

  • Relationship status (monogamous and committed) should be clear before considering physical activity that goes beyond a hug and a peck on the cheek. Know where you stand.
  • Potential partners should care about your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and you should be able to tell they care in their word and deed.
  • If you are too afraid to ask where you stand, then things might be moving too fast and/or there is evidence that you’re not moving in the same direction towards a monogamous and committed relationship.
  • Take your time, you are not a Monarch butterfly with the life cycle of 2-6 weeks. You have a lifetime to live; there is no need to rush into any decisions or *make* anything happen (especially by the homecoming dance).
  • It’s good to be courted; yes, it makes you feel vulnerable and not in control. The upside is you deserve to be treated well and cherished.
  • Know how physical expression fits into what you believe spiritually; does your partner know that about you? Do they share your values? Is there a disconnect and if so is that a deal breaker?
  • It’s good to know where your boundaries are before you bump up against them and are in a situation that is too much for you. Figure out where your “bases” are before you are on the “field.”
  • Consent is essential for both parties. If you don’t discuss it, you can’t definitively say you have given it or received it. If it’s not talked about directly then you have a slippery slope in the moment that may result in activity that isn’t what you really you want.
  • Your body is yours; own your agency. If your partner doesn’t get that, take a pass; they aren’t worth it. Also, your mom is crazy, so…there’s that.
  • If you are embarrassed to say the words vagina and penis in a sentence, you are probably not mature enough to get together with someone and use yours for expression and entertainment.
  • If you can’t have a chat about previous history and hook ups, then you aren’t close enough to the person to bump uglies.
  • If buying condoms or any other kind of protection is mortifying consider how mortifying it might be to see the family doctor to discuss your new friends “itchy, scratch and oozy.” Pregnancy might be the least of your worries.
  • Physical attraction can be really intense; so much so that it can make you do dumb ish that you think is ok until the morning or moment after. That time can be really crazy—you and your partner’s connection make the difference between it being a walk of shame or basking in some dumb romantic novel scene.
  • Focus on the bigger picture. Sex is a physical activity that is as much expression as exercise. It should fit into something else; not be free standing. It shouldn’t stand alone; it was never intended to be and  we know that from our spiritual references and because of our emotional reaction to sex. Keep focusing on the big picture and understanding what a healthy relationship will look like for you. Thinking about sex first is backwards in the decision making process.

So that’s where we are these days. I’d love to hear how other families are navigating their chats about sex and relationships. I think Hope and I have a good thing going. I smiled when she said recently that she had reflected on something I said at a critical moment. I just want her to feel confident about herself and her choices.

So, what strategies have worked well with your family?


And Stuff

I’m on the phone with Hope last night, and she’s singing her favorite songs to me.  I love this kid!  She’s always reading something to me or singing to me.  I know when she does that, that’s she’s locked in; it’s one of the ways we bond.   Tonight she’s serving up a Justin Bieber concert.

And if I ever see Justin Bieber, I’m punching that little punk in the face and the gut.  Does this dude really have my kid singing about BJs on this song Hold Tight?  What in the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on??

Picture it:

Hope:  [Singing away, she’s got a nice voice by the way.]

ABM: [Furiously, googling song lyrics so I can read along and get a better sense of what Bieber is singing about]

Hope:  Ok, I’m done.

ABM:  Hope that was awesome!  But, er, um, those lyrics…they are a bit naughty don’t you think?

Hope:  [Exasperated] What do you mean?  I mean, all of his songs are about love.

ABM:  Well while you were singing, I looked up the lyrics so I could follow along.

Hope:  You looked up the lyrics?

ABM:   Yeah, I do that.  So, what do you think this song is about?

Hope:  He’s talking about kissing in this song…and stuff.

Yeah, it’s that “and stuff” that has me wanting to limit her musical exploration to instrumental jazz and gospel forever.   Nevertheless, we had a brief discussion about music, lyrics “and stuff.”  It went ok, even if it was a wee bit awkward; I just didn’t want to miss this opportunity to start talking about some important topics.

Bieber clearly thinks we missed the naughtiness of the lyrics, saying, “I am a hopeless romantic so when I love someone, I never want to let them go. This song is about the rush you get when you have that feeling. No matter how hard you try, you can’t let that person go. You just want to hold on as tight as you can. I tried to capture that with this one.”

Yeah, ok Biebs…Ok, I see you.

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I’ve been around the block more than a few times.  I love good lyricists, and I love reading lyrics.  I like to pick them apart, figuring out what they mean, how artists put the words over music, how the lyrics stand alone.  Not all lyrics are poetry; some lyrics are just a bunch of crap strung together.  These lyrics are actually clever; just hidden enough but hardly hidden at all.

If Hope wasn’t signing them over and over, and wasn’t proclaiming Hold Tight as her new favorite song, then I probably could see the lyrics through a different lens. The lyrics aren’t poetry, but they are clever in riding the line that allows Bieber to deny alternative meanings.

The upside of this new Bieber vendetta of mine is realizing that music will likely be a gateway for us to talk about all kinds of things, including sex “and stuff.”  That’s a very good thing.  I like that she keeps a song book and carefully transcribes lyrics.  I look forward to nurturing a love of lyrics derived from creative writing that results in really good poetry over music.

In the meantime I need to go look up lyrics for all these little teen singers to see what’s going on in that world.  Fun times ahead.


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