January 14, 2013 by middleearthnj
The “sex talk” is a conversation most parents dread. It can be awkward and uncomfortable for both of you, and so many parents approach the subject with an attitude of “let me say the least that I have to in one big talk so I can get this checked off my parenting to-do list.” One mother may feel she’s covered the sex subject by explaining the physical process of becoming pregnant to her teen, while another mother might believe that asking her teen if he or she has questions is enough. The problem is that neither of those conversations are enough. Your teen is in a confusing environment where he or she is pummeled with a variety of conflicting, inaccurate, pressuring messages about sex. There are some essential topics about sex that every child should hear about from their parents, which we have listed below.
Many parents think their child is too young to be engaged in sexual activity and figure they’ll talk when he or she is older. This is not true! Unfortunately, children are engaging in sex much earlier than ever before. For example, an Iowa State study of nearly 1,000 low-income families in three major cities found that one in four children between the ages of 11 and 16 reported having sex, with their first sexual intercourse experience occurring at the average age of 12. You need to keep the doors to communication open by having smaller, developmentally appropriate talks throughout your child’s life, rather than just one big sex talk at a certain age that you think covers the basics. Think of it like an ongoing conversation versus a series of planned lectures. The list below is an outline for bringing up specifics here and there. Perhaps you explain her body’s reproduction when she’s 9, bring up “body image” when her friend announces she’s fat at age 11, or discuss sexual exploitation after watching a movie together that addresses that issue at age 14. The key is to foster open communication and hit all of the below subjects throughout your child’s adolescence. It is vital that parents do not leave these discussions up to their child’s peers or schools for two important reasons – they might get incorrect information and no one can pass down your family values and positive self images for your child better than you.
Learning about his/her body. Tweens need to learn about their body from their parents. They should understand puberty, how their sexual organs work, and that sexual feelings are normal. Conversations about your child’s body should continue throughout adolescence.
Defining boundaries. Throughout your talks about sexuality with your child, you should clearly state that your child has the right to say “no” to anything that feels uncomfortable to them. Whether it’s just kissing, touching, oral sex, or intercourse, whether it’s with someone they know very well or very little, your teen should know that they have every right to refuse if things “don’t feel right”.
The physical act of sex. Parents need to explain sex, but we mean a lot more than just “intercourse.” Parents should explain the physical act of intercourse and how babies are made (egg and sperm meeting to produce an embryo). Eventually, this conversation should dovetail with your previous conversations about puberty so that you can explain cycles and how a woman gets pregnant. But, as your child matures, he/she should also be made aware that intercourse is pleasurable and that there is more than one way of having sex. You may not really want to discuss oral or anal sex with your child, but they are going to hear about it from their peers. Slightly more than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience. Unfortunately, teens often believe oral sex is “safer” than vaginal sex, which is not true. They also feel like they are still following their parents’ advice to “abstain” if they are not having traditional intercourse. Many don’t consider oral sex to be much more than kissing.
Sexuality tied to body image. Teens need to understand that how they feel about themselves and their appearance is a big key to whether they will be happy with their sex life. Your teen’s body image is not the shape of their body, but rather, how they VIEW the shape of their body. How a teen perceives the way they look has a powerful influence on their life and self-esteem. You can read our previous blog that fully discusses teen body image.
Sexual orientation. Parents must explain what gay, straight and bisexual means. Again, if you don’t, their peers will, and it may be in a way that makes you uncomfortable. This is an excellent time to teach teens about prejudices against different sexual orientations and what can be done about this problem.
Safe sex, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Teens need to know that there are pitfalls to becoming sexually active without thinking it through and taking precautionary steps. Eleven percent of all U.S. births are to teens. To combat this, teenagers need to know your family values, what becoming sexually active means for their health (possible consequences of STDs and pregnancy), how to protect against pregnancy and STDs, and the incredible difficulties a teen parent must face. We have previous blogs discussing how to prevent teen pregnancy and also how to dispel common myths teens hold about STDs.
Ties between sex and dating. Teens are very interested in the whole gamut of relationship management. They want to know how to date, how to resist peer pressure without losing their boyfriend or girlfriend, and how they will know they are in love. We take for granted that children know what dating is. But on movies, two people meet and quickly become intimate. Parents need to combat that message and explain that in real life there is time to get to know each other – time to hold hands, go bowling, see a movie, or just talk. Children need to know that this is an important part of a caring relationship. Parents also need to remind teens that another person is involved when you’re in a relationship – it is not ‘all about me’. Sex causes a bond that can be very strong. Teens don’t always realize the emotional repercussions of becoming intimate – parents are their best source of information for thinking through how they might feel after having sex.
Awareness of sexual abuse or exploitation. Unfortunately, you need to tell your teen that there are people who would use them for their own sexual fulfillment, which can range from taking photos, touching, to intercourse. Give your tween/teen statistics about abuse (1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18), which situations they should avoid, and also that it isn’t always a stranger who abuses or molests. Make it clear that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, an older youth or even a peer. Encourage your teen to talk to you if they ever feel uncomfortable about how someone is treating them.
Remember that, as parents, we can become so focused on preventing pregnancy and STDs that we forget to talk about the positive aspects of sex. We want our teens to eventually grow up to enjoy their sexual relationships, so don’t be one-sided and negative. Be sure to tell them that sex can be a wonderful part of a relationship.