These four words are almost guaranteed to stop the blood flow of adults inhabiting a relationship, freeze their thought process, and turn their stomach into Mary Lou Retton.
'We have to talk'.
That phrase is rarely followed up with platitudes about ones' good sense of humor, or the recitation of the winning lottery numbers. No one says that as they stride into the Prom.
Let's shrink that thousand-yard-stare-inducing phrase in half, to "The Talk". That's what parents are supposed to have with their children when puberty has either hit, or shown the tip of its sunrise on their child's horizon for the first time.
I know a couple with a 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter. They are, for all intents and purposes, a well-adjusted family. They travel together, have dinner most nights together, seem to genuinely like each other, and both kids are over-achieving at school and involved in sports.
But sex is rearing its ugly head, and all four of them know it. What first brought this to the fore was their daughter Lisa's impending trip to her high school's Sadie Hawkins dance. A boy, a senior, had asked her, and she accepted before telling her parents.
They had acceded, with trepidation and the hope that all their hard work at forming Lisa for 15 years would kick in if she was confronted with a difficult choice. Getting her to study and excel at school had been relatively easy, but the choppy social waters of high school are not only shark infested, they are the groundbreaking landscape where most young teenagers discover the sexual world growing right before their eyes, with all its complexities. As her parents, they were cautiously optimistic.
It was at this juncture Rod and Margaret decided to have 'the talk' with their kids. They bivouacked one evening over drinks on the patio.
"Shit, we have dreaded this, haven't we?" Rod felt it was his place to break the ice.
They were having cocktails while dinner, what smelled like Lasagna, baked in the oven. They clinked glasses, acknowledging with a nod, and the time-tested drinker's gesture of connection, that it would indeed be a difficult task.
"But Rod, shouldn't it be easier now, in this era? I mean, they're exposed to so much, they know so much, isn't all we really need to do is provide some guidance, show them how to use some of the tools they already have?"
"So to speak," he said, laughing. She grinned and took a sip.
"Very funny. This is serious. What would you think if I spoke with Lisa, and you talked with Alex?"
Rod thought about it. He got up and went to the drink cart and made himself another martini. Lisa nodded and handed him her glass.
Back in his padded leather rocker with the wide oak arm rests, he sighed and looked at his wife.
"Kind of surprised to hear that from you, given the sexist undertone to it."
"I know, I know. But it seems so much more logical, and probably a lot less confrontational to the kids, if we do it one on one. And it makes no sense to cross over, gender-wise, does it?
He laughed. "No, it doesn't. I agree with all that you said. And I think making it boy-boy, girl-girl, will be disarming for the kids. But I'm still not looking forward to it."
She nodded to herself and sampled her new drink. With a slow, eyes-closed swallow, she then turned to Rod and winked. "You'll make sure to talk about the cleanliness factor with him, right?"
"Lisa," he said, feigning exasperation. "You know where I stand on that. Hell, I wash my dick before I pee."
She laughed, and their glasses touched once again. The sense of relief, as they both appeared to be on the same page, was palpable.
Two Nights Later - Alex's Room
"Watcha doin' bud?"
"Nothin'. Watchin' Sports Center. What's up?"
Rod cleared his throat. He would've thought his professional experience as a counselor at the high school level, though not at his son's high school, would have made this easy. When it's your own child, he thought, nothing is easy.
"I, uh, I wanted to talk with you. Dinner's not for a half hour or so. We got time."
His son shifted on his bed, reached for the remote, and muted the TV. He kept watching, but looked furtively at his father. He stayed quiet.
"Alex, you turn 14 this year. What do you think about that?"
"I don't know." Alex was lost. He usually could tell what his dad had up his sleeve, but he was in the dark on this one.
"Well…." Rod decided suddenly to switch tactics. "Tell me what you know about sex."
Alex raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. He did, however, turn off the TV.
"Whatever you want to share. I think before I tell you what I know about it, we can eliminate any duplication if I know what you know."
Rod couldn't tell if Alex understood the logic.
"Why do you have to tell me what you know about it?"
"That's what dads do. They talk about sex with their sons. At some point."
"And this is that 'some point'?"
Rod grinned. "Yup.
So, what do you know?""
Alex longed for Sports Center. Actually, he would have settled for The History Channel at this point.
"You do know, dad, that I took a sex ed class in 8th grade, and I'm taking another one this year."
"So, I know a lot about sex."
"Have you ever had any?"
Rod felt no need to repeat the question.
He did, however, feel that volunteering something and treating it almost like a confession, might ease the tension.
"Alex, I lost my virginity when I was 17."
"Is that considered
early, or late?"
