Talking about sex with your kids is very important and is your responsibility. It can be really awkward and difficult though, so I’ve compiled a few helpful tips.
Start early around age 12 or 13. Research shows that teens who have talked with their parents about sex are more likely to wait longer and use birth control when they do begin. This talk is the parents’ responsibility. Teens consistently say that their parents have the most influence over their decisions about sex. A mom or dad can go much deeper into relationship dynamics and answer more questions than a health teacher at school can.
Our nation was founded by people who saw sex as something sinful. This shameful view has followed us into the twenty-first century. If we only tell kids what they can’t do, they will have no idea what they can do. How can we expect young people to go from those scary, sex-negative messages to establishing healthy relationships build on trust, intimacy, and mutual pleasure? We must create an open dialogue and guide them.
1. Be honest
This conversation can be really awkward. Say “this is really awkward” and laugh about it together. Be honest and explain how you’re feeling in the moment. Model that for your child so they can follow.
Be mindful not to punish him for being honest with you. While this can be difficult, what you need is an open conversation. It’s best to let your child explain his thought and feelings so you can guide him in the path of emotional and physical safety. To erase the anxiety of possible embarrassment I sometimes invite my clients to try to make me nervous with their questions. If they’re intending to ask something “weird” then it’s inherently not weird and they are free to ask whatever they’re wondering without filtering.
2. Seize the moment
There is no one big talk anymore. It’s better to have an ongoing open dialogue about sex and relationships. Choose a casual time to talk. Driving in the car can work well as no eye contact makes the anxiety less intense. Open with a simple question such as “are your friends starting to date? What do you think about that?” Aim to really listen to their responses and keep them talking. Ask what they already know about sex.
One of my favorite suggestions to give parents is to leave articles lying around the house. Kids almost always read them.
I highly recommend Al Vernacchio’s book For Goodness Sex. He hits the nail on the head with these conversation starters:
- “Since you’re mature enough to drive / have a cell phone / make your own bed (whatever), I think you’re mature enough to talk with me about…”
- “I know we haven’t talked much about sex before, but it’s been on my mind lately. So, can I ask you something?” (or, “Can I tell you something?”)
- “Can I tell you a wish I made for you last night? I as thinking about what a great kids you are and how much I love you, and I wished that you…”
- “Have you heard that new song (insert title here)? Are the kids at school listening to that? I thought it was pretty gross, the way it talked about women. Do you hear that when you listen to it?”
- “Did I ever tell you about the first boyfriend I had, when I was 16? He was so cute that I actually blushed whenever he looked at me…”
- Your kids are talking about sex all the time. It’s just a matter or whether or not you join the conversation.
3. Share the facts
It is important to be very clear cut with the facts. Explain biology and be clear about birth control and condoms for both pregnancy protection and STD’s. Present the risks objectively – emotional pain, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy. Mr. Vernacchio’s definition of sex is “being involved with someone else’s body for the purpose of giving and receiving sexual pleasure”. Explain to your child in a way that encourages them to hold their standards high and not give into social pressure.
4. Share your beliefs and values
It is essential to clarify values while talking about sexuality. Remember that your teen is navigating the waters, moving from a completely dependent child to an interdependent adult. Even if they understand your beliefs, they are likely to be forming their own and will make their own choices accordingly. Along with keeping them safe, your job is to provide them open communication and guidance to discover their own set of values.
Talking about relationships and emotions are a very important part of sexuality. Many times teens (and adults, for that matter) plan on just “hooking up” with no string attached, but one person ends up with feelings the other does not share. The emotional risk should be talked about along with the physical risks.
Your child is probably watching porn. If not on purpose, he or she has most likely stumbled upon it. Checking the computer history doesn’t work anymore as many teens use their iPods, not even phones, and there are secret browsers too. Given the right environment and moment you can ask your child if they’ve come across anything and maybe ask what the craziest thing they’ve seen is. You can phrase this so it gives them and out and makes it seem like they’ve accidentally come across it. They could be very confused and overwhelmed if they’ve stumbled across BDSM or fetishes. You can help sort this out and explain how common sex is different and is a caring act of giving and receiving mutual pleasure. But when people get older, sometimes they like to try unique types of things.
Many teens send provocative photos or videos of their body to others. If your child is under 18, make sure he or she knows that sending any photos of themselves naked is illegal and considered distributing child pornography. Also, please stress the importance of never showing their face in photos even if they know the person they’re sending them to. Almost all of my clients admit to having sent clearly identifiable illicit photos.
According to my buddy Al Vernacchio (who I can only wish was my friend in real life), “A 2012 study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine notes that 28 percent of the youth surveyed, all in tenth or eleventh grade, reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail, and 31 percent reported having asked someone for a sext.
More than half of the teens surveyed, 57 percent, had been asked to send a sext. What was also interesting about this study was that it reported that young people don’t like to receive requests for a sext. All of the girls and half of the boys surveyed reported feeling bothered by requests for sexts.” Many teens reply and send the text anyway due to a deep seated need to be noticed and loved. The privacy technique is a great start for mapping out your child’s values and what they are and aren’t ok with sharing.
1. Draw 4 concentric circles
2. The bull’s eye represents what your adolescent doesn’t want anyone to know ever. The most private.
3. The next outer circle is for people they trust the most.
4. One more step out is for acquaintances
5. The last circle is for strangers
6. Label each circle with who fits in that grouping and what information you are willing to share with them
Once you’ve filled in your circles, ask how you will keep the info in it’s own circle. The simple answer is you can’t. You can only try to. That’s why it’s very important to choose wisely who’s in which circle to minimize the risk of information leaking outside what you’re ok with.
6. Ask for help
Chances are that if you are’t talking to your kids about sex, the education is coming from movies, commercials, TV, and online porn. This isn’t a subject you can skip over. It’s very important. I’ve had countless conversations with my clients about sexuality and I’d be more than happy to help you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll call you to talk in more detail and set up an appointment. I’ve been told by many adolescents that I’m easier to talk openly and be honest with because I’m not “old” like everyone else. 😉