Peggy Orenstein on the necessity of confronting our own difficult sexual experiences so our daugthers don’t have to

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

My hot pink hardback copy of PEGGY ORENSTEIN’s GIRLS & SEX was innocently laying in the middle of my stack of nightstand books. My daughter and her friend came into my room to chat one day, and I notice the friend elbow my daughter, nod to the book and raise her eyebrows in horror. Under her breath she whispered, “WHY IS YOUR MOM READING THAT?” to which my daughter screeched “MOM! What is that?!” 

Because I had only started reading, I didn’t have a well-considered response, so all I could muster was, “What’s the big deal? Sex is not a bad word!”

So I started leaving GIRLS & SEX around the house—just to prove a point. We are a liberated, feminist household, damn it! And clearly, we need to normalize and open up the conversation.

But talking to your kids about healthy sexuality is so hard. And terribly awkward. Peggy convinced me that it gets easier the more you “do it.” (wink wink)

As I sat with all the feelings that came up, I noticed there is something more holding me back from having the honest, open, vulnerable conversations around sex that I know my daughter deserves.


Plain old, ugly fear.

When I look at my beautiful, strong, whole 10-year-old girl barreling into tween-dom, I get scared.  First, there are the body image issues. Then, there’s the culture that judges us more on our appearance that our talents. Layer on complicated, technology-fueled landscape of sexting and easy access porn (Peggy’s research found the average age that kids first see porn is 11. I’m now going to hide under my bed and forbid all playdates). Finally, add in the painful memories from almost every one of my close girl friends of our early hook-ups and sexual encounters.

Where do I even begin?

Is there a blueprint for navigating unhealed wounds from our collective sexual coming of age while simultaneously supporting, educating, and communicating with my rapidly maturing daughter?
Peggy offers powerful insights about having this dialogue in GIRLS & SEX. We will release some of her tips & advice in Part Two of our conversation.

But I needed to introduce you to Peggy here, where I most needed her: at the why.

The only way we can dare to hope that our girls first sexual acts aren’t something as Peggy says, “they’ll have to get over,” is to begin to talk to them honestly about our hopes, fears, and experiences. And that means consciously, kindly, examining the dense layers of my own unhealed baggage. I’ll have to work through it while at the same time holding up a flashlight that will illuminate the darkness. So my daughter won’t have to stumble and fall where I did. Where my friends did. We can do better for our girls.

One thing I know for sure, thanks to Peggy Orenstein, is that I will not stick my head in the sand. I will not abandon her to figure this out for herself. Because inside her head, it needs to be my voice–my confused, loving, imperfect voice–that counteracts the cultural messages she receives every day.

Please read GIRLS & SEX. I suggest leaving it randomly around the house. Turns out it’s a great conversation starter.

Follow Peggy and her work on Facebook.

Listen to her recent conversation with Terry Gross.

And of course, order the book at

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