"There is no rule on it, son. I knew guys who lost it earlier, and I know guys from my high school who still haven't lost it." He laughed. "It's about being comfortable and doing it when you're ready."
Alex nodded. His dad sounded like the boring videos he saw at school. 'Ready'? Oh boy was he ready. If Kelly Lynch at school wore that sun dress one more time…………
"Well," he began. "According to our teacher at school, my age group is right in the middle of what she called an "awkward" stage."
Rod chuckled inwardly. He'd met his son's sex ed teacher. She was a Cougar, from head to toe. He couldn't imagine, as a teenager, talking sex with a good looking grown woman.
"Do you feel awkward?"
"Dad, let me finish please. I've noticed girls for a while now, as far back as grade school. There was a kiss in 8th grade, at a dance, which we had to sneak, since we weren't even supposed to touch each other."
He watched his father, intent on reading any reaction. Rod put on his best poker face.
"Nothing wrong, or even unusual about that."
"Yeah, well, things are more intense in high school, you know. There aren't any more uniforms, Girls can dress any way they want. Well, almost any way. Shannon Louis got sent home last week 'cause her skirt was too short."
They both laughed.
Rod weighed in. "Well, I can assume you think about sex a lot, or at least about girls. That's also normal. I'd recommend that you don't pass up opportunities to ask a girl to a dance. Those are usually considered 'safe' by girls and their parents. Parties are still in your future, not present, Alex. Start with the dances, OK."
Alex nodded, wondering what dances his dad was talking about. Dances for freshmen were not on the docket at his high school. Of course, most of the parties were senior only events, which left Alex basically playing basketball on Friday and Saturday nights.
"One thing is non-negotiable when it comes to sex. This comes from the Burning Bush. You either do as I say, or I cut your dick off." He was grinning as he said it, yet Alex seemed to miss the joke. But not the sentiment.
"Bingo. Your mom and me do not want to be grandparents, yet. And you don't want to be a father, yet, trust me. I don't care if the girl says she is on the pill, you still wear a rain coat. Capeche?"
Alex nodded. For an inexperienced boy, he nonetheless wondered if that whole process was as easy as his father implied.
The next subject truly made Rod nervous, yet he couldn't figure out why. Still, he plunged ahead.
"What do you know about masturbation, son?"
Alex looked away, refusing to meet his dad's gaze.
Finally, he sighed and said, "Got that covered dad. I've seen Seinfeld. Next subject."
Rod could not help grinning as he reached out and tousled his son's hair. "Fair enough."
"Your mom would be upset with me if I didn't bring this up. First of all, am I to assume you have not had sex, and are not currently having sex?"
Alex nodded solemnly.
"Good. I mean, OK.
When you eventually do, mom wants to make sure you, ah, you are
attending to your hygiene."
"Keeping yourself clean, son."
"I shower every day.
Usually more, when we practice. Isn't that enough?"
"Yes, yes. That's fine."
That Same Night - Lisa's Room
Unlike Rod, Margaret had no professional background that might prepare her for this discussion. Yet it still had to be held.
"Hi honey," she said, closing the door behind her.
Lisa closed her Sociology text book and, sitting cross-legged on her bed, looked expectantly at her mom. "What's up, mom?"
"Oh, nothing, just wanted to bend your ear a little, if you don't mind."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Mom, you and dad said it was OK. It's one dance, and it's tightly chaperoned. And it's not my first dance, either."
Margaret sat on the bed next to her daughter and gently placed her hand on Lisa's forearm. "No, it's not about that. We said you could go, and we meant it."
Margaret looked around her daughter's room at what was a disconcerting tableau. There were signs of her young childhood, represented by the huge doll collection, and large splashes of pink sprinkled throughout the room, representing something vaguely innocent to Margaret. Yet there were other testaments to growing up that a mother might find foreboding, but were more likely benign symbols that her little girl was becoming a young lady. Like the poster of a shirtless Justin Timberlake. Margaret's eyes lingered, wondering how anyone could get their stomach to look like that. She shook herself like a wet Labrador and looked away.
She thought back to when she told Rod how and when she'd lost her virginity. It was the first night they had made love, their fourth date. Almost chaste by some standards. They had both shared their 'first' memories, splicing each of their stories with enough humor, self deprecating and otherwise, to make it a fun experience, completely non-threatening.
Now, sitting next to her 15 year old daughter, who may or may not be a virgin, Margaret truly did not know where to begin.
Lisa was an intuitive girl. She loved her parents, which did not mean she did not clash with them. She had developed a keen ability to take the bird's eye view of situations, especially controversial ones. She knew her love for and relationship with her parents trumped everything else. So far, she thought sardonically, as she looked quizzically at her obviously fidgety mom.
