The Sex Talk

Talking to Your Teens About Sex and Birth Control

Written on November 12, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

“We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception,” says actress and Emmy Award-winning talk show host Ricki Lake. Today the mom of two boys (16 and 12) is asking you to give a shout-out to birth control by having an age-appropriate talk with your kids as part of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s  “Thanks, birth control” movement. Here’s why.

Contraception. There. I said it. That wasn’t so bad, was it? As you probably know, my life has been an open book. There’s almost nothing I haven’t talked about on television. I’ve shared every personal milestone over the last two decades with my wonderful viewers, which has enriched my life in profound ways. That’s because I believe that talking helps you bond, open up, lose your fears. Think about it: Years ago, nobody would have dared to say “breast cancer” in public. Now look how many lives are being changed because we have collectively decided that talking about it openly can save lives and make people feel less alone.

So why doesn’t anyone talk about contraception? It’s something 99% of adult women in the U.S. have used. What else can you say that about? My friends at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy asked me to help them launch a national conversation about birth control and what it makes possible–for women, men, families and society. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of chatter out there already about contraception—there’s plenty. But all of it is so negative, so political and so polarizing. So regular people, or people who don’t have a stake in the political battles over contraception, just stay quiet. And when we don’t speak up, we are sending the message to young women in particular that contraception is a taboo subject.

Why is that so dangerous? Because 9 out of 10 single young adults ages 18-29 say they don’t want a pregnancy right now, but 40% of them aren’t using contraception consistently. Which is why single 20-somethings have twice the number of unplanned pregnancies as teens do, and 7 in 10 pregnancies in that age group are unplanned. Consequences for their babies are about the same as for babies born to teen moms. I’ve been working with the National Campaign for nearly two decades to help reduce teen pregnancy, and I’m proud to say that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is down more than 44% over the past 21 years. One reason for this decline is that we are all talking openly about the importance of preventing teen pregnancy, and teens have gotten the message. Unplanned pregnancy among single young adults hasn’t budged. The fact is that 9 out of 10 women and men ages 18-29 are sexually active, and a shocking 40% of them think that even if you’re using contraception, when it’s “your time” to get pregnant, you probably will. This is exactly why talking openly about contraception—and how to use it correctly—can change lives. If you can’t talk about birth control, how do you know if you’re using it right? Or if there might be a better method out there for you?

We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception. The UN declares access to birth control to be a “universal human right.” The CDC calls the advent of modern contraception one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. When women have a say in planning and spacing their pregnancies, everyone benefits. I am grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve had to be a mom and to have a career, all at the same time. That’s because I got to decide when I was ready to start a family—a tremendous freedom that I don’t take for granted. So that’s why I’m asking you to join me and thousands of others to take a moment today to give a shout-out for birth control and all that it makes possible. Share a fact. Dispel a myth. Share one of these cool postcards or videos from the National Campaign. Putting off that talk with your daughter (or son!) about contraception. Today’s the day to have it. Speak up and talk about what birth control makes possible for you, your career, your family. Just saying the words out loud will help make the topic less toxic. Take to social media, use #ThxBirthControl and tell me why you’re saying “Thanks, birth control” with me today. I’m listening!

Ricki Lake is a media advisor to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

 

A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Dating

Written on October 22, 2013 at 11:36 am , by

Written by Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood

Teen dating

How many times have you heard someone say, “She’s such a flirt” or “He’s going to be a real ladies’ man” about a baby? Or tease a young child by saying, “Is he your boyfriend?” Apart from being age-inappropriate, comments like these give children ideas about dating and sexuality from a very young age. So it’s no surprise that by the time they reach their teens, young people have a lot of messages to sort out about romantic relationships.

We have to be careful not to push teens into dating, especially younger teens who are still in middle school. Studies show that the earlier teens start dating and having relationships, the sooner sexual activity takes place. Younger teens really should be completely focused on school, activities and family. As they get older and relationships become developmentally appropriate, it remains important that we stay close to our teens and provide guidance while allowing them to develop some independence.

