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My Daughter’s 11-Year-Old Best Friend is Having Sex With Her Cousin. What Should I Do?

by Dr. Carol Queen

Dear Carol Queen:

My daughter’s best friend Mary (11, 7th grade) has been casually talking about having sex with her 13-year-old cousin Amy over the last two years. Mary described to my daughter how she and Amy made a dildo out of a blush brush handle and put it through Amy’s underwear so they could have penetrative sex. Mary has also described kissing and oral sex. The penetrative sex left Mary with a yeast infection, and she also seems to be losing motivation for her schoolwork and career goals and has begun to complain of migraines. Could all of this be related to the sex with her cousin? Could the fact that she talked about it so nonchalantly be indicative of sexual abuse in her household? I am very concerned. Should I speak to their guidance counselor? 

I am a queer mom who is very sex positive, but I’m alarmed and scared for Mary and Amy, and concerned about what might be going on in their home. I’m also protective of my daughter’s health and safety but I don’t want her not to trust me. –Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom:

The scenario you describe could be the result of a slightly precocious interest in sex. I use the word slightly considering their ages, since most—though not all—young people develop sexual curiosity or interest after puberty, and puberty is happening earlier now than it was when you or I were kids. This behavior could also be a signal that one or both youngsters have been inappropriately sexualized by the adults (or older teens) in their lives. Some young people who start engaging in sexual behavior at a young age were introduced to it by others. That, of course, raises questions of consent breaches and sexual exploitation, which is what you’re especially worried about, yes? 

You’re reporting a lot of info about Mary, but before you start involving others, consider this. While it’s possible that the sex between these two girls is happening due to an abusive situation, it’s also possible that it is not. If you speak to the school counselor, she’s almost certainly a mandated reporter, and might have to contact authorities. This would result in an investigation of (probably) both kids’ families. Investigations can be traumatic, regardless of whether illegal activity is found. Depending on where you live, the girls might also come under scrutiny for having a same-sex relationship. (In fact, it might even be the case that Mary is being so open with your daughter because she has a queer mom and Mary sees her as a safe confidante.) 

Another option is speaking to Mary’s parents, but you’d need to evaluate whether this might result in punishment or isolation. The deciding factor should be the family’s POV on sex and queerness, as well as the care they extend as parents in general. 

It seems to me that you’re linking up several things you’ve learned about Mary and are attributing them all to her sexual activity. But let me be clear—even if Mary is interested in sex, she’s too young to legally consent; both girls are. And I am not suggesting you take this situation less seriously than you do. Even if it isn’t abusive, it’s complicated, and the girls are likely not even aware of its possible effects. 

Drinking, smoking, and sex are all coded as things adults do, which makes adults concerned when we see them in young teens’ lives. But the teens may see things very differently because they are actively aspiring to the trappings of adulthood. If you look at research currently being done on fierce, brilliant, adolescent girls, you will find that it is common for their huge dreams for the future to get watered down in the gendered and peer-pressured mess that is puberty. This isn’t usually because they are having sex—it’s because peers and adults have started to impose gender-restricted and often sexualized patterns on them, and it’s hard for a kid to fight back. Sadly, this is a time of life when some young people’s aspirations start to crumble.

Now, here’s where the situation is 100 percent within your control. What are you saying to your daughter about all this? You have some powerful ideas to share, like information about sex, safety, waiting until you’re ready, consent, and communication—all the things a young person needs to know to really give informed and empowered consent when the time comes. If nothing else, let her know about scarleteen.com, the pleasure-inclusive, non-judgmental sexuality website for youth. You can also talk about your values: why consent is so important, the reason that porn isn’t good to use as sex ed, why it’s not wise to leave your adult dreams behind in exchange for feeling a little more adult, why you want to make sure (if you can) that what’s happening in Mary’s life isn’t a result of coercion, and anything else that comes up for you as you talk to your child about her friends’ situation. If you’re not having any of those conversations with your daughter directly, please start. It may help her share information about what she’s hearing and how she’s responding to it that you ought to know and address. And that, in turn, can help protect the trusting relationship with her that you so value. 

Carol Queen’s latest book (written with Shar Rednour) is The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone

Top photo: Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

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