Stories and advice from teens on what they wished someone had told them.
Throughout my entire life, my parents have always been soooo uncomfortable around having “the talk.” I don’t know who dreaded it more. Me or my parents. To this day, if we are watching a movie together as a family and a kissing scene comes on, my parents will be scrambling to find the remote to fast forward it. Mind you, I am 20 years old, I don’t know what they are trying to protect me from at this point. I guess in their minds I will always be a little girl. It is also a cultural thing too. My parents are immigrants and we are also pretty religious. My parents never dated, they had an arranged marriage. They of course love each other but I swear I have never seen them kiss each other on the lips, ever. All in all, they are pretty uncomfortable around the topic of sex.
When I was in middle school, my parents never really gave me “the talk.” Instead my mother took me for a seminar at the local university where another woman gave “the talk” to moms and their daughters who also did not want to have “the talk.” This talk gave me zero information by the way. Everything I have learned regarding sexual health education has actually been from friends who learn from their parents or their older siblings. I think my parents also assumed that the public school system would teach me everything that I needed to know, but boy were they wrong. The truth is, there are very few adults who are actually comfortable with having these discussions with their kids. I think it’s because of the Puritanical society we live in today that shames sex but also makes sex omnipresent. Sex, romance, and alluding to sex are ubiquitious in all types of media. While we never actually have healthy discussions about it with adolescents, they learn about it from the wrong sources. When adolescents learn about sex from the wrong sources, such as other uneducated friends, porn, media, etc., this affects their future relationships and interactions with others. When they don’t learn about consent, then thats what leads to sexual assault. We teach our daughters to dress modestly and be careful so that they don’t get preyed upon but we don’t teach our sons to respect women and to value consent.
To this day, I just wish my parents were the one to initiate a conversation about this topic. Perhaps then when I became sexually active it wouldn’t have been so difficult for me to figure out how to get birth control. In school they tell you which forms of birth control to use but they don’t exactly tell you how to access it. One of my friends has been secretly getting birth control from Planned Parenthood for 4 years. Why must we dance around this topic? It’s a topic that affects literally everyone on this planet. Anyway, everytime I tried to bring up the conversation about birth control with my mom she would literally say “ahhhh lets not talk about this…” I had to actually say “do you want me to get pregnant?” in order for her to actually think logically and have this discussion with me. Parents want the best for us, I truly believe that. But I also think that sometimes awkwardness and a desire for us to never grow up prevents them from seeing and thinking clearly about the fact that their children are one day going to grow up and they need to be treated like adults so that they may lead independent and healthy lives.
After 20 years of life, I’ve never been in a relationship, much less kissed anyone or had sex. And it kind of sucks. Am I behind? Is there something wrong with me? If anyone knows how I can figure this out, please send any and all resources my way.
It’s difficult for me to not think it’s my own fault that I’ve made it through high school and my first two years of college with no “action” whatsoever. And of course, it’s not. But tell that to the sex-dominated American popular culture.
Sex was a taboo topic growing up for me, and frankly, it’s still really difficult to talk about. As I type out my thoughts, a voice in my head is scolding me for exposing my vulnerabilities and becoming a joke.
But I know someone out there is reading this, and they, too, have felt or feel this way. And I’m here to reassure you that you’re not behind, and everyone works at a different pace.
Here’s a funny scheme I came up with earlier this year: in my sulky state, I decided I was going to plan out exactly how I was going to lose my virginity (blame it on my control freak tendencies). And believe me, I came up with such a grand plan it’s kind of a shame that I have not used it on anyone yet. This included who I was going to have sex with, when I was going to have sex, what outfit I would be wearing, how I would ask to have sex, the whole shebang.
Needless to say, all of that came out of my emotionally chaotic state of mind because I was craving… Some type of acceptance into the elite world of those who have sex? Physical gratification? Knowledge on what life is post-having sex? Finally understanding the hype about losing my virginity? Who knows.
With a clearer image head (and many conversations with my mom and my friends), I realized I was projecting my insecurities into the world. For some reason, I was finding faults in myself when there was absolutely nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong with not having sex. There is nothing wrong with not dating. There is nothing wrong with me. And there’s nothing wrong with you either. Everybody has their own journey to embark on, and no individual will follow the same trajectory. And that’s ok because it is a learning process for each and every one of us.
Take a deep breath, and take it easy on yourself. It’s hard to do, but we’ll get through it. Be patient, and give yourself the space to be comfortable with yourself and your body.
My vagina (AND uterus AND ovaries--just everything in that general region) and I have a complicated relationship. Scratch that. I am confident in saying that she is my arch nemesis. Ever since I have had a period, it has really just ruined my life. And I’m not talking about just one week per month of moodiness and discomfort. I am talking about a large-scale disruption of my happiness and mental wellbeing.