As parents, we all want our teens to have good early relationships, so we should discuss what constitutes a healthy relationship before they begin dating. We can help them to expect good communication, respect, trust, fairness, honesty and equality. It’s also important to teach them not to be aggressive or push anyone into doing anything before they’re ready—if someone feels uncomfortable or resistant, just stop.

Once your teen does start dating, talk with him or her regularly about what’s going on. Listen and give your teen a chance to discuss his/her experiences, then give helpful advice. Parents should definitely get to know their son or daughter’s boyfriend/girlfriend, and the boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents too. Dating anyone more than two years older is risky—there are so many developmental differences that it’s almost impossible to have a healthy relationship with that large an age gap. And be sure to set ground rules: no friends over when adults aren’t home, check in when they go out to let you know where they’ll be and who they’re with, etc. You can find some tips for effectively monitoring and supervising your teen in this video.

Be very clear about your expectations and values when it comes to dating and sex. Planned Parenthood created this helpful tool for parents to start having these conversations. In fact, teens name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex, so we can help them understand why it’s important to wait to have sex until they’re ready. We have to be willing to talk and listen, and ask direct questions like, “What’s going on physically with you two?” Hopefully our teens will tell us when they are considering sexual activity.

We need to be as loving as possible when we learn that our teens are having sex. You may initially be disappointed or upset, but try to contain your anxiety and deal with your own feelings separately from your interactions with your son or daughter. The most important thing for parents to do is to listen. Stay calm and try to keep the lines of communication open, so your teen knows he or she can continue to come to you. If you do get upset or say something you later regret, you can always go back and say, “Listen, I was feeling startled that I just heard you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are having sex. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. I just want you to be healthy and safe.” Conversations about sexuality and relationships are an ongoing dialogue. Once we know our teens are sexually active, parents can make a difference. We can help our teens think about their relationships and encourage them to always use birth control and practice safer sex.

Through frequent conversations with your teen, you can help to launch his or her love life well (and maybe put some of your own fears to rest too). You may find that these are some of the most meaningful and rewarding conversations you ever have.

For more information about talking with your teen, visit plannedparenthood.org/parents.

 

 

Talking To Your Kid About Sex

Written on May 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm , by

On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, guest blogger Michelle Edelman shares the surprisingly early sex talk she had to have with her 3rd-grader and where other moms can get help finding the right words to say.

 

 

I remember learning about sex from a Judy Blume novel that was covertly passed around my class in the corner of the public library. Later that year, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Briggin sat us all in a circle and gave us a very matter-of-fact, anatomical explanation of sex. One of my classmates was so overcome with emotion during the discussion that she stabbed my leg with her #2 pencil. I then became secretly worried that I would die of lead poisoning and missed a good bit of what Mrs. Briggin said after that point!

Chances are you first learned about sex in some shrouded, fragmented way too. You probably also found yourself unprepared for the inevitable social situations at the intersection of Hormone Street and Sheer Panic Avenue. It’s likely the little threads of facts about “what goes where” left you woefully inadequate when it came to the real issues: Are you ready for this emotionally and physically? Are you prepared to take care of yourself? Do you even know this person? What do you expect to get out of this experience?

Now is a scary time to be raising tweens and teens. I have two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The pressure to be sexualized at a young age is everywhere. It has always been present in music and pop culture influences. But now with mobile phones and other digital devices, these influences are constant.  Forbes Magazine reported that the average age a kid first sees a porn image is 11. “Sex” and “porn” are the #4 and #6 most popular searches on Google performed by kids. But they’ll see all sorts of images anyway, as they are preparing book reports or looking for Club Penguin because the images are so prevalent across the Internet.

When my youngest was 9, she asked me to buy her a book from the American Girl Company called The Care and Keeping of You. I heard “American Girl” and blindly ordered this book on Amazon. This is a company I respect. They taught our kids bits of history through the eyes of fictional girls with integrity and great values. So I didn’t think twice. Until our daughter announced that she thought her “hormonies” were not working. It was then I found out that she was reading a full-on manual about teen bodies, complete with drawings!

