Teens want to know more about sex and want a safe place to learn more- what they learn in school is limited and what they hear from friends and internalize from the media are often inaccurate. It is very unlikely that a teen will approach their parents with any questions related to sex.
Parents, they do not know how to bring up the subject with you! Also, they are often very worried about their parents’ reaction- they are worried that you will think they have had sex or are going to have sex… when in reality, they are just curious and uninformed. Therefore, you need to let your teen know that you are always open and willing to talk about any questions or concerns they may have about sex.
Sex is more than anatomy and reproductive systems- it’s about dating, relationships, communication, consent, safety, physical and emotional health, vulnerability, intimacy, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual identity and orientation, abstinence, postponing sex, birth control, and drugs & alcohol. There is no way anyone could cover all these topics in one conversation. Therefore, multiple conversations are warranted.
Some parents believe that talking about sex will lead to teens having sex. In fact, research shows that teens who have talked with their parents about sex are more likely to postpone sex, communicate with their sexual partners, and use birth control when they do begin. Studies have found that children who are comfortable talking about sex are actually more likely to delay sexual activity and be older when they first have intercourse.
Well, how do I broach the topic of sex with my teen? First, do not conceptualize talking about sex as a formal, one-time event. The days of “the talk” are over- talking about sex with your teen is an ongoing series of conversations and dialogues. “Oh no! But, it’s going to be so awkward and uncomfortable!” Yep, it probably will be- so expect that and have a sense of humor about it.
The most natural way to bring up the topic is to integrate conversations about sex and relationships just like you would other topics. Think teachable moments- if you are watching a movie or television show together, if you are listening to music in the car and there is a scene or reference to kissing, dating, relationships, or sex, ask your teen about it. “What did you think about that scene where those two characters start kissing at the party?” “What do you think about those lyrics?” “What did you think about that scene where __________?” “What are your thoughts about __________?” When you are watching a TV show that features a young person going through puberty or going out on a date, if you run into a pregnant neighbor, if you pass by Planned Parenthood, use those moments to initiate conversations.
Teens love their phones and the internet so use that to your advantage. Use media to engage your teen- request they watch an educational video (you can watch it together or separately) and both of you come up with questions to ask the other about the video or have them write a 1 page response to the video.
Here are a couple of my favorite videos:
Be an “askable” parent: Ask your teen what they want to know about sex. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. Find the answers together. To feel comfortable talking openly with you, your teen needs to know that you will not punish him or her for being honest and genuine.
Ask open ended questions to learn more and LISTEN, do not interject or interrupt, just LISTEN and incorporate skill-building and problem-solving situations- “What can you do to avoid unwanted sexual contact when you are drunk/using drugs?” “How can you avoid becoming pregnant?” “How can you avoid contracting an STI?” Ask questions like… “I would like to hear what you think about that?” “What else do you know about the topic?” “I’m curious what your thoughts are about that?” “What questions do you have related to sex?” “What do you already know about that?” “Did that answer your question?” “What else would you like to know?” “Is there anything else you would like to know?”
Moving on… what about the topic of pornography? “Oh no way, my teen has never looked at porn, there is no way they watch porn!” WRONG- research suggests kids as young as 8 years old stumble upon hard-core pornography. Not intentionally, but on accident (e.g., they google a bad word they heard at school, on TV, in the movies or they google something like black tights but spell it black tits). Important questions to explore: “What are your thoughts about pornography?” “What is the purpose of pornography?” “What are the risks of pornography?” “How are women portrayed in pornography?” “How are men portrayed in pornography?”
I explain pornography to teens as an action movie- it’s about performance and fantasy, it’s not real. What porn actors do is scripted and it is not what that actor might like in their own personal sex life and it is definitely not what everyone likes. Each person has their own uniques desires and preferences- there is no one size fits or appeals to all when it comes to sex. The truth is that people need to talk about what they like and don’t like, ask questions about what their partner likes and doesn’t like, ask for permission and receive that permission, at the beginning, middle, and end of sex.
“When do I know I am ready to have sex?” “How old do you have to be to have sex?” These are a couple of the most common questions I get asked by teens. My response is always “When you are able to honestly, comfortably, and respectfully have a conversation with your partner about the consequences of having sex.” These conversations should include the following: “What kind of protection will we use? What will happen if someone gets an STI? What will happen if someone gets pregnant? What happens if the condom breaks? What are your reasons for wanting to have sex? What are your thoughts about sex? What are you worried about when it comes to sex? What if we start having sex and the other person does not want to do it anymore (e.g., in that moment and in the future)?”
TIP: Leave age-appropriate articles or books about teenage sexuality around your home and send videos or articles to your teen via text or e-mail. Teens will take a look at them.
NOW GET OUT THERE AND EDUCATE YOUR TEENS! YOU WILL DO GREAT! Here are some additional resources to help you along the way…
Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex by Deborah Roffman
How to Talk with Teens About Love, Relationship, and S-E-X Guide for Parents by Amy G. Miron and Charles D. Miron
All About Sex: A Family Resource on Sex and Sexuality by Ronald Moglia and Jon Knowles
Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children about Sex and Character by Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., and Dominic Cappello
Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters with Intellectual Disabilities by Karin Melberg Schwier and Dave Hingsburger
Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies by Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman