{Let’s Talk About Sex} Tweens, Sex & the Essence Article That Scared the Crap Out Of Me

A few weeks ago, I dropped my Mari off for her first day of middle school and watched her trot up the long walkway to the junior high building, and then I promptly pulled my car around the corner and cried like a baby with a nasty head cold. An ugly, snotty cry.

I mean, I recognize that our job is to keep our babies from killing their fool selves as they march toward being grown up human beings and that we have to learn to let go a little, but on that day, as she pecked my cheek and bounced away from my car, it was very, very clear to me that, well, I ain’t ready for all that.

But in my quiet moments, when I really consider the kind of mother I am and especially the kind of mom I want to be to my babies, I recognize that I have to get ready. Especially for my Mari, who, at age 12, is hurtling head first into puberty and teenhood and all the stuff that comes with the two.

It’s the “stuff” that scares me—the stuff being the boys and the peer pressure and the self-consciousness and the sneaking and the rebellion and the false sense of maturity. I was a teenager once. I remember the mean girls. The cute boys and their sweet talk. The friends with the basements and the liquor cabinets and parents who turned a blind eye. How we all slathered on our war paint—our mom’s mascara and lipstick—and ran toward the fire, books and grades and what we learned at church on Sunday morning be damned.

And that was in the 80s—the good ol’ days before FaceBook and Twitter and smart phones with text messaging and Nikki Minaj videos that give detailed visual instructions on how to give half-naked men lap dances started playing between “G-rated” kids’ programming on Saturday mornings, all while the kids are slurping down their cereal. (I’m not kidding on that last point. Minaj’s Super Bass really is a staple on a channel for children. WTF?)

These days, the temptations, the access, the pressure to do what you’re not ready to do is insane. Epic. I was reminded of this not by any grand screw up by my kids or their friends, but by an article in the October issue of Essence. I promise you, Jeannine Amber’s feature, “Our Teen’s Secret Sex Lives,” in which she interviews kids as young as 13 about the pressures to have sex, scared the bejeezus out of me. The boys are watching porn on their cell phones and then demanding girls perform the acts on them; the girls are being harassed into having sex, and being mentally and physically abused at school and online if they don’t comply—and even if they do. Teen pregnancy and STDs are soaring, particularly among African American teens. But kids, no matter their economic, social, educational, racial or cultural background, are facing the wrath of sexual madness. Said Johanna Wright, a New Jersey health teacher who sees all of the crazy firsthand:

“What parents don’t understand is these kids are experimenting with things in middle school that their parents did when they were in college,” says Wright. Over the years, Wright has counseled students who have contracted a startling range of STIs, including gonorrhea of the throat, as well as children who were caught performing oral sex in empty classrooms while other students watched. “Kids are seeing these things on TV and the Internet and they are acting them out,” she explains. “We are experiencing a sexual revolution and it’s only getting worse.”

It was the story of one little girl, Jasmine, that really rang my alarm. In the piece, the 13-year-old recalls losing her virginity to her ex, who, of course, told her he loved her and then promptly broke up with her after he got what he wanted. Still, she finds herself in trying predicaments with other boys.

“Even when you say you really don’t want to do it, a boy will start touching you and maybe there’s some nice sexy song playing and then he’ll tell you you’re a good kisser. It’s just like a magical moment and it gets all crazy,” she says. “Once that happens you just forget about how bad you didn’t want to do it.” This is what Jasmine really wants to talk to her mother about. She thinks if she could be more candid her mother might be able to answer her most pressing question. “I wish she would tell me how to say no,” she says.

THIS. This is what keeps me up at night. Because the last image I want floating in my head is one of my daughter with some bubbleheaded boy telling her lies to get to what is sacred, and her sitting in her room, confused and heartbroken, too afraid to come to me for info on how to harness the feelings and protect her heart and body and save herself for the right moment with the right person.

Thank God, I’m not Jasmine’s mom. But I am Mari’s and Lila’s, and I want something different for my girls. I’ve been talking to them about sex since they were old enough to ask how babies are made; no discussion has been off-limits for them. We’ve talked about boobs and body hair. Periods. Wet dreams. Teen pregnancy, abortion and sexually-transmitted diseases. The real way babies are made—not that stork business. But after reading that Essence article and kicking off the Let’s Talk About Sex series on MyBrownBaby, I recognize that this simply is not enough. My girls need more.

Deserve more.

So today I dry my tears, let go of my resistance to my Mari growing up and push the fear aside. Today, we get more real than ever about everything—love, trust, intimacy and sex.

For more great essays from moms who are talking about how to talk to their kids about sex, check out the MyBrownBaby Let’s Talk About Sex series.

As part of their month-long Let’s Talk campaign, Planned Parenthood also released a set of new resources that put special focus on encouraging parents to talk to their kids, including:

  • An online photo flipbook featuring actor and comedian Aisha Tyler, writer and producer Luisa Leschin, actor Kathleen Turner, and everyday people reminiscing about conversations they’ve had with their own parents and children about sex.
  • A humorous, teachable-moment video that shows parents being confronted with questions about sex from kids of all ages and backgrounds. The video, to be released in mid-October, is an amusing yet useful look at how parents can effectively respond to their children’s questions about sex.
  • A revamped “Tools for Parents” section of plannedparenthood.org that features tips to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexual health, build strong parent-child relationships, and set rules for their teens that help keep them safe and healthy.
  • An online social networking experience that guides parents through the steps of developing the messages they want to give their children and gets them ready to have conversations during Let’s Talk Month and beyond.