This was only a surprise because I had not prepared myself for my then-3rd grader to be so ready to have frank talks about her body and sex. But I’ve come to realize that healthy sexuality—especially the decision-making around intimacy—starts with healthy conversations at our homes. It will never be comfortable for people who are parents right now to relate to the world of our “digital native” kids. Fortunately there are tools out there that will help us facilitate conversation. It’s National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the folks at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy have decided to bail us parents out. Check out this quiz for your teen.

These questions get to the heart of the matter for kids. No matter how much “fact” our children accumulate, nothing can take the place of open conversation about what might happen when those facts are put to the test by peer pressure and the random chaos that is created by kids and technology.

You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.

How did you first learn about sex? And what have you passed on to your kids? Post a comment below and tell us!

Michelle Edelman is the CEO and Director of Strategy of NYCA, a San Diego-based advertising agency. 

 

 

The Awkward Sex Talk…With Your Stepkid

Written on April 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm , by

 

In the time since I wrote the “Reality Check” essay for the May issue, my candid answers to any questions the kids pose has made an impression on them. Now anytime one of them inadvertently asks a question that has me using s-e-x in the answer, they hold up their hands and say, “No, that’s okay! I’m good!” That’s in public. In private, they still come to me and ask me the Big Deals. They know I’ll tell them the truth.

Trying to figure out your true role as a stepmom is tough. My role feels ever-changing, and isn’t the same for each kid. A stepmom I admire once told me that she always strives to be the kids’ advocate, not their disciplinarian. As a custodial stepmom, that isn’t always possible for me, but it’s a really good guideline. The best things happen when I have that spirit behind my interactions with the kids.

Meanwhile, I now have a standing Friday morning date with my husband to grocery shop – at a different supermarket.

- JM Randolph

 

Read more by JM Randolph on her blog, accidentalstepmom.com.

 

Actress Alfre Woodard on Talking to Her Kids About Sex

Written on October 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm , by

In honor of Planned Parenthood‘s Let’s Talk Month, award-winning actress Alfre Woodad shares her experience about talking to her kids about sex.

When it comes to talking with my kids about sex, I’ve always thought that not talking about it would be like not talking about your hand: it’s a part of your body, so you need to know how to take care of it.

It’s why I started talking with my kids about sex and sexuality when they were young—putting it into context and letting them know how it relates to real life. In fact, my kids didn’t think it was weird to hear their parents talk about sex until they learned that their friends thought it was weird that our family talked about it.

We know our kids are going to hear about sex—it’s impossible for them not to since it’s in nearly every song they hear, TV show they watch, book they read, or website they surf—and I was determined that I was going to be their main source of information, particularly when they became teenagers. As a mother, part of my job is to make sure my kids have the guidance they need to decide when they’re ready for a sexual relationship and the information they need to prevent STDs and to prevent pregnancy until they are ready to become parents. We can’t leave our kids unprepared.

But if I’m truthful, every conversation with my teens hasn’t flowed like honey. Some of them have been challenging ones to have. I realized a long time ago, however, that parenting is an art of practice: you get better at it and more comfortable with it the more you do it. That’s definitely been true for me when it comes to talking with my kids about sex. Teens, especially, aren’t always brave enough to ask questions even when they want and need answers. That’s why as parents it’s important that we don’t wait for them to start asking questions, but that we take opportunities to start and continue talking with them about sex and relationships even if it seems like they’re uncomfortable or hesitant.

A few months ago, I was taking my son off for his first year of college, and I realized that talking about sex really has become a natural part of the conversations we have as family. We were driving and listening to pounding rap music that was full of sex. I used it as an opportunity to remind him of all of the conversations we’ve had over the past few years. I gave him the same information I always do—think of women as equals. They are just as strong and smart. They have their responsibilities, but so do you when it comes to sex. I told him to always have his own condoms so that he knows that they’re safe to use. I brought this up as a reminder along with other reminders that I’ve given him over the years: remember to stay hydrated because it’s hot in the desert, eat something green every day, and use your own condoms!