"Lisa? We need to talk about sex."
"You'll be 16 this year. It's time. Hell, it's probably too late."
Her daughter watched her. She seemed calm.
"Mom. I'm still a virgin."
Lisa watched as her mom visibly sagged in relief.
"What do think about sex? I mean, do you think about sex?"
Lisa laughed. "Do you?"
It was Margaret's turn to laugh. "Well, your dad and I have a great sex life, so we don't really need …"
"Mom, do NOT go there! My question was rhetorical."
"Oh, right. Sorry. Let me put it another way. How big a part of your life revolves around thinking about sex, or maybe more specifically, boys?"
"It's not a small part, mom. The boys, I mean. But other than making out once or twice, nothing has really happened."
Margaret couldn't help but focus on the "really" part.
Why was her 15 year old daughter more poised about this than she was? When I was her age, she remembered, I had already slept with two guys, and was not at all shy about the subject, EXCEPT with my parents.
"What I wanted to focus on, now that I know you have not had sex yet, were two important things. One, birth control. And two, ah, uhm, things you can do with boys while stopping short of having actual sex.
"You see Lisa; it's
a different playing field for girls than it is for boys. Boys
can't get pregnant, for one."
"Really? Are you sure, mom?"
"Don't be a smartass. This is important."
Lisa grinned and said nothing.
Margaret blushed, and continued. "What do you know about birth control?"
"Mom, you remember last year, that sex ed class I took? The one that had all the parents freaking out?"
Margaret nodded. She and Rod had "freaked out" more than Lisa knew. "Yes, I remember."
"Well, most of that class was about the two things you just mentioned. Birth control and safety from STDs, and alternative," Lisa carved air quotes to bracket the word, "ways to be sexually active other than intercourse."
"Ok, let's take them one at a time. You know about condoms, right?"
Lisa nodded. "That was what started the fire last year. All the girls in the class had to put one on a banana, while the boys watched, laughing their asses off."
Margaret quickly moved forward. "And the pill, of course. You need a checkup and a Doctor writing a prescription, which I will help you with when that's necessary."
Lisa nodded, knowing that Planned Parenthood, once she reached 16, would sidestep all of that and simply give her the pills for free. She wondered if her mom knew that.
"You know, Lisa. Your dad and I want you to use both of those methods, every time. We want you to insist on it with the boy. The pill is your own responsibility, if, I mean, when you go on it."
"I know, mom. You have talked about that with me before."
"So you agree with us?"
"Yes. I don't want a baby, and I don't want a disease."
It was the last subject that scared the hell out of Margaret, for she feared talking about it would be tantamount to endorsing it, almost encouraging her daughter to experiment.
Lisa squirmed, somehow knowing what was next. She was torn with how much she should divulge to her mom, knowing she would pass it along to her dad. It was her turn to blush.
"Lisa, you could make this next part a lot easier on me if you volunteered what you know."
So much for making it easy for Margaret. "Well, your dad and I obviously don't want you to get pregnant, or contract an STD, but we also acknowledge that at your age, the temptation to, ah, fool around, is going to be there, and probably get stronger over time."
Lisa nodded, looking away.
"Mom, what do you want me to say? I watch movies, I am on the internet, and I read a lot of books. Sex is everywhere. How could I NOT know a few things?"
"OK. Let me, uhm, tell you a couple of things that might not be so obvious then. Ways for you and your partner to be satisfied, with very little risk."
"Oh god. Really?"
Lisa flopped back against the pillow propped up on her headboard. She reached for her cell phone, but thought better of it.
"Do you masturbate, Lisa?"
The girl buried her head in her hands, unsure whether she would laugh or cry.
Margaret remained silent.
"Mom, yes I have tried it. It's not, to use your word, very satisfying."
"Not yet, honey. You need to learn more about your body."
Margaret almost could not believe what she was about to say. "An orgasm can be incredible, honey."
Lisa didn't say anything.
"Anyway, let's get back to boys. Have you heard of mutual masturbation?"
Lisa shook her head. "No, but I sort of get what it is."
"OK. Done right, it gets you both involved, and hopefully gets you both, ah, satisfied. Your dad and I still do it."
Margaret grinned. Though awkward, this was turning out much better than she'd hoped.
"Lisa, you have to be firm with the boy. Let him know it is not going any further than that."
"But I don't know how to do that, to a guy, I mean."
Margaret excused herself, left the room, returning a minute later. Holding a banana.
Mother and daughter blushed as she closed the door and sat back on the bed.
