Too bad, Dad

Pub date August 29, 2006

Dear Andrea:
I’ve prided myself on having a good relationship with my daughter, and we have always been able to talk about anything, but I was shocked when she asked me about anal sex. I was at a complete loss. She’s only 14 and it never crossed my mind that she would even know what that is, but I guess it’s not like it used to be. She said it’s the “cool” thing to do at her school and that most of her girlfriends have had it. I don’t want her to think that she can’t come to me about things. I could give her the “if your friends jumped off a bridge” speech, but then again, well … at least I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting pregnant. LOL. How should I handle this? Should I be supportive or honest or just refer it to another female like my sister or one of my coworkers?
Puzzled Pop
Dear Pop:
Sorry. Unless you’re raising her alone in a supermodern ranch house on a lonely and distant planet, she could have asked someone else, but she didn’t. You’re up, and I’m afraid you’ll have to be both honest and supportive. It should help to hear that “supportive” does not mean “Butt sex? It’s no biggie. Get with the program, kid.” Plus, if she came to you for advice, chances are good that she’s not already doing it and liking it or else what would she need your advice for?
We do hear (where have you been?) that these kids today spend more time having anal sex and attending blow job parties than they do on soccer, MySpace, and homework combined. There was a moment there when it seemed every possible media outlet featured a scarifying exposé of rampant oral gonorrhea among kids at elite suburban middle schools or rings of barely pubescent girls selling their anal favors for Bubble Yum. Much of this stuff is clearly exaggerated for effect, extrapolated from precious little data to garner ratings, sell magazines, or whip up a panic among parishioners or PTA members.
There is, however, some measure of truth along with the disinformation, if fairly nonpartisan bodies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins are to be believed. Every study conducted in the last decade or so has shown at least some increase in the number of young (in some cases, very young) people having oral and anal sex. In some cases, these are the very kids who sign abstinence pledges, promising not to “have sex” until marriage, another downside to using “sex” to mean penis-vagina intercourse. It allows for all sorts of weaselly usage, from the presidential “I did not have sex with that woman” to the willful misinterpretation of decent scientific data by groups like the Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family.
I did have a point here: do not assume that she’s wrong or exaggerating when she tells you that anal is the “in” intercourse at her school. It may not be as prevalent as she thinks or reports (at least some of her girlfriends are lying), but it is happening.
It would be useful to know what your daughter actually asked you — I’m having a hard time believing she requested your blessing to start taking it up the butt, so what did she need from you? I’m going to go with the most likely possibility, that she mostly just wanted you to listen while she processed her own thoughts and feelings, and surely you, Mr. Sensitive Dad, could handle that much without having to palm the poor child off on your secretary or the mailroom girl?
Chances are your daughter also needed some information about what people actually do with their butts and stuff, since adolescents, even adolescents who affect a world-weary air and claim intimate knowledge of whatever arcane subject is under discussion, are notoriously vague about the nitty-gritty details. I think it’s perfectly legit to outsource this part, but only this part, probably by recommending one of the sex education Web sites specifically targeted to teenagers. I like, but it really doesn’t matter as long as you don’t just point her at the Web and tell her to go look up “anal + teen,” OK?
Let the professionals handle the “does it hurt?” and “will I like it?”-type questions, but as her dad you don’t get to shirk the harder parts, where you ask her what she’s heard, how she feels about it, whether her friends are pressuring her, and what she will do if they do pressure her. I would hope you’ve already talked to her about respecting herself and her body and not doing anything until or unless she really wants to, and then only once she’s educated herself about risks and how to avoid them. If you haven’t, well, for God’s sake, man, she’s 14. She has all kinds of excuses for stupid and irresponsible behavior. What’s yours?