As parents, we have to be willing to be bold and to remember that our kids’ abilities to be healthy and make good decisions about relationships outweigh any discomfort we may feel when talking with them about sex. As moms, it might help to remember that we’re the ones who taught them how to wipe their bottoms and brush their teeth, and we’ve picked stuff out their noses. These frank chats about sex are just an extension of that commitment.

Note: Check out Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month flipbook to see what actors Alfre Woodard, Cynthia Nixon and Elizabeth Banks, as well as non-celebrity moms and teens, have to say about talking about sex.

Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.

Alfre Woodard’s work as an actor has earned her an Oscar nomination, four Emmy Awards with 17 Emmy nominations, three SAG Awards and a Golden Globe.  Woodard’s illustrious body of work includes Cross Creek, HBO’s Mandela, Grand Canyon, Passion Fish and more.

5 Common Parental Concerns About Talking To Your Kids About Sex

Written on October 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm , by

Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest workshops to help prepare parents to talk about sex with their kids.

Planned Parenthood and Family Circle magazine recently conducted a survey to see how parents and teens are doing when it comes to talking about sex. As it turns out, parents are a lot more comfortable having these conversations than their teens. However, parents aren’t always tackling the tougher topics. I get it, some questions about sex may seem harder to tackle than others. Kids are notorious for asking questions that make parents squirm.

As a parent educator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and a parent myself, I’ve heard just about every question you could think of. And in every Let’s Be Honest parent education workshop I host, after beginning to share possible answers and strategies, shoulders relax and parents feel more empowered to give it a try.

I want to share five questions that parents from my workshops have asked again and again, and tips for how you can address them with your own kids. You may not be able to anticipate every question your child will have, but there are four themes you can keep in mind during these ongoing conversations:

  • Fulfill your right and responsibility as a parent to be your child’s primary sexuality educator.
  • Share your attitudes, beliefs, and values around sex and sexuality.
  • Respect your child’s feelings and promote positive self-esteem in your child.
  • Provide accurate facts and knowledge.

Check out this website for more information about the four themes and try to keep them in mind as you answer questions that come up with your child.

Viewing questions about sex and sexuality as a natural and normal situation can help us keep our sense of perspective. Answering questions matter-of-factly, calmly, and honestly is the best policy.

Try some of these answers on for size and see if they make sense for you and your family.

My four-year-old is asking “Where do babies come from?” What should I do?

A question like this calls for active listening and asking gentle questions to find out why your child is curious about the topic and what she or he really wants to know. Answering “babies come from their moms” might be all they need to know. Let your child’s questions be your guide.

Try this: “That’s a great question! A tiny seed from a man called a sperm and a tiny egg from a woman join together inside the uterus, a special place inside the woman. When the baby is ready to be born, it comes out through the opening between the woman’s legs called the vagina.”

What should I do if my child goes to school and shares information from our family discussions about sexuality with other kids who have not yet had this conversation?

Kids frequently compare information with each other about sex, whether parents want them to or not. When you start having these discussions with your child, tell her/him that you are sharing this information because this is something that families talk about with each other. Remind your child that friends will talk about it with their own families.

Try this: “I think it’s great that you are interested in learning more about bodies and how they work. You can always ask me any questions. And, each family has their own idea of when to talk about these things, so let your friends talk to their parents.”

What do I say if my middle school child asks me, “Why do people enjoy sex?”

Kids of all ages are curious about the world around them, their bodies and how they work, and how they relate to others. This is a great opportunity to talk with them about relationships and healthy decision-making.

Try this: “Just like there are many different ways to define sex, there are many different reasons why people enjoy sex. People usually enjoy sex when  both people have agreed to it, and when both people are emotionally and physically ready to be intimate (close and loving) with one another. It’s not like on TV. In real life, the emotional part is just as, if not more, important than the physical part. And, just like with other mammals, the human body is designed to enjoy sexual behaviors.”

