teens

'My 16-year-old daughter asked me to buy her a vibrator. What should I do?'

Cast your mind back to your 16-year-old self. What kind of topics would you chat to your mum about? Netball? Friendship dramas? Home and Away

What about vibrators? Not so much? Yeah, me neither. 

I was raised a Catholic. This means my guilt has guilt (which I feel really guilty about) and I believed that sex before marriage would see me ravaged by the flames of hell for all of eternity. 

How are women having sex? The juiciest results from the Mamamia Sex Survey. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

Research shows this is not unique to Catholics (well, the flames of hell part, maybe). The majority of Australians have grown up with secrecy and shame around the topic of sex. 

But it seems times are changing. 

On Mamamia Out Loud this week, a mother wrote in with a dilemma that got people talking: her 16-year-old daughter wanted a vibrator and she'd asked her mum to help her get it. 

As teenagers do, she presented a pretty solid argument. She said if she was in a relationship, she would most likely be having sex. She also said that it’s perfectly acceptable for boys to pleasure themselves and that a lot of girls her age are using these devices. 

The listener was asking for advice because she’s obviously a good mum who was (understandably) a tad thrown by this request and wanted to do the 'right' thing.

So, how do we feel about this? Is granting her daughter this request just wrong? Should the listener flat out say no, throw her an old copy of Joy of Sex, and pretend the whole thing never happened? 

Or is helping your 16-year-old daughter get her first vibrator (because she asked and is curious and is a human with human desires) not only perfectly fine but also excellent parenting?

You can read the whole listener dilemma here:

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No bloody idea? Pass! Can we call a friend? 

Indeed, we can...

Mamamia reached out to Katrina Marson, a criminal lawyer and committed advocate for relationships and sexuality education. 

So, to the listener with the dilemma, or any other adult who wants to be informed and educated about the best way to help their teens navigate this next stage of their lives, here are some insights that might help. 

1. Teenagers need to know what feels right to recognise what feels wrong.

Studies show that sexual awareness increases feelings of sexual empowerment, and a safe and low stakes way to achieve this can be... alone (with or without... accoutrements). 

In her research, Katrina was asked the question, "How will young people know what's inappropriate if they don't know what is appropriate?" 

In other words, how will they know what they want to consent to if they don’t know what feels good and right to them? 

"It's as simple as knowledge is power," Katrina said. 

"How can we expect young people to advocate for themselves and each other if they don't know what they want, or that they are even allowed to have wants and desires, and to have those things respected?"

2. Teenagers who are taught about sex from a pleasure based and positive perspective have sex later and safer. 

Some parents feel worried that normalising sexual behaviour and being all 'yay sex' will encourage teens to go on some kind of wild humping spree. When, in fact, research proves exactly the opposite. 

Katrina said the more young people know about (age appropriate) relationships and sex through shame free communication, the later they will have their first sexual experiences and the less likely they are to have negative sexual experiences. 

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"Not giving them information, or treating the subject with shame and fear, exposes them to greater risk," Katrina added. 

So, by ignoring the part of teenagers that is sexually aware and curious in an effort to protect them, we are actually achieving the exact opposite. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

3. Salt-N-Pepa were onto something. We do need to talk about sex. 

Studies consistently conclude that if you want kids to treat sex with the sensitivity and caution it requires, you’re going to have to talk to them about it. 

"Parents are young people's first educators, so the conversations parents and caregivers have with their kids at home about this stuff is absolutely critical," Katrina said.

"Talking about these matters, rather than keeping them secret and shameful, gives parents the chance to have the conversations about values."

Timing and context are everything when talking to your teenagers about sex. Experts say car chats are good because there’s no direct eye contact, moments of silence are okay and, crucially, everyone knows there's an end point to the conversation. 

Also, watching shows together like Married At First Sight or The Bachelor can present opportunities to talk about sex and relationships in more of a casual way. 

It would appear we have arrived at the door of a massive cultural shift. And if we play our cards right, future generations may be significantly safer and more confident with the sexual part of their humanity. 

And as for the vibrators? Should a sex toy be the new milestone present a gal gets from her mum on her 16th birthday?  

Well, Katrina wouldn’t give me a yes or no answer on that one. Instead, she wisely said, 'It’s up to the mum and daughter to negotiate.'  

So, I guess that’s all we can do. Keep talking and keep your sex shame in check. 

Also, if you do gift your daughter a sex toy for her birthday, maybe consider keeping Grandma out of the room while she opens it.

For more on this topic:

Katrina Marson's book Legitimate Sexpectations about the power of sex education to safeguard sexual wellbeing and protect against sexual violence will be released on August 2, 2022.

Feature Image: Getty.