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If you are a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably already had THE Talk. By now, your child understands where babies come from and the potential consequences of having sex.

In addition, most public schools provide some level of sex education as part of the health curriculum. In our area high school, each student was assigned an STD to research, so each of my kids came home one day announcing what they “had.” For the most part, you know that they’re informed, but is that enough? If they are going away to college, for instance, are they really ready for the reality of independent living and making responsible decisions?

Moving out of your childhood home, whether it’s temporary (a semester at school) or permanent (getting one’s own place) is one of those things in life for which you really can’t fully prepare. There are some aspects (having a roommate, for example) that may be familiar, but there will certainly be something unexpected too.

Some teens have grown up sharing a room with a sibling, or have spent a week or summer at camp, but moving into a small space and sharing it with a complete stranger for most of a year is something very different. There are going to be things about this new person, and this new situation, that’ll be surprising and unfamiliar.

I was unprepared for much of college life and I worried about my children going to college unprepared as well. I knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to prepare them. Before they left for school, I suggested problems they might encounter if, for no other reason than simply so that they could think about how they might approach various situations.  I wanted them to be better prepared than I’d been for communal life as a young adult. 

Sex is everywhere. It’s implied or explicitly addressed in entertainment and advertising. Even children’s movies have a level of innuendo. Companies and schools have been forced to set up guidelines and rules addressing sexual behavior. Reports of sexual assault on college campuses are getting increased media attention and schools are responding with prevention and awareness programs.

While it’s true that today many have their first sexual encounter in high school, that number jumps quickly in college. According to the CDC, 47% of high school students reported they’ve had sexual intercourse, and the Guttmacher Institute reports that by age 20, 75% of individuals are reporting they have had sex. 

Studies indicate that the perception of sexual activity is actually higher than the reality, and some worry that this may encourage teens to engage in sexual activity earlier than they might otherwise. In study after study, individuals underestimate the number of people in the study group who are not having sex.

Despite the appearance that everyone is doing it, not everyone’s happy about it. There’s been much discussion and study on “hookup culture” common today. This idea tends to reinforce stereotypes: All men want sex all the time. Men are praised for their exploits, women are reviled. Casual sex is devoid of emotion, it’s simply an act. The implication is that relationships are superficial, and that old-fashioned “dating” is dead and gone. This is true, to a degree, but people still want relationships.

The New York Magazine’s 2015 Sex on Campus Survey reveals a more conservative attitude about sex than one might expect. While reports of the hookup culture imply an epidemic of one-night stands, an overwhelming majority responded with the longest period of time offered on the survey (longer than a month) when asked, “How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?”

The majority of college students are also finding romantic partners through friends, rather than at bars or parties. The question, “How many sex partners do you think you should have before marriage?” also reveals a more conservative tendency, with the overwhelming majority of people answering 1-5.

While most young people – 91% in the New York Magazine survey – want a relationship, and someday marriage, many are afraid that doing so at this point in their lives will complicate things, that they will not have time necessary to devote to studies or that they will no longer have time for friends and social activities.

To understand hook up culture, it’s important to look at how relationships are defined. As was true with prior generations, the meaning of words is constantly, if subtly, changing. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we need to make sure we understand the terminology.

Hookups are defined as anything from kissing to intercourse, without the expectation of commitment. It’s interesting to note that a hookup does not necessarily lead to a relationship, but that most relationships evolve from a hookup. Although this may sound alarming, according to a 2010 report published by the American Sociological Association –  Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?  – when looking at college students’ most recent hookup, only about one third involved sexual intercourse, while another third involved other sexual acts, and the final third engaged in “kissing and non-genital touching.”

The report goes on,

“Hookups may be the most explicit example of a calculating approach to sexual exploration. They make it possible to be sexually active while avoiding behaviors with the highest physical and emotional risks (e.g., intercourse, intense relationships). Media panic over hooking up may be at least in part a result of adult confusion about youth sexual culture—that is, not understanding that oral sex and sexual experimentation with friends are actually some young people’s ways of balancing fun and risk.”