How do I handle personal questions such as, “Mom, when did you start having sex?”

Our kids are often interested in this information to serve as a barometer of their own readiness. However, everyone has to make their own decision about when the time is right. Rather than concentrating on any specific timeline in conversations, instead discuss the importance of emotional, physical, and spiritual readiness, including respect, comfort, vulnerability, intimacy, and trust.

Try this: “I understand that you’re curious about my life experience. The age of when I had sex for the first time isn’t as important as what I was feeling or thinking about it. Although you will decide for you when the best time is, I want you to know that I hope you wait until you are older and in a mature, responsible relationship. When do you think someone knows if they are ready to have sex?”

My child is very shy when sex comes up. How should I approach this or initiate a conversation?

Many kids are shy or embarrassed about this topic and many parents are as well! I recommend that parents be proactive. Don’t wait for questions that may not come up. Parents can use television shows, music lyrics, movies, news stories, or magazine ads as ways of opening the door to ongoing conversations. Sometimes texting, e-mailing, or writing a note might be the best way to start.

Try this: “I know it’s hard to talk about this, but I love you and feel that it’s important that we can have these conversations. I am always here for you if you want to talk.”

As parents, we want to help our kids navigate the mixed messages and contradictions they encounter in our sex-saturated culture. Recent studies show that young people who have frequent and open conversations with their parents about sex and sexuality are more likely to make healthier, safer, and better-informed decisions related to sex.

It’s time to start talking! Let’s make sure that when kids have questions, they can turn to us for our values and age-appropriate, honest, and factual information.

Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest and Seamos Honestos workshops in the community to help prepare parents and other trusted caregivers create an environment of trust and comfort in talking with their children about sex and sexuality. Learn more about Let’s Be Honest: Communication in families that keeps kids healthy.

What Parents Fear Most About The Sex Talk (And How To Overcome It)

Written on October 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm , by

 

John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex.

Most parents treat the topic of sex as if it were nitroglycerin: acting like one wrong move means everything will explode! So it’s no surprise that they absolutely dread having those conversations with their kid. In the “Sex Talk” survey Family Circle and Planned Parenthood conducted and reported on this November, they found that more than 70% of parents wait until their child is 11 or older to talk about any topics related to sexuality. And even when they do chat with their kids, it’s not very frequent. In a survey of over 45,000 parents and children of divorce that I’m conducting on Dr. Phil’s website, parents frequently reported that they spoke with their kids about sex; however, most kids disclosed that they don’t recall any such conversations.

Why the anxiety? Parents reveal that their reluctance to talk about sex with their kids stem from embarrassment about their own experiences that tap into their own associations and baggage with sex. They also worry that they will convey wrong information or that merely raising the topic will encourage their child to engage in sexual acts. Parents need to distinguish between their concerns about sex and the needs of their child at the various stages of the child’s growth.

Studies show that parents who discuss sex in a loving and honest way actually decrease the likelihood that their child will engage in sexual activity. In fact, kids who share a good relationship with their parents and can honestly discuss their concerns about sex, dating, and love are less influenced by peer behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex and report less depression and anxiety and more self-reliance and self-esteem. These kids are also more successful in school and develop more meaningful relationships. Such studies confirm that the quality and importance of our communications at home strongly influences our children’s life.

Remember: You don’t have to pretend that you know it all. If you’re natural about any uncertainty yet show that you are willing to learn as you go along, you set the stage for an honest relationship with your child. Providing accurate information and details is important, however, it’s more critical to express interest, support, and openness and respond to your child’s needs.

Parents need to demystify sex and guide their kids to manage the physical aspects of sexuality and support their children’s emotional, social, relational and spiritual sexual growth. We need to help our kids make the connections between intimacy and love and understand healthy relationships. If we don’t take effective action to communicate with our kids, they can’t be expected to make effective decisions—and they will go elsewhere to find answers.