She demonstrated to her daughter the simple yet effective method used to quell a man's desire.
When she was through, and Lisa appeared to have a rudimentary understanding, Margaret had one final request.
"I need a favor from you, Lisa."
"What? I mean, I guess so."
"I want you to stay away from oral sex until you are 18. I want you to promise me."
Though she had found the act to be sexy in movies, where it was only implied or hinted at, the actual performing of it, which she'd seen on a porn site on her friend's lap top, seemed more gross to Lisa than anything.
The Next Night - Cocktail Hour, the Patio
Before exchanging war stories, Rod and Margaret agreed to a two drink minimum. The sun filtered through the creases of the tree branches, dappling the deck they had built two feet above the cement patio floor, while they lounged with their cocktails, listening to Don Henley.
Half way through her second drink, Margaret could wait no longer.
"Rod, tell me you did not suggest to Alex that he copy your, ah, cleaning sequence, regarding peeing."
He laughed, almost spilling his martini. He speared an olive and chewed it thoughtfully. "He said that with his regular shower and his sports showers, he was pretty certain he was clean. I felt no need to pass along my wisdom on the subject."
Well," she continued, "I think we should start with either three words, or one word, to answer the big question."
"Virgin," he said, almost immediately.
"Ditto," she said, grinning from ear to ear.
"Is that the word for it?"
"I'm a minimalist," she said. "You first, Rod."
He craned his neck back over his shoulder at the sliding glass door. They're not home, are they?"
"Nope. Spill it."
"OK, here goes. As previously stated, he hasn't done the deed. He has kissed a girl, back in 8th grade, but that seems to be the extent of it, taking into account he may not have embraced the concept of full disclosure."
He got up, took her empty glass, and mixed two fresh drinks. He managed to receive, in the exchange with Margaret, a lingering, open mouthed kiss that tasted like tonic and lime.
He settled back into his lounge.
"I think he's normal. More normal than I was at that age. He masturbates, without guilt, apparently, putting him one up on me. He thinks about sex, but he's clearly apprehensive. Not afraid, just a little intimidated, because he doesn't know how to operate. I think he'll be fine. We're going out tomorrow night and get a couple of hookers, just to get that first time out of the way."
She was sipping her drink as he said this and spit out a mouthful onto her bare legs.
As he was laughing he leaned over and handed her a towel.
She glared at him, and then began to grin.
"Got me," was all she could say, mopping up the drink from her legs.
When she had composed herself, he continued.
"So, I don't think I left anything out. He knows about birth control, he knows I, uh, we, want him to wear a condom under all circumstances. I told him parties were out for a while, leaving it vague. Alcohol can be the deal breaker for this whole scenario. The best of intentions can be washed away in beer in no time. We are, basically, going to have to trust him, trust his judgment."
He looked at her and shrugged.
"Your turn," he said.
She grinned, cradling her glass, thinking back over the 45 minute talk.
"It was a fruitful discussion."
Rod raised his eyebrows. "Fruitful?"
Margaret bit the bullet. "I'll start from the beginning, but suffice to say she ended up with a banana in her hands at one point."
"What?!" He was able to avoid spitting out his drink.
"I'll get to it. Anyway, like I said, she's still a virgin, which was a pleasant surprise. She also seems comfortable with that. She's not longing to 'lose it', for the sake of losing it.
She's got no boyfriend at the moment. This guy she's going to the dance with is just a friend."
Rod nodded encouragingly.
"She's tried masturbation, but not very successfully. I felt kind of helpless, but that is something you have to experiment with and learn on your own. It's personal and it's her body. I moved on.
"To mutual masturbation. And that's where the banana came into play."
Rod sighed and took a long swallow. "Maybe we don't need to go into details."
Margaret was grateful. "Agreed. Anyway, I left her room thinking we've done a good job with her. That's no guarantee, of course. I'm not stupid, but there's nothing wrong, at this point, hoping for some luck, and hoping she can see the big picture about her future, and that boys in high school won't be a part of that eventually. I think she does get that."
"And birth control? Both ways? She knows that's non-negotiable…with us or the boy?"
Margaret nodded. "Yes. Only time will tell how much lip service both of us got tonight. On this subject, it's ironic, but we have to trust them to do the right thing. So many kids don't, and that's why we're paranoid. I mean, Rod, we've been great parents. Never neglectful. And still that guarantees us squat."
"We've got good kids. That gives us, and more importantly, them, a head start in making good decisions." Rod leaned over and kissed Margaret.
"Did we wait too long, you think, to talk with them about this?" She had a worried, questioning look on her face.
Rod laid back and thought about it.