Moms, Daughters Urged to Talk about Sex

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 2, 1998 | Go to article overview

Moms, Daughters Urged to Talk about Sex


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Mothers and daughters need to talk frankly about sex, but most of the time they don't.

Nathalie Bartle, 60, an associate professor at the Allegheny University of the Health Sciences School of Public Health, makes that point in her new book, "Venus in Blue Jeans: Why Mothers and Daughters Need to Talk about Sex."

Mrs. Bartle is the mother of three, including one daughter, Katherine Provost, and is a grandmother to Katherine's daughter, born June 20. Twenty years ago, when Katherine, then 12, asked her about masturbation, the mother's awkward reply got her thinking about the difficulties of passing on sexual advice to the next generation.

"It was true that I had never felt comfortable discussing sex with my own mother," she writes, "but I very much wanted Katherine to feel at ease talking with me about sexual topics. I had begun discussing anatomy with her as early as preschool. Yet now, suddenly, I was worried about divulging too much."

Ten years later, while working on her doctorate in developmental psychology at Harvard, she interviewed 40 teen-age girls and their mothers. Their observations, along with additional interviews in the early 1990s, provided the basis for "Venus in Blue Jeans." Last week, she talked about her research.

Q: What was the hardest part mothers had discussing sexual intimacy with their own daughters?

A: Mothers had the hardest time talking about anything having to do with the pleasurable aspects of sexual activity or desire. So many of them felt they had been shortchanged here, as their moms had talked to them about everything else.

Moms are fearful if they discuss any of the pleasurable aspects, it will lead their daughter towards having sexual activity earlier. They don't want to put those ideas in the kids' heads. But we are seeing good trends when communication is more open.

It's difficult for adolescents to think their parents are sexually active. One girl said to me she couldn't imagine anyone over 30 years old "doing it."

Q: Can't girls learn from just reading a book?

A: That's important, but along with that, we need to be talking with them, too. One woman just said we have to take back our kids from the culture.

Q: Should moms bluntly ask daughters if they've [had sex]?

A: I tell moms to rely on their instincts a lot. Encourage discussion with them about a lot of topics, like contraception and relationships. If you think your daughter is active, then ask. At least you've opened the door, even if they don't want to talk about it. It's important to reassure daughters they can come to you with the worst news and you'll be there for them.

Q: What if the mother doesn't want her daughter to be sexually active?

A: Then tell her, "This is the way I feel about it and these are my values. Whatever your decision, I want you to take care of yourself and be safe."

We know more than 50 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 are sexually active and 65 percent of all 18-year-old young women have had sexual intercourse. …

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