Parents go to extraordinary lengths to nurture, strengthen and support their kids—academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It’s not okay to leave your child to fend for himself regarding his or her sexual development. Parents need to reclaim their role as their child’s guide concerning sex. By communicating with our kids, in an age appropriate manner, from infancy through adolescence about sex, we will come through for them on concerns when our children need us most.

John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex, which clarifies what kids need at each stage of development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to drchirban.com and sexualproblems.com.

Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

The Sex Talk and Your Teen: What’s Porn Got To Do With It?

Written on October 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman offers advice on having “the sex talk” with kids for Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month.

Pornography: It’s the reason kids are uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex.

That’s what immediately came to mind when I read the Planned Parenthood and Family Circle survey finding that while half of all parents are comfortable having the sex talk with their kids, only 18% of teens said they feel very comfortable having the sex talk with their parents.

I thought this because I regularly talk to tweens and teens. I know how common it is for them to have questions about sex, so they type “kissing” into YouTube and a few seconds later they’ve clicked onto a porn site. I know that boys regularly show each other favorite porn sites—like their dads did with Playboys and Penthouses a generation ago.

According to Family Safe Media, the average age at which children are first exposed to pornography is 11—earlier than most parents think they need to talk to their kids about sexual decision making. Ninety percent of kids between 8 and 16 have seen pornography, usually while doing their homework.

Before you think, “Where are the parents?” or “Why don’t those parents have filtering devices on their computers?” realize that both questions are irrelevant. Kids have regular access to devices that allow them to research and share topics they’re curious about. And sex has always been and always will be a topic kids are curious about.

If you’re a parent and don’t know any of this, you’re going to approach the sex conversation from an entirely different context than your child. Imagine: You get over your discomfort and sit down with your child to impart your deeply held values about healthy sexual decisions—without keeping in mind that there’s a good possibility they’ve seen graphic, up-close sexual intercourse and oral sex.

Of course kids don’t want to tell us they’ve seen these images. What are they supposed to say? If they admit what they’ve seen, you’re probably going to respond by asking in a very intense, accusatory tone, “Who showed you those? Where were you? What exactly did you see?” They don’t want to have that conversation with you. Plus, they think if they tell you, you’ll react by taking away their phones or computers.

You can have all the filters on your computer you want, block the TV and take away their phones—it won’t matter. You can’t take away every portal to the Internet in your child’s life.

This is what I say: ”I know that if you want to see those pictures, you’re going to figure out how to do it. I could take away every computer in the house and every phone and it wouldn’t make a difference. Here’s why I don’t want you to watch porn. It brings you into a really complicated world where you’re being exposed to really messed-up images and messages about how men and women interact sexually. It’s also all fake. It’s a performance where women are supposed to look a certain way and always like whatever the guy wants to do and the guy never cares about the woman he’s with. I think you deserve to have more accurate information than what you’d see there. But you do have the right to have information about sex in a way that’s accurate and appropriate for you. If you have questions about sex, I want you to ask me or another adult who we both think is a good person to answer your questions.”

As a mom, it upsets me that I have to raise my children in a world where pornography is readily accessible to them. As a teacher, it upsets me that porn is giving our girls and boys unrealistic and often very unhealthy messages about sexuality that will influence them to some degree. But as upsetting as it is, we have to face what our world is like and respond in an informed way. If we don’t, we can’t be relevant in our children’s lives when they need our guidance the most.

Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Teach Your Teens to Say No–or Yes–to Sex

Written on October 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm , by

Deborah Roffman, author of Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids’ Go-To Person about Sex, shares advice for parents and “the sex talk” for Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month.

If you define the word “sex” the way most Americans define it, the title of this blog might seem pretty controversial. Perhaps even misguided. Educating teens to say “Yes to sexual intercourse? Why would a parent want to do that?

In my experience as a parent educator for more than 30 years, most parents definitely prefer that their children postpone potentially risky sexual behaviors until they are mature enough to manage the physical, social and emotional aspects of deeply intimate relationships. (There are other parents who prefer that their children postpone these behaviors until they are married or in a long term committed relationship, no matter their level of maturity.)