The Media Education Foundation Study Guide indicates that despite this, many traditional roles remain. Men initiate more dates and sexual activity than do women, and report greater pleasure from sexual activity than the women reported. Women still worry that they’ll no longer be respected after a hookup. More than 75% of men contact the woman afterwards. Sex is more common within a relationship than with a hookup. In a curious flip of stereotypical gender roles, today’s women are slightly more likely than men to no longer be interested in a relationship after a hookup and it’s men, not women, who more often initiate the, “define the relationship” talk.

Leah Fessler, a recent graduate of Middlebury College questioned the value of the hookup culture on campus, making it the topic of her senior thesis. In it, she makes the assertion that, in some ways, the hookup can be seen as a feminist statement. It’s a way to avoid commitment, to dedicate one’s self to studies and/or a career.

After completing her study, however, she concluded that, “Despite diverse initial perceptions of, and experiences with, hookup culture, 100% of female interviewees stated a clear preference for committed relationships, and 74% of female survey respondents say that ideally, they’d be in a “committed relationship with one person.” Perhaps more surprising is the male view on relationships – only 6% responding that they desire casual hookups devoid of commitment.

So, why do college students engage in hookups? Fessler says, “In hooking up we see a glimmer of hope, we see potential, we see the only, if not the most accessible (remember: we’ve got almost no free time), means of taking a step toward what we really want: something more, commitment.”

In an article she wrote for Quartz, Fessler further asserts that, “sex is inextricably linked to emotions, trust, curiosity, and above all, self-awareness. To attempt to separate emotions from sex is not only illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure, but also impossible for almost all women.”

She goes on to say that, “…men’s experiences with hookup culture are equally complex. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of males I interviewed and surveyed also ideally preferred committed relationships. But they felt strong social pressure to have casual sex. Culturally, men have been socially primed to believe they ought to “drive” hookup culture, and that a crucial part of the college experience is sleeping with many women and then discussing these “escapades” with their male friends. So despite what men might truly want, pervasive hookup culture prompts them to predicate their public identity as heterosexual men on the number and physical attractiveness of the women they’ve slept with. Needless to say, the detrimental effects of this performance pressure are countless and severe.” 

This all points to a disillusionment with the status quo. There is evidence that young people yearn for emotional connection, yet their actions indicate otherwise. 

What is perhaps news to some is the casual acceptance of the various sexual acts between kissing and intercourse. We need to define sex. For many, sex is exclusively intercourse. Oral sex or other sexual acts are seen as something “other.” Many with considerable sexual experience are technically considered virgins, perhaps because the perception is that oral sex is “safe.” 

And STIs remain a huge concern. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new STI cases each year, half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years. Though some STIs have obvious symptoms, many have no, or only mild, symptoms. A test from a healthcare provider is the only sure way to confirm infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 4 new STI cases occur in teenagers. It’s a little known fact that, “for some STDs, such as chlamydia, adolescent females may have increased susceptibility to infection.” In 2014, people aged 15-24 accounted for 66% of all cases of chlamydia, 63% of all cases of gonorrhea, and 28% of syphilis cases reported in the U.S.

Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus – even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. Though many think that oral sex is safer, it’s not. STIs transmitted through oral sex include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV and HIV.

How to talk to your kids

Even though, or perhaps because, sex is everywhere today, we need to have conversations with our children. According to Dr. Michael A. Carrera, of The Children’s Aid Society,

“Young people inevitably learn about sex and sexuality from their environment anyway, and it’s evident that the environment is not always very safe or reliable, so it is up to caring adults to influence their sons’ and daughters’ moral development, healthy decision making abilities, self-esteem, and knowledge of, and comfort with, their own sexuality. A parent really has no choice in this matter. The only choice is whether the job will be done well or poorly.”

Sex education classes tend to be clinical, and portrayals in the media tend to be unrealistic. Neither of these convey our values, and opinions which carry more weight than many parents think. Barbara Huberman of Outreach for Advocates for Youth, points out that, “parents who act on the belief that young people have the right to accurate sexuality information are parents whose teens will delay the initiation of intimacy and use contraceptives when they choose to become sexually active.”

Preparation for this conversation is crucial. If you expect to talk to your child about sex, then you can’t be surprised by questions. You don’t always have to have the answers, but being open and willing to talk will set the tone for a positive (and hopefully ongoing) dialogue.

