By Alex Temblador
The Sex Talk: the three scariest words in a parent’s vocabulary. Not many parents are excited to have the sex talk with their children and for good reasons. It’s difficult to imagine your child exploring their sexuality but despite the wishes of parents, children and teens are exploring their bodies and their feelings associated with it and if you want your child to be safe and prepared for sex, you have to have the sex talk.
Here is the reality of sex among youth: By the time their 18 years old, 61% of teens have had sex. In 2013, there were 273,105 babies born to teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Almost half of all STD cases each year in the United States,occur in young people between 15 and 24 years old. These statistics are high for many reasons. Many states do not provide sex-education, especially not LGBT sex-education, and if they do, many times they are abstinence-only programs, a sex-education that isn’t very effective. Just take the Texas abstinence-only school with a chlamydia outbreak as an example. Since parents cannot rely on schools to educate their children about sex, it is up to them to make sure their children are safe and well-informed.
So here are a few tips to help any parent with having the sex talk with their children.
Children are curious beings and they explore their bodies at early ages which is why it is so important to have the sex talk early. The earlier you open a channel of communication with your child, the longer you can keep that channel of communication open. A child will feel more comfortable coming to their parents with questions and concerns about sex if there has been a long history of consistent communication between child and parent. Besides, the longer you wait, the more you run the risk of children learning information about sex from incorrect or skewed sources of information like TV, the internet, video games, movies, and friends.
Look for moments to help launch the sex talk.
“Where do babies come from?” This question will almost inevitably come from the mouth of your children especially at young ages. This question usually arises when children come in contact with babies or women who are pregnant. This is the perfect starting point to a conversation about sex. Look for other situations that are similar to this to jump-start the conversation.
Just call it what it is.
Vagina. Penis. Semen. Eggs. They are biological terms, not nasty, shameful words. Stay away from using the “birds” and the “bees” or other elaborate metaphors to describe aspects of sex. First, it may confuse your child. Clear and concise information will make it easier for them to understand sex and all that it involves. And by using such metaphors you may be sending the message to your child, especially when they become adolescents, that you are embarrassed and ashamed of sex and thus not someone they feel comfortable coming to for advice or help.
Also, by using the correct terms, you teach children to use these terms in mature manners. Lastly, knowing the proper terms can improve the communication between your child and their doctor when it comes to their sexual health.
Accurate information about reproduction will help your child.
Give your children accurate information about sex because an informed child can make smart and informed decisions. For instance, lying to your child about an aspect of sex could create a lifelong misconception that could harm them in the future.
On another note, not all families were created the same way, and therefore, your sex talk might need to include extra information. For example, some families adopted, some same-sex couples may have used a donor or a surrogate, and some families are single-family homes due to unplanned pregnancies or divorce.
The sex talk might be a good place to consider sharing with your children the diverse aspects of reproduction, especially the ones that reflect their families. This means that you may need to explain how it is possible for a child to be born to two mothers or two fathers, a single mother, or to adopted parents. It allows them to learn that all families are equal and that diversity is a positive aspect of their family.
Try to focus on the positives, not on “negative” aspects of sex.
Too many times during the sex talk children are told, “Don’t have sex,” “Don’t do it,” “Don’t get an STD,” “Don’t get pregnant.” Negative statements such as these are not very helpful to children because they do not provide children with any information about sex. Rather negative statements create an environment in which children may not feel comfortable speaking with their parents about sex, sexuality, or their personal health that is affected by natural hormonal changes.
The sex talk should include discussions beyond how a child is made.
A Planned Parenthood survey in 2011 showed that only 60% of parents talk to their children about birth control. Although many parents have a sex talk, they tend to leave out very important information such as how to use birth control. Other topics that you should consider discussing are things like STDs, how to not feel pressured into having sex, feelings associated with sex, all forms of contraceptives, sexuality, and positive expectations of sex.
To help your children remain safe and make smart choices, have these discussions before your child has sex, not after.
Preparation is key.
Parents don’t come hard-wired on how to have the sex talk with their children. Some parents may find it easier to have a book or website that provides information on the biological and psychological aspects of sex. Television and film can also be used as introductions into discussions or examples of negative and positive images of sex. Always be sure to use age-appropriate examples of course.
If you still do not feel comfortable explaining sex to your child, find someone who is and ask them for help. Whether they are a psychologist, a child therapist, or a close family member or friend, be sure that they are sharing positive and accurate information with your child and that your child feels comfortable around them.
Listen and ask and answer questions.
During these discussions, encourage your child to ask questions. The more they know, the better. Consider asking your child questions about how they feel about different topics associated with sex such as, “What kind of qualities would you look for in someone that you may consider having sex with and why?” The sex talk is not a one-way conversation and by asking questions you show your child that you care about their feelings.
Also, do not refuse to answer a question that your child may have because it could send the message that you are not willing to talk to your children or that they are not welcome to talk to you about their concerns with sex. If you don’t know the answer or are not sure how to answer, ask your child to give you a day or so to research. Step back, consider the question, find a good answer, and then share it with your child thus creating a bond that could forever keep them healthy and provide them the tools to form positive relationships in the future.