But the thing is, the kinds of sexual experiences teens engage in run the gamut from kissing to French kissing to hugging to touching breasts or genitals to more intimate and potentially riskier behaviors like oral sex or vaginal intercourse. These are all forms of sexual behavior, and engaging in any one of them constitutes being “sexually active.”

Unfortunately, when adults use phrases like “sexually active” as the equivalent of “having intercourse,” as most Americans do, we imply to kids that these other forms of sexual behavior don’t really count and don’t require careful decision-making.

Each of the behaviors along this continuum represents a real yes or no choice, regardless of the particular behavior involved, and many if not most of our kids will eventually find themselves in situations where they’ll need to make decisions about participating, or not, in one or more of them. Moreover, many parents might even consider some of these experiences during the teen years to be a healthy and normal part of growing up.

So, indeed, most parents don’t want their children to always say “no” to all sexual experiences. Giving our children guidance about good decision making means giving them the tools to know how and when it might be okay to say yes to a particular sexual experience, and under what circumstances it would probably, or definitely, be best for them to say no. That means talking with them about a host of issues, including relationships, pressures, values, motivation, communication, mutuality, consent, caring, empathy and respect for boundaries, our own and others’.

If we wait to begin these conversations until the point in time when our children might be contemplating engaging in sexual intercourse, we’ll have missed out on lots of opportunities to teach them how to make good sexual decisions, regardless of whether they’re going to say yes or no.

Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.

Deborah Roffman

Deborah Roffman is a teacher, parent educator and author who has given hundreds of presentations for parent groups across the country. Her most recent book is Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids’ Go-To Person about Sex. Her website is Talk2MeFirst.com. Read more of her advice on talking to teens about sex in our November feature, “How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen.”


How One Mom Talks to her Teen Daughter About Sex

Written on October 9, 2012 at 8:00 am , by

In honor of Let’s Talk Month, an annual effort to get parents and teens talking about sexuality, Mom Judy Forbin-Morain shares how she talks about sex with her daughter, Jada Kearse. Blog by Judy Forbin-Morain and Jada Kearse.

As mother and daughter, we don’t always agree, but we know we can always talk with one another.  Like most families with teenagers, conversations about sex and relationships can be pretty tricky in our home.  Like a couple days ago, when Grandma said, “I hope you never have a boyfriend until you’re, like, way older.”

Afterwards, we talked a little about that comment, and we both agreed that it was a pretty old-fashioned to think that way.  It was a little awkward though, because, even while we could agree that Grandma’s way of thinking isn’t how we both feel, we still have different expectations when it comes to boys and dating. So, we talked about establishing some ground rules, like no one-on-one dates with boys before 16.

We didn’t always agree with what the other was saying, but we talked it out.  In the end, we both agreed that it was important to set boundaries when it comes to dating, and that you shouldn’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with when it comes to relationships.

Our best conversations usually happen when one of us sees or hears something—like a song or something on TV—that  gets us talking.  There is a commercial, for example, where a mom invites her daughter’s friends over, and then she orders pizza for them so that they will all see that she’s the “cool mom.”  Then one of them says, “Maybe we can just toke up in here.”  The mom just leaves and lets them do it.  So we talked about that, and how that’s not going to happen in our house.

When it comes to sex, relationships, and really serious topics, we’re both grateful that we talk with one another about these issues.   And it isn’t just about serious things — we talk about having crushes, cute boys, and other topics.  We also try to find ways to make conversations funny so it isn’t scary or awkward.

We try to keep an open and honest dialogue with each other, which is why Let’s Talk Month in October is so important to both of us.  It’s a reminder that we need to continue talking about these issues.  It’s also a chance to let our friends know they should be doing the same with their parents or teens.  Don’t be afraid; just be honest and keep the lines of communication open.

Judy Forbin-Morain is a former volunteer for Planned Parenthood New York City Adult Role Model program. She and her daugther, Jada, 14, live in Brooklyn, NY.

