Care and Feeding

How Much Should I Share With My Teen About My Own Sexual History?

What about when they’re an adult?

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How much of one’s past sordid sexual history can one share with one’s teenage children? What about with adult children? I understand every circumstance and every child is different.

— Genuinely Curious

Dear G.C.,

In most situations, I’d think that the disclosure of sexual history to a teenager would come on a need-to-know basis—for example, during cautionary discussions about dating and hooking up, or while commiserating in the wake of some event in your child’s own sexual life that they’ve shared with you. Adult children are more inclined to be having such candid talk if that’s how they communicate with their parents in general, or, again, in light of something that’s taken place that may find them seeking support. Most of us are not socialized to discuss the “sordid” details of sex with our parents or our children, so we don’t always know how to process the information we get when we do have those conversations.

However, as you said, every circumstance is different. I’ve had girlfriends over the years who were bestie-close with their mothers, and they talked about everything; I’ve known others who were just as tight, but drew the line at sex. I’ve also had a few adult conversations with my own mother about our respective sexual histories, and while I’m relatively comfortable sharing (a PG-version of) personal highlight or two, I am less so when it comes to hearing her talk about her own stuff.

As you decide what you may or may not want to share with your kids (or, perhaps assess some disclosures that have already happened), consider the entire relationship between the parent and progeny in question. Do you generally speak openly about difficult subjects? Have you had a sex-positive approach when it comes to addressing sex and sexuality? Can you trust your kids to handle this information? Again, think about why you’re considering opening up as well. Does it serve them to know? What’s the point of the reveal? Are you looking to warn? To bond? Do they want to know this stuff? Be clear on your intentions, which should be a bit more specific than merely being “open.”

—Jamilah

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