What Age Is Too Soon? Teen Girls & “The Conversation”
Written by Martina Hughes
It can be very difficult to know when the right time is for “the conversation” with teenagers.
I wonder how much of it is about the teen’s readiness and how much is about the parent or caregiver’s discomfort.
It requires a high level of willingness to be uncomfortable and have the conversation that needs to be had to serve their child.
Another point worth considering is whether it is one conversation or a series of ongoing conversations and explorations together.
Personally, I prefer the second option, as there is something about keeping the lines of communication open and leaving space for a teen’s curiosity that is important. For them to know I have their back and it’s safe to come and continue the conversation when questions arise.
I remember being 14 years old and hearing the significant caregivers in my life - Mum, Nan and one of my Aunts - talking about how I wasn’t interested in boys.
As I reflect on it now, I can still feel the authoritative nature of their voices, as though they really knew what was going on for me. If they had asked me whether I was interested in boys, I most likely would have said no. Not because it was true, but I had figured out that it was best to say what they wanted or expected to hear. I saw this as a great way to minimize conflict and avoid them trying to have uncomfortable conversations with me, that I didn’t feel safe to have.
This is why the conversations about pleasure, consent, sex, embodiment, self-worth, and self-pleasure need to start before the teenager is ‘ready’.
It gives their nervous system time to process and integrate the knowledge and time to explore how they actually feel about these topics before peer group pressure starts.
As our capacity to know when teens are ready may be limited by our own comfort or discomfort in talking about the topic, it may also be impacted by our own early sexual experiences, a teenager may hide her interest in sex from you as a way to avoid her own awkwardness.
Sometimes the difference between being disinterested in sex and interested in sex can be one day in a teen’s life. I remember feeling awkward, shy, interested in boys, but thinking they wouldn’t be interested in me. And then all of a sudden, one boy paid attention to me, which led to another boy paying attention to me, and then another. For anyone watching it would have looked like I went from studious, responsible and disinterested in boys to obsessing over who liked me overnight.
But all of those things can be true at the same time - studious and responsible and very curious about boys and sex. It was for me.
I remember seeing it in friends at the time. From the outside, it looked like they weren’t really interested, they were more into their schoolwork and the next day, they were very keen to have a boyfriend.
I have also seen it in the children of friends - the transition to young and sexually vibrant teenager can appear to happen overnight. But what we often don’t see is the process that the teenager has been working through in their own way, as it is such a deeply personal experience.
This is why pre-teens need to be having aware conversations about puberty, consent, pleasure, sexuality, and relationships. It needs to start young, as some youngsters are hit with hormones, sexual desires and curiosity earlier than others.
Often waiting until the teen is ready, means that the conversation doesn’t happen until after the teenager is already sexually active.
There is no one right age or time.
Each teenager will be different.
From observing Rod talking with his son (when he was early to mid-teen years) about girls, consent, relationships, sex, and self-pleasure, I can see that there were uncomfortable moments for both of them at times.
But waiting until it is comfortable means it will never happen.
Or it will be too late, when they have already explored the conversation with friends and other poorly informed sources.
On the weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing Rod’s son contribute to our conversation about relationships and sexuality, and I was delighted to witness his mature insights and wisdom.
He is 19 years old, and yet has a lot of sensitivity and understanding about what is needed to make an intimate relationship work. This is the result of having a variety of conversations over many years.
This is why I am creating resources that will support teenage girls to:
• Develop an intuitive and empowering connection with their bodies
• Understand healthy consent, discernment, and boundaries
• Distinguish between lust driving their actions and when respect and real connection is alive
• Place their own needs for safety, support, and intimacy above any sense of obligation
• Have the conversations that need to be had with potential partners
• Be willing to walk away from anything that doesn’t feel right
• Enjoy healthy curiosity about their desires and what is possible in a loving sexual connection
I hope you follow along as this line of work evolves. Join the mailing list below to receive supportive resources for guiding your teenager through these important years.
With Love, Martina
Need more support?
Be notified of new resources that support you to guide your teenager to build healthy relationships.
Shame Is Never The Answer
Imagine having conversations with teenage boys where they are not demonised for their sexuality or gender? We would create more loving, sensitive and aware young men.Read More...
Getting Clear About Consent With Teens
Our teenagers need healthy and supportive spaces to understand consent, beyond just saying yes or no.Read More...
What is Healthy Sexuality?
What if we were taught that pleasure and sensation and sexual energy are beautiful aspects of life to be treasured and embodied?Read More...