“The Sex Talk”: Why Fathers Have To Get Involved

Written on October 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm , by

 

 

Along with prom dress shopping and handling first heartbreaks, a lot of duties get relegated to Mom—including The Sex Talk, which we explore in “How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen” in our November issue. But the burden shouldn’t be solely on mothers, says Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health and professor and director of the Doctoral Program at the Silver School of Social Work. We asked him to explain why fathers are so critical to the conversation, how to get them involved and what Mom and Dad must discuss first:

Q. Why is it so important to involve Dad in The Sex Talk?

A. When most people think about fathers, they think of them as economic support or associate them with being disciplinarians. But the truth is fathers do a lot more than that.

Even in families where Mom is doing a good job, when a father adopts a strategy of talking to their kid about sex, it makes a difference. Dad contributes something independent and unique.

Q. What’s unique that Dad adds?

A. One important point is that Dads have their own unique paternal influence. It matters when your father says he does or doesn’t want you to do something. Also there’s more opportunity for parents to supervise and support their child.

Q. Is there something about giving your child a male perspective that’s key here?

A. Anecdotally, I’d say young people benefit from that. An adolescent girl hearing from her father about dating or hearing a male view of a healthy relationship can have value. As an adolescent boy, it’s great having a role model, seeing how another man navigated situations, hearing what it was like when your Dad was a teen.

Q. What about the value in having two people who have opened the door for you to talk to them about this—as opposed to just one.

A. We know that when teens have clear messages from their parents they’re more likely to adopt their parents’ perspective or at least consider it. So when you have both parents talking about it, there’s more opportunity for the teen to hear and understand their parents’ view. It doubles the opportunity.

Q. What should Mom say to Dad to get him involved?

Tell him: “Regardless of what I do, you can make your own impact in our teen’s life.” It’s really important that Dads understand that they play an independent and unique role. It’s also important that Mom and Dad be clear on what the message is going to be about appropriate behavior.

Q. That’s a great point. What if Mom and Dad have different views on birth control, sex or appropriate relationships?

A. What’s important is to have a common goal. Most parents agree they want their teen to do well in school, stay healthy, have a positive future and good opportunities. If Mom and Dad can keep that common goal in focus, maybe they can deal with more sensitive issues better. When it comes down to speaking about my teen not getting an STI, my teen finishing school, my teen’s future not being compromised, parents become highly motivated to act.

Q. What else should Mom and Dad keep in mind as they have The Sex Talk with their teen?

A. Parents tend to focus on all the negatives that could happen if their teen is sexually active: unplanned pregnancies, STIs and HIV. Teens focus on the potential good things that might happen: feeling closer to their boyfriend or girlfriend, feeling more mature, being more popular. Even though all the adult reasons are important, they’re not the things that will be most influential in a teen’s decision-making about sex. If you want to be effective in talking to your teen, focus on what they’re focusing on.

Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.

5 Things Every Teen Should Know About Sex

Written on October 2, 2012 at 10:44 am , by

 

 

 

In our November “Sex Talk” feature, we offered up dozens of ways to get that important dialogue going with your kid. Looking for more conversation starters? Try these five  things every teen should know about sex.

1. You’re not the only virgin. Less than half of all high school students have ever engaged in intercourse.

2. It won’t make him/her fall in love with you. Sex and love don’t necessarily go hand in hand. If you’re looking for something to bring you two closer together, consider how you’d feel if it actually pulled you apart.

3. You can get pregnant the first time. Birth control prevents the sperm and egg from meeting up—not how often you have sex.

4. Two condoms are not better than one. Doubling up condoms increases friction and decreases effectiveness. The only 100% effective form of birth control is abstinence.

5. You can tell if someone has an STI. Not always. And remember, not all sexually transmitted infections have cures and many can impact your fertility or overall health.

Sources: CDC.gov, PlannedParenthood.org and KidsHealth.org

What do you wish every teen knew about getting intimate? Post a comment below and tell us!

Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.