Talking Sex with Your Teens
"When Samantha started dating, I really felt that it was time to start discussing the topic of sex with her," says Amy, who is nervous about having "the talk" with her 15-year-old daughter. "It is very hard to know how to handle this topic with her because she is my first child. Of course I'd like to say just don't do it, but let's be realistic, she's a teenage girl!"
Rachael turns to Dr. Logan Levkoff, author of Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be, to help parents figure out how to tackle this challenging topic. "It's definitely difficult, but it's our responsibility as parents because the fact of the matter is if we don't do it, imagine all of the sources that are willing to!" Dr. Levkoff says. Research shows that most teens are waiting until about age 17 for their first time, she adds. "That's for both boys and girls, contrary to what a teen boy might have you believe! Boys have a tendency to overestimate and girls have a tendency to under-report."
Talking to your kids about sex can have tremendous implications on their behavior, Dr. Levkoff says. "Parents who talk to their kids about using condoms, for example, before they have sex are three times more likely to use them the first time they have sex, and if they use them the first time they're 20 times more likely to use them every other time. Parents have a huge opportunity." And, she says this is a conversation no parent can afford to avoid. "Out of all the developed nations, we have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, which is ridiculous if you think of our resources," the author explains. "We think of sex as so dirty and bad and the fact is, sex is such an incredible and wonderful part of who we are and once we learn that and once our kids learn that, they are far less likely to make dumb decisions."
How can you start this conversation with your own teenagers? Dr. Levkoff offers simple strategies to keep you calm and your kids informed.
How to approach the conversation: "The first question we need to really ask ourselves is what is it that we want for our teens. Is it really that we want them to be virgins for the rest of their lives or do we want them to grow into sexually healthy adults, ones that are capable of making good decisions and avoiding the potential negatives?," Dr. Levkoff suggests. "That's the first thing because that helps us craft really what we want to say."
How to help teens make a good decision for themselves: "We want to empower our teens by giving them the skills to know what a good relationship looks like and how to know when they're ready," she says. "Is it something that they want to do? Do they know the facts?" She suggests asking your teens, along with questions like: "Can you speak up for yourself? Are you embarrassed to buy condoms? Because if you're too embarrassed, you're probably not ready!"
Remember to talk to your boys and girls. "Oftentimes we think of virginity as a girl's issue and it's about protecting the girl," she says, reminding parents of the importance of having the same discussions with your sons as you do with your daughters. "We do girls a tremendous disservice when we don't acknowledge that they have certain innate wants as well."
Go into the discussion with an open mind. "What I think teens expect of grown-ups is that we're just going to say no and slam the door and lock them in their rooms, and that's not the way to broach the subject," she says. "As parents, we can't be judgmental, so we have to listen to our teens and use opportunities just like this conversation we're having today to say, 'You know what? I might not have done this earlier but I heard something, let's talk about it — or if you're not ready to talk about it today, then know that when you're ready I'm here.'"
Try and relate to their experience to find common ground: "You want to say, 'Listen, I'm worried about you because when I was your age I wasn't worried about sexually transmitted infections, or we didn't have text messaging, and pop stars weren't running around without their underwear on,'" Dr. Levkoff suggests. "At least it brings you to some kind of common ground." Then you can share your experiences to help them make choices for themselves. "You don't have to share every deep dark secret, but she's going to want to know how you made decisions and just be willing to share some of them because it will help her understand how she's going to make them in her own life."
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