A handful of you have talked to your kids about sex in a matter of factual way that has helped them develop health ideas and boundaries. Some of you have talked about some things, like waiting to have sex, that you should use protection, how babies are made, but that’s about it. And a group of you have completely ignored the subject hoping it would take care of itself or someone else will talk to them about “it”
What else can I say but WAKE THE FUCK UP!! You need to talk to your kids right now about sex. Summer is upon us, and guess what? Teens are especially susceptible to risky sexual behaviors over the summer break. So prepare thyself for some weird moments. In fact, it will be downright awkward at times. Tough. Shit.
Think back to when you were a kid. When did you first have sexual feelings? When were you first eroticized or did you eroticize another person? When did you have your first orgasm? When did you first see a Playboy or Playgirl, or online porn? Now realize that if your kids have the internet, so those things could be happening at a younger age than it did for you. So if you’re waiting for the biology talk that happens somewhere between 3rd and 5th grade in public schools, you’re waaaay behind the mark.
Wanna hear about my sex education history? My parents pretty much let school teach me about ovaries and uteruses and sperm and penises. They let me church teach me that anything under the clothes and laying down with a boy was a sin and should not happen unless I was married. They let people around me teach me that interracial dating was frowned upon, and even echoed some of their sentiments. They let society and TV teach me that I needed to be thin and pretty and sexual for people to pay attention to me and that no one waited until marriage to have sex. See some mixed signals there?
I had to take charge of my own sexual education. My first pelvic exam at a gynecologist wasn’t until I was 19. Girls should have an office visit with an OB/GYN after their first menstruation to become familiar with a doctor and understand her body and health. A pelvic exam shouldn’t be necessary unless she is having issues with her cycles such as heavy bleeding or painful cramps, or she becomes sexually active (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists). I had to learn about masturbation, orgasms, porn, contraceptives, and desire all on my own.
Here’s the thing… The average age for a US teen to have had intercourse for the first time is around 17. Now, imagine your teen. Would feel comfortable coming to you, their parent to say, “Hey so, I’m ready to have sex/I’ve had sex now. Can you call Dr. OB/GYN and get me an appointment please?” And if they did, how would you react?
I’m guessing for many of you reading, you just had a mini anxiety attack.
Not having talks about sexuality could have long-lasting consequences for their overall health and safety. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 46% of parents hadn’t talked to their kids about how to deal with peer pressure for sexual activity. While teen pregnancy is down (thanks Obama), STIs are on the rise among teens. Kids are having sex less and at an older age for their first sexual encounter, but they aren’t using protection.
The CDC also has some sobering statistics, for instance among people aged 13-24 diagnosed with HIV, 87% are male and 13% are female. Perhaps teen males learned a myth about anal intercourse preserving virginity, or they think that buying condoms is embarrassing, or wearing a condom doesn’t feel good (try Skyn by Lifestyles). Point is, if they aren’t armed with the full scope of sexual health information and best practices, they are at risk in many ways.
“But where do you start,” you ask? Parents really should start early, and start with facts from the beginning. But if you’re playing catch-up, hopefully, these tips can help you.
It can be intimidating and embarrassing – for both sides – so just acknowledge it. Telling them “Look, this is uncomfortable or embarrassing for me too, but we have to talk about this…” can set the tone that yes there will be discomfort, but you’re going to get through it together. Push through the initial discomfort and you may find yourself having one of the most honest and impactful talks you and your child can have in life.
Have courage and begin the conversation by showing love, compassion, and understanding. That looks like saying things such as “I remember what it was like, and it’s tough.” “Figuring all this stuff out isn’t easy and I wish I had someone talk to me about it when I was a kid.” Be vulnerable. Watch or read a little Brené Brown if you need some quick lessons in opening yourself up.
Figure yourself out. What are your true values around human sexuality? What did you experience as an adolescent or teen? Think back to your milestones and realize that your teen may or may not follow in your footsteps, but a little self-revelation can help you and your child develop a stronger bond, and help them with self-esteem, self-image, and resilience.
Call body parts their real names while also talking about consent. This will give them the confidence to avoid or report situations like stranger danger or a creepy neighbor or an abusive relative, but also in setting boundaries in romantic relationships. If you have a 10-year-old you’re still saying pee-pee or vajayjay to, stop right now, have a talk about biology, and move forward with words like penis and vagina and breasts, because they aren’t bad words.
Sex is about more than mechanics. Often sex education teaches them how sperm and egg come together to make an embryo, but they aren’t taught about the various layers of love including desire, intimacy, and consent. These facets must be discussed before they are interested in relationships. This should be an ongoing conversation. Find teachable moments when things come up even after you’ve had the basic discussions.
Talking to your kids about sex won’t encourage them to have sex. This is a myth. It’s important to give them facts or explore resources like PlannedParenthood.org or Scarleteen.com together. When they are armed with information and facts, they are more likely to make healthy decisions, or to come to you when they don’t and they need help.
Don’t let porn be where they learn about intercourse from. If you’ve waited until your kid is a teenager, they have most likely already seen pornography. The median age is 10 when a kid first sees online porn, so by not talking to them early, you’re late to the conversation and are now trying to interrupt their developing concepts about sex, rather than you helping shape those notions within a healthy framework. Also, don’t rely on parental locks. It just takes one guest login or going to a friend’s house with an older sibling, and your kid is seeing something you didn’t anticipate having to answer questions about. That’s if you’re lucky and they ask questions, right? Talk to them about how porn is not realistic, it’s for adults just like some movies are, and it’s not the place to actually learn about sex.
Abstinence is absolutely a valid choice and should be taught as an option, but you need to discuss sexual activity, too. Teenagers are getting STIs in increasing numbers in the last few years, so we are failing them by not teaching them what they need to know to protect themselves. The CDC says that 1 in 4 teens has an STI. Over 80% of those have no symptoms. Because myths like oral or anal sex are not “real sex”, they don’t understand that it is still sex, and you still can get STIs from them. As mentioned before, teens aren’t using barrier protect consistently during sexual encounters. Condoms and dental dams should be used for all sexual contact, and you have to work together to figure out how they will get those.
Oral sex is still sex. Anal sex is still sex. Help your teen understand it’s about body fluids and membranes. If a mouth, hands, penis, vulva, vagina or anus are in contact with a mouth, hands, penis, vulva, vagina or anus or any combination, you can get an STI. Pretty simple. Wear condoms or wait. Use dental dams or cut a condom open to make a mouth barrier.
STIs are also not the end of the world, either. It’s important for anyone with an STI to seek treatment, to work with their doctor to follow protocols for wellness, and to be honest with any potential partners if it’s long term. Stigma against STIs is still very real, so be cautious to not scare your kids into hiding their behavior or health concerns. Let them know they can come to you if they weren’t protected or if they are worried they have contracted an infection.
And last of all, hug them, tell them it will all be alright, and that you’re there for them.