“The Talk” Happens More Than Once
How to talk to teens about sex
Q: With Sarah Palin’s teen daughter being pregnant and getting married, the issue of teens and sex is in front of parents and teens every day. What should parents be telling their teens about sex?
A: Even if we weren’t in an election time, we can’t read the news, watch TV shows or go to movies without being aware of the role of sexuality and sensuality in our world.
Hopefully, talking to our kids about sex is probably one of those never ending, although possibly awkward, topics for many parents. What is age appropriate? What is enough information without too much information?
You probably started the basis for this conversation when your child was asking about the difference between boys and girls, or just what sex meant in the first place.
The developmentally appropriate, ongoing discussion about sex probably started when your child was very young and has been continuing as your child matured. For preteens and teens, discussions may have addressed the social pressure that comes from looking sexy, and the personal responsibility each of us has to use that power appropriately.
The goal of most parents is to convey what love and intimacy can mean in a healthy adult relationship. What is really important is not to avoid the subject due to any discomfort on your own part.
Some people are scientific on the subject, describing body parts and functions. Other parents focus on values and morals. Some parents let the father talk to the males and the mother to the daughters. Remember, there is no one right way. There is also not just one time to discuss sex. The discussion will happen at different times and about different aspects of sexual desire and love.
Many schools help teens understand the basic biology of sex and reproduction. Others do not. If your school or church has sex education or biology as part of its curriculum, times when the subject is being taught are perfect for you to follow-up and find out what your teens think about the material that is being presented.
Do they have any questions? Does it make sense? Is it familiar? What did they learn that was new and perhaps surprising? What are other kids saying? Hopefully, by listening well, you know where to begin. Be careful to go slowly and not interrupt when your teen is talking.
So, what do you tell your teen about sex? Sometimes it is easier to start with the biggest piece of the puzzle, how they feel about themselves, their own bodies, and the feelings and emotions they experience from time to time.
Getting teens to think about the difference between sensuality, sexuality, and love while knowing for themselves what arouses each feeling can be a crucial part of this conversation.
Most parents expect that teens will:
- Be in charge of the personal choices they make about their bodies;
- Exhibit self-control;
- Understand basic physiology and attraction;
- Be able to say “no” to sex and sexual advances;
- Not feel they have to have sex to be loved or cared for by another;
- Know how to manage their emotions;
- Know how to be close to another without having to have sex, (emotional intimacy);
- Think of sex as being part of a relationship with a very special person;
- Know how to clearly communicate their needs;
- Respect others’ needs even when they are different;
- Know that sex can have a spiritual dimension;
- Understand what safe sex means.
Talking about safe sex might be confusing at first. Many teens and parents see safe sex as no sex, like kissing, cuddling, stroking, rubbing, massage, touching one’s own genitals, touching another’s genitals.
Other parents and teens see safe sex as involving intercourse and always using protection. Defining safe sex with your teen could be very important to making sure he or she is protected, no matter what choices are made.
It helps to have an idea of the core messages you want to be sure your child has. Once you are clear, do whatever it takes to get comfortable talking about it. Some parents first talk with other parents; others like to read books and research websites.
When you feel ready, you may be surprised at how many opportunities, on the Internet, in movies or on TV, lend themselves to a discussion about choice, decision-making, self-control and sex. Depending on your teen, these might be brief car ride talks, or a long conversation really thinking through “what –if” scenarios.
What if your teen either got pregnant or got someone pregnant? What are all the possibilities? How would an unplanned pregnancy affect their future? The child’s future? Their parent’s future? What might a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) or HIV mean for their life? Does your teen understand safety rules at large parties?
Another area is to explore who has been teaching your teen about sex. We know kids communicate — are they sharing accurate or inaccurate information? Are older siblings or friends serving as the knowledge source for sex? If so, find out about the misinformation that may be distributed.
Your goal is to help your teen be aware of the roots of emotions, be prepared for the “what-if’s” that come with sexually activity, and to know how to form healthy adult relationships. You want to remain a resource, and celebrate in their healthy relationships. We should not get excited about elementary age kids having boyfriends and girlfriends.
We should be very careful that we not subscribe to a notion of surface beauty over authentic beauty. Support your teens in setting limits, so she can set limits for herself with others. Once you are sure she knows about her own body, the negative and positive consequences of sex, and understands the difference between physical arousal and emotional intimacy, she is on the road to making healthy choices for herself.
To Learn More:
Sol and Judith Gordon’s Raising a Child Responsibly in a Sexually Permissive World
Dr. Sharon Maxwell’s The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear From You About Sex