The mere thought of talking about the birds n’ the bees is enough to make many Moms cringe! But experts stress that having an open, honest and on-going dialogue with teens about sex is imperative in helping them to navigate the uncharted road to sexual maturity.
Research shows that teens whose parents discuss sex with them early and often, are more apt to make healthier decisions than teens whose parents remain mum on the topic. In fact, studies show that teens who have an on-going dialogue about sex with their parents are more likely to post-pone sexual activity than their peers.
So when do you start talking about sex? There is no exact answer for this really, other than it’s best to start as soon as children begin getting sexual messages. And they start getting them as soon as they’re born. Children are human beings and therefore sexual beings. It’s hard for parents to acknowledge this, just as it’s hard for kids to think of their parents as sexually active! But even infants have curiosity about their bodies, which is 100% healthy and normal.
But don’t worry if you haven’t started yet. It’s never too late. Just don’t try to “catch up” all at once. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.
The pre-teen and teen years really are an important time to open-up and get the conversation going. No matter how tongue-tied you feel when it comes to the topic, try try try to remember that sex is completely natural. The more awkward you make it, the more awkward the situation will be. Hence, the more comfortable and open you are about the subject, the more comfortable and open your teen will be.
Let’s face it: there is no one-size-fits-all script for how to initiate the dreaded “sex conversation.” Values, morals, religion and expectations all vary from one family to the next. Regardless, there are key points to hit on when educating your teens on the topic of sex:
The Basics – Young teens are well-known for passing along misinformation about sex. If you haven’t explained in a clear and factual way where babies come from, this is a good place to start. Talk about menstruation, the male and female reproductive system and the act of sexual intercourse.
Is it ok to nickname private parts? Yes, if that makes you more comfortable. But why curb the reality of what it is? A Gallup Poll showed that 67% of parents use actual names to refer to male and female body parts.
The Consequences – Talk about the emotional consequences of sex, as well as the physical. Most teens are aware of the danger of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but many do not actually think through the emotional consequences of sex. Explain that sex can bond two people together, and can intensify emotions during turbulent times such as break-ups and betrayals.
Gender Specifics – While everyone should learn the same lessons about sex, there are some things that need to be tailored to your child’s gender.
For girls, it’s important to talk about menstruation. This may seem obvious, but many parents forget about this conversation. On average, most girls start their periods when they’re 12 or 13 years old (although some begin earlier or later). Don’t wait to have this talk until your daughter gets her period—that’s too late, because it’s likely she will be scared and confused.
If you suspect your teenage daughter is feeling pressured to be sexually active, it’s extremely important to educate her how to say “no” firmly and without trepidation in a given situation. Dr. Lee M. Sanders, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of MiamiMiller School Of Medicine says, “We need to focus more on empowering girls in relationships, particularly relationships with the opposite sex.”
For teen boys, it’s important to talk to them about respecting young women’s limits. This may seem like a double-standard, but it’s important boys know what to expect. Society puts a lot of emphasis on boys and their manners when it comes to sex. Get Dad involved in these conversations; it’s very healthy for teens to hear perspectives of sex from both an adult woman and a man.
The Pressure – The pressure to have sex can be overwhelming for many teens. Let them know that it’s perfectly fine (and healthy!) to wait. Explain that two people should be old enough to take on what comes with the responsibility of sex.
Ask them to make a checklist of what qualities they want in a sexual partner and why. Ask them what expectations they have for sex. Discuss ways to be affectionate without “going all the way.” Regardless of your own feelings on teen sex, acknowledge the pressure, and avoid judgmental statements. The key is to ask open-ended questions and incorporate your own beliefs and morals into your answers.
Keep The Conversation Going – Use everyday opportunities as teachable moments. Sex is everywhere, from magazine pages to prime time television shows. Use these examples as a starting point for conversations and have them often.
Remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel uncomfortable about these talks, but just keep in mind that your teen will get conflicting messages of sex from a variety of sources. Take advantage of the opportunities you have to talk to your teen about sex! Chances are, it will only make you closer.
How do you handle talking about sex with your teen? What’s the hardest part for you?