Published: September 12, 2012
I want to buy my 14-year-old niece a dildo,
some lube and an age-appropriate book about sex. (Can you recommend one?) I have her mother's permission, but I wanted to double-check on whether there are legal issues I should be concerned about. (I live in Oregon.) Do you think it would be inappropriate for me to cross that boundary with my niece? I figure it would be less awkward to get these items from me than from her mother, and I would include a thoughtful letter on love, sex and life with the promise that I will never bring the "gift" up, but that I will always be happy to talk if she wants to. Any other advice on how to handle it appropriately would be appreciated.
Wanted Toys Too
P.S. I am motivated to do this due to my own teenage experience of not wanting a penis to be the first thing of substance put in my vagina. I had to resort to a plastic banana, no lube. Ouch!
"Your niece is lucky to have a mom and an aunt who are invested in her sexual well-being," says Jennifer Pritchett, the owner of Smitten Kitten, a sex-toy shop in Minneapolis and a frequent Savage Love guest expert. "She's also lucky to live in a time when sexual health information geared toward young adults is readily available."
And why shouldn't penetration toys be readily available to your niece? All any 14-year-old boy who wants to experiment with penetration – for his own pleasure, to build up his confidence in advance of partnered sex – has to do is make a fist. Girls who are curious about penetration shouldn't have to resort to plastic bananas.
Pritchett recommends that you get your niece a copy of Heather Corinna's book S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College, which is terrific, and that you make sure your niece knows about scarleteen.com, an amazing, comprehensive and sex-positive independent sex-ed website.
"Share these resources with her," Pritchett says, "but do not write an awkward letter! All you are going to do is communicate your own insecurities about the 'gift,' and trust me, she's got enough weird cultural hang-ups about sex and pleasure to deal with! It's admirable that you want to save her from the plastic banana, but be careful not to inadvertently project your own sexual choices onto her experience."
Pritchett also suggests that instead of selecting a sex toy for your niece, WTT, you take your niece to a sex-toy shop so she can make her own selection – because, hey, what could be awkward about that? "If you really want to empower her to make her own decisions about her body," Pritchett says, "take her to an education-based shop like She Bop (sheboptheshop.com) in Portland where their trained sex educators can help her figure out what she might like to try."
If your niece would like to go sex-toy shopping with you – and that's a big if – you'll need to call She Bop in advance and make an after-hours appointment. "We are an 18-plus shop," says Jeneen Doumitt, co-owner of She Bop, "but we have made special arrangements in the past for younger teens. We would need to get written consent from the legal parent or guardian and the parent or guardian would have to accompany them."
There is also the option of going on their website and shopping together with your niece, or you could send your niece to any number of female-sex-positive websites and she can pick the toys she wants you to buy – no letter from parent or guardian required, no embarrassing small talk.
> Email Dan Savage