Be an “askable” parent.

Be willing and available to talk. Encourage questions and conversations. Be honest. Be prepared to answer questions that may make you uncomfortable.

Initiate the conversation.

Research shows that teens are reluctant to bring up the topic. They may be embarrassed or worry about their parents’ reaction. They’re afraid their parents may assume they are already having sex, or simply are unsure about how to bring up the topic.

Show that you’ve done your research. Share statistics and anecdotes like those above that illustrate how people view sex differently.

Be specific.

Deborah Roffman, the author of Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex points out, “Parents have to stop talking in code. Children need accurate definitions, facts, and guidance. If we don’t teach our children, someone else may teach them what we don’t want them to learn.” 

Admit to your mistakes.

It’s easier to talk to people who aren’t perfect. You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. If you made poor choices, own up to them – simply, and without detail. Too many teens feel pressure to live up to expectations of perfection.

Listen, don’t react.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Often, questions are simply that. Just because a child is asking questions about sex, doesn’t mean that he or she is already sexually active.

Don’t laugh or ridicule.

There is a place for humor, but never at your child’s expense.

Acknowledge your feelings.

It’s okay to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Sex is a complicated subject. Everyone talks about it and no one talks about it.

Teach safe sex.

Don’t assume that talking about contraception gives your child your blessing to be sexually active. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, talking about both abstinence and birth control results in a fewer teen pregnanciesWe should talk about both abstinence and contraception; they are not mutually exclusive.

Talk about more than avoiding pregnancy and STIs. Educate your kids about sexual assault. It’s an unfortunate truth that women, especially, need to be wary of assault. The Department of Justice reports that nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience an attempted or actual sexual assault and it’s understood that many more cases go unreported due to the prevalence of victim-shaming.

Remind them to watch out for others.

The Department of Justice report also indicates that bystander intervention helps prevent assault.

Teach that sex can have consequences other than STIs and pregnancy.

Though it’s downplayed, there are emotional aspects to sexual relationships. It’s important to talk about sex with a partner before having sex. Things to address include birth control, the possibility of STIs, each person’s expectations.

Consider who else can provide accurate information.

No matter how good your relationship with your child is, there are things they may not want to discuss with you. Where else can your child turn for accurate, helpful information? The doctor?A counselor? 

Address ways to manage stress. 

Simple things like exercise and meditation can relieve some of the intense pressure many young adults feel. It can be deeply tempting to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Substance use impacts the ability to make good decisions about intimacy, consent, and self care.

Talk about your values.

According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), “Research shows that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values.”

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.

I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child.

This was uncharted territory.

I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn't sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU'RE AMAZING!!" Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!"?

Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I'm sorry, um, can you hold her?" She held out her crying infant towards me.

“YES!" I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.

“I have four," I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn't chosen a psychopath.

“Me too," she smiled.

“Target with kids is hard," I said, “how old is she?"

“Four weeks," she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes, “thank you so much," she took back her baby and I watched her walk away.

No…thank you. I thought.

I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count.

I've stood sweating in this woman's exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I've felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I've felt so alone and so out of control.

I've thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.

I've pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I've felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.

But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper—hey, I get it, I've been here too—you're doing a great job.

This mama was brave.

She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I'm not alone.

I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.

Whatever stage I find myself at, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.

I'm not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I'm not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I'm not the only Mom to lose her temper. I'm not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.

Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn't met yet.

She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.

To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don't know how she felt. I don't know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don't know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.

I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.

I hope she felt like I was WITH her.

No judgement.

Just respect.

We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment."

It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one."

#Solidarity

Jessica writes at her blog Wonderoak. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We all know that being a mother brings many joys, but a phenomenal sex life is not usually one of them. While parenting with a partner can be the most beautiful bonding experience, it can also be a breeding ground for resentment, romantic disconnect and unsatisfying sex.

But all is not lost to a life with little ones. As a mom of two, I attest to the fact that parenthood can actually improve your sex life; and as a relationship coach, I know I'm not alone in that. But here's the thing: you have to give it some attention. Great sex doesn't just happen on its own.