Why don’t we take it back to the start--her start--my first period. Let me start off by saying that it was an absolute disaster. Picture this: I am an awkward, perpetually moist middle schooler at church camp, uncomfortable with her body and questioning her religious beliefs. I’m on a campout in the middle of the woods (with teenage boys AND it was the only night we camped out, mind you) when I wake up feeling like I’ve peed my pants. I think to myself: I’m twelve years old! Surely I didn’t just pee my pants. (Foreshadowing an extremely embarrassing EIGHTH GRADE pants-peeing fiasco) It’s still dark out, and I lie awake until it’s time to return to the cabins. When I get back, I beeline to the bathroom. And, my friends, what I was confronted with was a veritable murder scene. To make a long story short, I had to tell my camp counselor, who told my pastor, with whom I was forced to have a long conversation about “becoming a woman.”
It was awful. But it’s funny now, so I guess it’s okay. Unfortunately, my periods didn’t really get better from there. For many years, I didn’t realize that my experience was atypical. I thought that every menstruating person was going through what I was: extreme full-body cramping to the point where it would make me throw up, feeling like their blood was burning inside their veins, bleeding through jumbo tampons and maxi pads every thirty minutes, having several periods per month or one period lasting more than a week, et cetera. I did my best to “suck it up.” If so much of the population was going through this, it wasn’t right for me to complain, despite the fact that my mother had to have a hysterectomy due to similar issues.
Eventually, it came to the point where I was just crying through my entire period. I remember one day I came across a statistic that said that an average menstruation cycle only discharges 6-8 tablespoons of blood on average. This was the moment that I realized that I was not “average.”
After this clicked with me, my mom took me to the gynecologist for the first time. I had already tried birth control for acne. It didn’t help. All it did was regulate my periods so that I knew exactly when they were going to start. This was almost worse. I lived waiting in dread for my next period to start. Upon my first visit to the gynecologist, they ran standard bloodwork, prescribed me a birth control, and sent me on my way. I was devastated. I decided to try taking birth control again, but the same scenario prevailed. I felt defeated, and resolved to “toughing it out” once again.
It wasn’t until several years later, this past summer, when I decided to go to the gynecologist again. I had become desperate. My period was ruining my quality of life. In the waiting room, I began to cry uncontrollably, which ended up lasting the entire appointment. I felt like no one could help me. At this appointment, they decided to test me for PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, through a more reliable, yet admittedly more invasive test. (Picture a giant wand. You can figure out where it went.) Turns out, yes, I did have PCOS, and it was likely causing a lot of the problems that I was experiencing. When the OB/GYN told me this, I was elated. They finally knew what was wrong with me! I begged her to help me lighten my periods or have them stop altogether. She explained that I had a lot of options that had the potential to do so. But her suggested treatment? The exact same birth control.
However, over those several years, I had grown immensely, especially in learning how to speak up for myself. While I had been suffering in solitude, I had taken it upon myself to research options to possibly alleviate my period symptoms. I considered the IUD or the implant, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to “try my luck” with such long-term devices. Eventually, I came across research article after research article about daily dosages of hormones without a period-inducing sugar pill week. Essentially, this birth control routine was designed to prevent the menstruation cycle. And the research overwhelmingly indicated that there were no long-term adverse effects.
Going back to my visit to the gyno, after her swift diagnosis and prescription, she began to move towards the door. But before she could leave, I essentially word-vomited out all of the information that I had researched. Her response? “Oh yeah, that’s totally doable.” She scribbled down a prescription, explained how I would take the pills, and we were on our way. I left the office in a confused emotional state. I was so happy that I finally had a diagnosis and a promising treatment plan. But I was also angry and confused. Why did I have to do all of the research? Why wasn’t this communicated as an option? How many other severely menstruating people are out there suffering, thinking they are seeking help and exploring all their options by going to the gynecologist, when they aren’t provided with all of the information? I hope that this experience left an impact on my gynecologist, whether it be through my tears or my preparedness.
Ever since I’ve followed this treatment plan, it has been a night-and-day difference. My quality of life and overall well-being have grown exponentially (my discharge of blood shrinking exponentially). I’m no longer anemic. My anxiety and depression are improved (although still present). I am no longer in constant pain. More than anything, I am able to live an incredibly fuller life: one not revolving around my period. This experience, more than anything, has taught me the importance of self-education. While doctors are highly knowledgeable and an incredible resource, they are still human. You can’t rely on them to have all of the answers or to be able to convey all of the answers to you in the short window you have with them. Before you go to the doctor, it is important to have a grasp on your situation and the options that are out there, especially regarding menstruation, and especially if your cycle disrupts your life significantly.
In an era where sexuality and sexual freedom is celebrated, there is still a subject that everyone dances around: Masturbation and sexual pleasure (especially for women).
