Empowering Your Daughter to Say “No”

By: Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC.

Empower your daughters to say “No” — to sex, to STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and to letting someone else have control over her body.

Whenever I have a young girl in for therapy, we begin to chat about what is important to her. Sex education usually comes up in the conversation, and I’m always amazed by what she says. Sex education hasn’t changed that much since I was a kid. Many schools still separate the students by gender and show a film. From there, it sounds like they receive a lecture about how dangerous STDs are, and why you shouldn’t have sex. Texas is in third place among all states for having the most teen pregnancies. Does anyone see what I see? The current sex education programs offered are not working.

Let’s look at this carefully. We know that studies suggest that teens who get STDs and become pregnant feel lost and disconnected from their family and friends. They usually are not doing well academically. Teens who delay sex until their late teens or beyond usually have two parent households and have more parent supervision. They are doing their homework and performing better in their classes.

No girl under the age of eighteen benefits from having sex (boys usually don’t, either). Girls approach relationships far differently than boys do. They have different concepts of taking care of themselves; they are nurturing and will delay their own interests to attend to the boy. This may develop into doing whatever the boy wants to do, all for the sake of securing the relationship. Once a girl begins to focus only on a boy and setting aside her own goals, problems may emerge.

Girls are also responsible for birth control and for protecting themselves from STDs —in short, all the consequences of having sex. Until the age of 21, the frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed. This means the part of the brain that helps girls reason, control impulses, and understand consequences is not fully functioning. How could they possibly consider all of the possible consequences of having sex without part of their brain fully engaged? And let’s not forget that hormones are going up and down all throughout adolescence. You can understand how difficult this becomes.

What’s a parent to do?

1. Use the opportunity. Teach your daughter about sex. Set dates with her or go for a walk. Begin by listening to her. Talk about celebrities. Talk about your feelings in regards to sex. You want your daughter to know she can come to you at any time. You want her to understand that the most important issue is her health, and her goals in life.

2. Realize that no school will teach your daughter as well as you do. You can talk about values, your own morals, and the importance of establishing a friendship. You can provide the knowledge of birth control, STDs and keeping her body healthy. Your teaching can be ongoing, whereas the school only spends one afternoon.

3. Impress upon her the importance of being the one in charge of her body. Yes, girls do have to be more responsible for birth control, STDs, and possible pregnancy. But, there is a power in being able to say “NO.” Saying “I’m not ready for sex at this time in my life” is perfectly acceptable. Most guys will respect this, and may end up feeling more enamored with her than if she had said, “Yes.”

4. Talk to your daughter about sex, or someone else will…and their advice may not have her best interests at heart. No one will ever love your daughter like you do. Please, begin the conversation today. If you don’t lecture but instead stay open to exploring her feelings, you may end up feeling much closer to her. She will know she can always come back to you for help or advice.

5. Stay involved with your daughter. You brought her here. Stay engaged with her. Know where she is and know who she’s with. You taught her to ride a bike, tie her shoes, and wrap a present. Now step up to the plate and teach her about sex.


Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.

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  1. This is a critical time for American mothers to do this job and teach our daughters to be aware and in control of their bodies and how to deal with sexual issues. If we don’t talk to our daughters about our own values, they will get it from somewhere else, and it will not always be good advice. Be a trustworthy advisary FOR your daughter, so she will trust you enough to come to you if problems arise that she can’t understand or handle. Empower her to know everything she can about this topic and you will always be with open heart and open ears, try not to judge harshly

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