A truly satisfying sex life after kids requires education, communication, commitment and confidence. It asks that you shift your attitude from seeing sex as a chore to something pleasurable that you have the privilege of doing with the partner you love.

And I'm here to show you how.

Here are six elements to have a great sex life after kids.

1. Time

A great sex life requires time. I know what you're thinking: there's already too much on your to-do list. But you're just as important as everything else, and you need to make pleasure a priority. Maybe you put the kids to bed 30 minutes early or swap babysitting nights with your sister-in-law for a pre-planned date night. But you need to find the time to focus on yourself as a woman and as a lover.

2. Sleep

You need sleep to feel like a human, and you need to feel like a human to rekindle your sex life. A 2015 study found that with just one more hour of sleep a night, women were 14% more likely to engage in a sexual activity the next day. So do whatever it takes to get more sleep; take two 20-minute naps or promise yourself one early bedtime a week and see the difference it can make.

3. Ask for help

Between picking up after the kids and laundry and dishes, household responsibilities can put a toll on your relationship. After all, they provide the perfect breeding ground for resentment; and, let's face it, resentment is the opposite of attraction. So ask for help. Yes, from your partner (research shows that sharing household responsibilities increases the frequency of sex a couple has), but also from the reinforcements. Call your mom or your best friend and ask for help, or even splurge on an agency to help you get things back in order.

4. Attitude

When you want a happy and healthy sex life, you need the right attitude—one that doesn't treat sex and intimacy like a chore, but enthusiastically embraces sex positivity. Although it sounds difficult, it's really just four principles.

First, make sex a PRIORITY, which may mean giving up an evening playing Candy Crush to have a romantic night with your man. Then you need to do some PLANNING and put sex on your calendar. Planning intimacy does not have to take the fun out of it, but instead builds the rhythm we need for spontaneous lovemaking to occur.

But you also need FLEXIBILITY to make a great sex life work, especially with parenthood. Is one of the kids sick? Push back your special night until tomorrow. Babysitter cancelled? It's okay to settle for Netflix and a quickie. Go with the flow a little more and you may be surprised what fun you can have. Finally, FOLLOW-THROUGH and commit to these principles. If you throw in the towel after the first roadblock, you're telling yourself and your man that your sex life isn't important enough to fight for, which only leads to more disappointment and resentment.

5. Sex toys

Sex toys aren't only for solo play, they can add fun and excitement when used with your partner. A toy, whether a vibrator or silk blindfold, brings newness to the bedroom, which can turn you on and inspire you to explore. Beyond their aphrodisiac effect, sex toys can give you the extra stimulation you need and ensure that you get your happy ending, too.

6. Sense of humor

Parenting can bring MAJOR frustration to your sex life, and when it goes unaddressed, it drives a wedge in your relationship. Don't let it. Approach parenting's chaos with a sense of humor. Share your oh-my-god experiences together and laugh about them. Embrace the crazy joy parenthood offers and use it as a connection point, something that ties you together, not tears you apart.

Mamas, I know you're exhausted. And I know sex is often the last thing on your mind. But I promise, if you put in a little bit of effort and dedication in your sex life, it pays back tenfold. You get better sex. Your relationship improves. And your partner transforms, once more, into your lover.

The mental load of motherhood is heavy, but it can be difficult to explain what it really feels like to others. It's that never-ending to-do list that has to get done, but only seems to get longer. It's the constant worry of having to get all of those things done, from routine check-ins to managing the emotional balance of the household.

Simply put, it's invisible work that has to be done by someone—and that usually falls on mama.

If you're having trouble explaining that load to others, whether it be friends or your partner, Karen Kleiman, a well-known international maternal mental-health expert, put it into words. And Molly McIntyre, an illustrator and comic artist drew beautiful images.




Illustrated by Molly McIntyre. Molly McIntyre is an illustrator and comic artist with a background in traditional printmaking and book arts techniques. Her illustrations have been featured in Bitch magazine, Everyday Feminism, ScaryMommy, Psychology Today, and more. She is currently working on a collection of comics about new motherhood, called Momzines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and young son.

Comics from Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, an accessible collection of comics and resources, releasing March 1st from Familius and available at bookstores everywhere.

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