One of my very formative experiences was discovering masturbation. All throughout my life I thought it was gross and even my friends would also make fun of it too. In middle school, it’s just something that is always laughed at and those who do it are laughed at because of the shame and stigma behind it. But then one day at a sleepover, we all started talking about it and it turned out that my friends, who always made fun of masturbation, all did this so-called disgusting act. I realized, “oh my gosh, why have I been left out!” I felt like my whole life was a lie. Once we all started to have an open conversation about it, it seemed like a weight was lifted on my friends. After joking about it and putting it down for years, by admitting they actually masturbated it seemed like they were almost “coming out.” To be honest, the minute they all told me they did it, I was kind of intrigued. “How is everyone doing this and not me? It must feel good! I have to get in on this!” But at the same time, I was very innocent didn’t know much about sex at all really. All I knew was how babies were made. In school they don’t really talk about the sexual pleasure part. That is something everyone is supposed to figure out on their own I suppose. Anyway, my friends suggested some types of porn to watch (for beginners haha) and they talked about clitoral stimulation vs fingering. I was 16 when I first learned that girls could masturbate and that it is fun and pleasurable and that a lot of women actually do it. I was also 16 when I tried it for the first time and I realized that this was pretty cool! Before that day I had never really touched myself down there to be honest. Even though no one had ever told me explicitly that “this is wrong!” I always felt like I would be doing something wrong by touching myself down there.
It’s strange because I’ve noticed that my male friends talk about masturbation very casually amongst themselves, they joke about it, but they also don’t lie about doing it. Girls on the other hand, we are extremely ashamed and embarrassed by the topic. And I really don’t know why! Being able to discover my own sexual power was truly game changing for me. I don’t need to rely on another person to make me feel good. It really prepared me for having a relationship. I am able to know what I like and communicate that with a partner so that I am also able to feel good in my sexual relationships. I know so many of my girl friends who participate in hookup culture but they have never had an orgasm. Those girls also happen to not masturbate. Coincidence? I think not! How are women supposed to feel good during intercourse if we don’t know what feels good and how to feel good?
My old fashioned mother claims that sex is mainly for men, it’s not as important to girls. But I disagree, I think if more women took the leap and tried exploring their own sexual pleasure, they could really change their whole perspective. I wish there wasn’t such a huge shame around sexual pleasure for women. Women participate in hook-up culture only to not even orgasm, what’s the point then? Is it just validation? If we can take control of our own orgasm then we can take control of our life and have the confidence to navigate a world where we are often objectified and treated as powerless. It’s time to shift the power dynamic folks.
When I was in sixth grade, I got my period for the first time. When it happened, I wasn’t too worried. My teachers had everyone watch a video about it the year before, so I knew what it was. But my sixth grade self was very misinformed. I thought that a woman’s period was like a Hailey’s comet sort of situation -- one and done. I didn’t understand why women had so many period products, but I figured they were just trying to be prepared for that ONE time so that they wouldn’t get blood all over their clothes. Clearly, I was misinformed.
Going back to the day I got my first period, I called my mom, and she came home from work and taught me how to put on a pad. It was uncomfortable as HELL and did not conform to my body at all, but I tried not to complain. For the rest of the day, I kept waiting for my period to stop, but obviously I continued to bleed. In the middle of the day, I literally went into the bathroom and started sobbing my eyes out because I thought I was dying. But the one thing I did not do was tell my parents. My mom later informed me that this was an every-month sort of situation, and that I had to change my pad out every 6 hours, depending on how much I was bleeding. But to this day, she does not know that I spent the majority of my first period worrying about whether I would see the next day or not.
Flash forward to today, and nothing much has changed. I mean, I do understand the workings of a period now, but my parents and I still don’t talk about sexual health. I think the closest I ever got to a “sex talk” was when I was getting my HPV vaccine, and my dad offhandedly mentioned, “It’s not because I don’t trust you. It’s because I don’t trust who you’re with.” I’ve spoken more about sexual health with my distant relatives and friends. The first time I mentioned using a tampon with my mom, she immediately shut down the idea and told me she didn’t want to talk about why. But being an active person myself, pads are incredibly inconvenient, and being slowed down by your period is one of the worst feelings in the world. I made the transition to tampons without guidance from my mom, and with the support of my friends.
I don’t mean to say that my mom’s inability to talk about sexual health is her fault. She grew up in a very traditional Indian community where women’s bodies were heavily stigmatized and judged. She learned about her sexual health through books, and she didn’t talk to anyone about it, not even her closest friends and relatives. Her thought process is a result of her upbringing in India, and I can’t blame her for it.
The one thing I learned from the absence of sexual health conversations with my parents is that just because you can’t talk to them doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to someone else about it. I firmly believe that in order to start unraveling the stigma surrounding sexual and reproductive health, we need to incite conversation. And it’s also important to feel the support of someone else when learning more about your own body. It can be a nerve-wracking situation with its own twists and turns. Find support, comfort, and advice from the people you trust the most within your circle, even if that doesn’t include your parents.