Additionally, the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU (CLAFH) will make available Families Talking Together (FTT), a family-based program designed to support effective parent-adolescent communication among African-American and Latino families. FTT is available in both English and Spanish and can be accessed at the CLAFH website, www.nyu.edu/socialwork/clafh.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I live in Oakland, CA and the things depicted in the Essence article, especially the kids in empty classrooms performing oral sex on each other, have happened to grade schoolers as young as age 7. Yes, second graders. It makes me so very sad and it is frightening. But we can’t frightened into immobility. I let my daughters and my son just talk to me and just sit and listen and take it all in. I let their friends talk too. You would be amazed at what kids hear and see but don’t know what exactly they are hearing and seeing. I would rather my kids and their friends come to me about what they are hearing, seeing and contemplating. I want them to get the advice and strategies they need to navigate through these pitfalls from me rather than to rely on others who do not have their best interests at heart. And who frankly wouldn’t know their butts from holes in the ground. I have had to dry my eyes, too, Denene. I’ve dried my eyes, pulled on my big girl panties, so to speak and had those tough, ‘Wow! I can’t believe I just defined that and that she even asked about it’ conversations with my kids and their friends. I am willing to sacrifice my rose colored glasses view of how adolescence SHOULD be for my crystal clear as a bell, CK glasses view of how adolescence is in REALITY for many of our children. Its either we have those conversations or we lose our children to diseases, unwanted pregnancies, heartache and mental and physical distress time and again.

    • I wish that more parents would wake up and understand that we are not living in the times that we grew up with the internet and peer pressure these are very different times.

  2. What a wonderful and important post, thank you.

  3. I am virtually standing on my chair and cheering. This is such a difficult time. Last year, my then 9 year old son was encouraged by his then 8 year old friend to go on the web and find porn. My 11 year old daughter is very annoyed by the male attention she is getting. We talk and talk and talk and I still worry. Thanks for a great post. I am going to put it on my blog FB page.

  4. Hey Denene! This post was so spot on. My Sabrina and your Mari are the same age, but Sabrina’s in her third year of middle school. Our town started in 5th grade. I’ve been worrying about all of the older child stuff that she would have to deal with as a result.

    Almost a year ago, she tells me that a boy who is 2 years older than her wants to be her boyfriend. OMG! I flipped out mentally. I set down the ground rules that they could be friends but not “boyfriend/girlfriend.” They were not allowed to hang out unsupervised. So far, so good. Now another boy wants to hang out with her, and he has an 18-year-old brother around, too. She tells me that she doesn’t want to deal with all of this dating stuff and doesn’t understand why I tell her that under no circumstances is she to be alone with the boy or his brother at any time.

    I remember all of the trouble I got into at her age, and I see the trouble that other girls who are her age and older are getting into now — and the feelings of powerlessness they have when they get into situations where sexual activity is “expected.” I know my baby is not ready for any of that, and I hope part of that is because I’ve treated her much like you have your girls. We talk about sex, how babies are conceived, what boys want, diseases, periods, body hair, etc., and have since she was little.

    I think it’s important for both of my girls to understand the world they’re growing up in and help them find the strength to say, “This is my body and my life, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me I have to do something I don’t want to.” Some members of my extended family disagree with my choices in how much to discuss with them. Too bad. I would rather they be aware of the realities of being a girl and woman in this world, so that they know what to expect, what’s ok, what’s not, and what to do when they are faced with these kinds of situations.

    Kudos to you, Denene! Your girls are very lucky to have you for a mom.

  5. Great post. I wish I had someone who talked to me instead of confusing the hell out of me half the time when I was mari’s age.
    Kids get lots of MIS-information and not enough correct information.
    Bravo you for being straight forward with the girls.

  6. This is a great post. It’s good that you’re being straight and honesty with your girls from the very beginning. I remember being young, and having my mother confuse the crap out of me. Didn’t explain WHY just told me not to do it (talk to boys, hang out with boys).

    I think once when parents are straight forward with our daughters and sons (it’s not right to lie to get what you want from someone), then hopefully the next generation will be more informed.

  7. Great post, Denene! This is exactly the kind of mom I want to be someday (no kiddos yet). Thanks for sharing!

  8. Great post Denene. I feel encouraged by all the positives talking about sex with their kids to open up more as I find itch a difficult ubject to tackle as no one talked about sex with me when I was growing up. I can tell you that the consequence of those non existence talks affected me tremendously in my young adult life. I made a lot of very bad choices as I was so naive and so desperate to be loved that I was taken advantage of.

    Believe me when I say that I certainly don’t intend to make the same mistakes with my kids by not talking about SEX and I hope every parent find the time and the courage to have this most important relationship with their kids. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Am I the only one who senses the sexism in only painting the boys as sexual aggressors? Based on statistics and personal experience, most girls start having sexual thoughts and feelings, and even masturbating around 12 or 13, so it is entirely reasonable to think that these girls are also exercising their own sexuality and not being victims of a boy’s sexuality. If you haven’t discussed this and talked about healthy ways to explore one’s sexuality, you are far behind on your otherwise amazing and wonderful work with these girls.

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