How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every Thursday night, the crew will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week, the worst kind of tell-all.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a mother of two lovely and happy kids, both in their early 20s. We’re very close and talk frequently. We started talking about sex early, and positively, and consciously kept an open line so they knew they had support if they needed it. My son had a long-term girlfriend in high school, and I came to realize they were having sex, so I just made sure he had the facts about safety. My daughter is beautiful but very shy, and I essentially knew she was a virgin through college. She’s now living in a big city after graduation and is “blooming,” I guess you could say. I am happy for her, but the problem, to be blunt, is that she won’t shut up to me about it! She tells me fairly graphic details about every man she dates, and even one time about a man she met in a bar and had a one-night stand with.
I’ve registered mild objections to these conversations, but 1) I don’t think she has close girlfriends to talk about this, and 2) I don’t want to make her feel ashamed or like she can’t talk to me. How do I support her, remain positive, but at least set up some boundaries? I’m worried that when she finally brings a man home, I’m going to know about his endowment before I even meet him.
—Kiss and Tell Your Mom
Stoya: Oh boy. I think mom needs to dive straight in, set a boundary, and suggest her daughter put effort into making friends she can talk about this stuff with appropriately.
Rich: Yeah, that the daughter possibly doesn’t have friends to talk about this with is a little heartbreaking.
Stoya: Making female friends can feel scarier than dating.
Rich: And even if she does, people have such vastly different reactions to sex talk—the daughter could be walking into some shaming by choosing to share this information with the wrong person. You often have to build a sense of trust to know how these personal revelations will be received.
I think it’s probably really hard for the daughter to know where the line is because it sounds like it’s never been set.
Rich: This is the problem with mediating openness. It can feel very all or nothing: You’re open or closed. You’re talking or not talking. It’s unclear how much is too much information. I’m sure the mother never thought this far ahead when she was raising her kids.
Stoya: I mean, who does?
Rich: It’s also difficult to set boundaries because she doesn’t quite know what they are. This is a real be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario. She fostered this dynamic a bit too well.
Stoya: The mom could maybe make a list of things that have felt like oversharing—like, uh, the dick size of partners—and see if there’s some line that becomes apparent when it’s on paper.
Rich: Also, it’s really OK to spell out just what she did in her letter: “I support you, and I certainly don’t want to shame you, but it gets a little awkward when you cross this line or go into that amount of detail.” And you know, there’s a question about whether the daughter has friends to talk about this with, so talk about that too.
Stoya: Absolutely. The mom could steer her daughter toward sex-positive spaces: munches, classes, workshops, mixers. Almost every big city has them. And she might find people who are just as shy as she is. Kinksters (including myself) can be quite awkward, just like everyone else.
I think also the writer underlining what she does want to hear about could be helpful. Like: “I do want to know how he treats you, how the two of you interact over small life things, and if anything alarming happens sexually, please do feel free to come to me.” Or whatever her comfort zone is.
Rich: Yes. I think it’s important to remember that, and it’s really OK for you not to be able to be all things to one person, you know? So framing it that way, if the daughter reacts badly, could be useful too. I unfortunately can’t draw on many concrete examples here because I’ve never really talked too much about sex with my parents. I basically have to make myself family-blind to write about sex. I don’t know if I have the patience to explain gay stuff to them to the degree that it would be useful to promote empathy. We don’t have that kind of relationship, and while I see advantages to the type that our letter writer details, I’m really OK with it being this way.
Stoya: I must quote one of my own parents—“some of us chose to live our lives in public, and others of us did not”—and leave it at that. But I have, as a compulsive oversharer, been on the receiving end of requests from people in my life to avoid too much detail about certain subjects. Sexual subjects. A firm expression of a boundary feels fine to receive. It’s less pleasant when the person is visibly uncomfortable, so it’s better to express that boundary sooner.
Rich: Totally. And it can be useful to have someone help you determine that boundary. I want to be as real as possible with people but not to the point of being off-putting, so having someone help me sort that out is actually comforting to me. As opposed to feeling shut down, it helps manage my expression. And I love a good manager.
Stoya: Guidelines are great. For me, it’s: “I’ve become so used to nudity and in-depth discussions of fisting that I sometimes forget that isn’t normal.” Boundaries take the guesswork out of it, or remind us of social norms. If sex is a new area for the writer’s daughter, she’s probably doing a lot of guessing right now.
Rich: I think in some ways, parents never stop raising their children regardless of age. This is just one more example of that—it’s really not at all out of step with the work this mother has performed so far. In a way, she’s just seeing through the work she started.
Stoya: She’s far more experienced with parenting than both of us. So she’s probably got this more under control than she thinks and just needs the encouragement to put that skill set to use.
More How to Do It
My husband wanted to try anal. I didn’t want to. I let myself be talked into trying. I hated it. We tried again. I hated it. We tried with toys of slowly increasing sizes. I hated it. We tried five different lubes, so much of it that the towels protecting the bed had to be thrown out. We tried different starting positions, going very slowly, the whole nine yards. He tried receiving it to prove that he’s willing to experience the same thing. He didn’t hate it or find it painful at all. I still hate every minute of it. Is it fair to take this off the menu for good?