In this week’s advice column, in-house psychotherapist Ms. X helps out a concerned big sister.
Dear Ms. X,
I am a 21 year old woman needing some help with how to advise my younger sister about sex stuff. She is nearly 16 and has a 17 year old boyfriend. You can probably imagine what my concerns are…
He is really nice but he is also a 17 year old guy with all that involves. And my sister seems quite mature at first but I am worried because this relationship means a lot to her and I think that will influence how she manages the sex stuff.
My mum works full time and she has taken her eye off the ball a bit. I’m not blaming her at all, she just had two kids and my sister is the youngest and our father isn’t around in any real way to support her/us. He is a birthdays and Xmas-type dad and actually lives in another city with his new family.
So I feel a real responsibility to my sister and that might be because I had some really horrible experiences when I was first sexually active. I chose people for all the wrong reasons, like “he said he likes me so I have to be nice/make out with him” and “well, everyone else here has hooked up so I guess it’s just him and me left”.
I know that I had some self-esteem issues and just didn’t know how to be around guys, which is a bad mix. Also some of the messages from my peers were pretty fucked up – if you do get with a guy you are a slut and if you don’t you are frigid. Yay – you can’t win.
So my sister has actually chosen someone who seems to treat her really well but what I worry about specifically is the age of consent issue and both of them having enough decent information about contraception.
I have tried to raise this a few times with her but the age gap might be too large or she is embarrassed and she ends the conversation by leaving the room asap.
Is there anymore that I can do?
Concerned Big Sister
Congratulations on trying to help your sister out in a thoughtful way and commiserations on a very crappy but typical start to your sexual life.
If we had more time I would tell you about my own early experiences, including the worst first tongue kiss at a school disco ever. Actually, comparing some of those stories with trusted friends can be very healing in a you laugh/cry/feel vaguely nauseous and learn a valuable lesson-type way. So don’t beat yourself up for what you went though or did, just look after your best interests now.
OK, your sister.
You don’t say if you think she and her boyfriend are fully sexually active, but lets assume they are.
First of all there are the practicalities. You can, without having a long painful discussion, simply put a discreet bag of equipment and information together for her.
Obviously don’t choose a fluro back pack that says “HEY SEX STUFF” on it. I’d suggest a large pack of regular or extra safe condoms (none of the experimentally thin ones for the teens please) and some kind of plain lube.
I’d also put some reading material in. Don’t go heavy on that – just a few things. Put in a flyer from the local Family Planning clinic or their website address. If she is too embarrassed to talk to you then the next best thing is to steer her towards somewhere she can get any information she needs, and Family Planning have been doing that for a long time.
If she is at a state-run high school then the chances are high she’s getting some reasonable health information there. I can’t guarantee what information she’ll get at a private or religious school – which is ironic given that (yes, rain righteous hell fire on me now) last time I checked Jesus was an unplanned pregnancy with some dubious consent issues.
I think one of the best and most useful conversations for all young people is the early introduction and familiarisation with consent. Sexual activity is something that escalates, so telling young people to check in with each other is important. What might have been okay five minutes ago (like kissing and touching) might have gotten into something that maybe one person is not ready for (like actual intercourse).
For a primer on this stuff, check out the video below. It’s a perfect animation of the consent process – a stick-figure consent master class in just over two minutes.
And then there’s the issue of her being still 15 and her BF being 17
Situations like this can bring about some acute and nightmarish outcomes for both parties. That is probably the one conversation you can’t put in a discreet bag for her.
You might have to take the lead and corner both your sister and her BF together (I have had great success with talking about uncomfortable subjects with teens in cars moving at a moderate speed. You drive and do your talk and no one has to make eye contact).
Your sister is still 15 and that means her BF could potentially be charged with the statutory rape of a minor. That is simply the law and so they need to make sure they are super careful and realistic about the issue of consent while she is still 15. You are not being an arsehole by pointing out the laws of the land as they stand; you just don’t want either of them to get in any of that kind of trouble.
I hope that this has helped and is a good jumping off point CBS, she might not thank you for another four or five years but you are doing the right thing by your sister.
I reckon you deserve to buy yourself a really big drink and do some extremely embarrassing high fives with yourself when she turns 16.
Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.
All messages will be kept in the strictest confidence and your name will not be published. If you wish to remain completely anonymous, consider using a free remailer service like Send Email.
Need help now?
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Youthline 0800 376 633
OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.