Part 1: Talking to Your Teenager About Sex In part one of this two part series, our experts tackle how to ditch the fear of talking and start the conversation with your teen. BY DR. JONI FRATER AND ESTHER LASTIQUE
Breaking the ice may be difficult, but doing so will be better for your relationship now and down the road.
“ Education is the key, and parents need to first educate themselves on the realities of today’s complicated sexual landscape, so they can then adequately prepare their children with this information
For couples between the ages of mid-30s and late-50s with kids, chances are your children fall somewhere in or near their tumultuous teenage years. Along with the disrespectful back talk, breaking curfews, texting in a language that you do not understand, and possibly smoking and drinking, there is another 800-pound gorilla in the room—the fact that your babies are becoming sexual beings.
The same way that many of you had no guide book on how to raise your kids this far, there seems to be little guidance as to how to talk to your teenagers about sex. While we don’t claim to be child-rearing experts, we are experts on talking to college-aged young adults about sex and sexuality. For those of you who don’t know it, we travel the country visiting college campuses with a fun and sassy presentation called Sex Ed Boot Camp.
One of the scariest things we hear on every campus, regardless of which state we are in or the political climate, is that most students have never had a truly informative conversation about sex with the most important people in their lives—their parents. And here’s the kicker: they really do value what their parents think, and most of them wish they had more reliable information about sex.
Because this is such a taboo topic, we want to ease you into it. Times have changed since you entered adolescence. There are infinitely scarier ramifications of adolescent sexuality than an accidental pregnancy. As their parents, it is your responsibility to keep them out of harm’s way. Education is the key, and parents need to first educate themselves on the realities of today’s complicated sexual landscape, so they can then adequately prepare their children with this information.
Let's Talk About Sex
Okay, so we have established that while you may not believe it, young adults really do want you to talk to them about sex. If you believe that talking about sexuality will encourage your kids to become sexual, just look at other cultures. Studies of other countries like Finland and Sweden where sexuality is taught starting in kindergarten in an upfront and age appropriate way shows that their young adults:
* Have a dramatically lower rate of teen pregnancy and STDs
* Wait about 1 year longer than their American counterparts to engage in sexual intercourse
* Have a much broader understanding about sexuality and how to enjoy it while staying healthy and safe.
The argument can also be made that in countries where sex education is a shared responsibility between parents and the school system, the result is lower divorce rates as these young adults mature and enter into permanent relationships. It is our work with married couples in the U.S. that led us to work with college students. In our experience, a lack of basic sex education and communication are a direct cause of dissatisfaction in the bedroom once you’re married. (This is especially true for couples who chose to remain abstinent prior to marriage.)
From a sexology perspective, teenagers are going through the toughest times of their lives. Their hormonal development is pushing them with great urgency to be sexual, yet today’s young adults are maturing sexually earlier than they are maturing emotionally. The physical urges are powerful and resistance is most often futile—and telling them to "just say no" to sex is like telling them to "just say no" to drugs and alcohol. The more of a taboo you make it, the more they will want to experiment behind your back (or right under your nose, or in your bed).
By being open and honest about sexuality as a normal and natural part of their development, you give your kids the opportunity to begin a dialog about what it means to be sexual to them. When your kids know that you are there for them no matter what, there is mutual trust and respect. Make it clear that when it comes to sex, things are no different—that you are there for them to come to with concerns, questions and guidance without judgment.
Let’s face it, our kids learn about sex in all the wrong places. From the locker room to the internet, teenagers are relying on misinformation and trial and error to navigate their sexual landscape. And if you think high school is going to do the job for you, think again. Under George W. Bush, all federally funded secondary schools must only teach "abstinence only until marriage" or risk losing their federal dollars. While the Obama administration has assisted in relaxing this dictum beginning in October 2010 for the sake of disease prevention, the damage for a generation of young adults has already been done.
The United States still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among developed nations—still over 10 percent of all live births in 2010. Many of the Student Health Services providers we work with on campuses across the country say they have seen dramatic rises in STDs and unplanned pregnancies on campus since the change in education came into effect. In addition, since most college students combine alcohol or drugs with their sexual experimentation, you have the makings for a bad Lifetime movie.
We know there are a lot of you thinking that other adolescents are having sex but not yours. Here are some statistics that should you should consider:
According to the American College Health Association, most campuses report that more than 70 percent of college students are sexually active, having had more than one partner in the past year.
According to the CDC, 50 percent of today’s young adults are destined to get an STD by the age of 25, and 75 percent are destined to get an STD in their lifetime.
Several of these sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HPV, HIV, and Chlamydia, can have long-term health ramifications including infertility, cancer and death while exhibiting no symptoms in many afflicted adults. Chlamydia has surpassed epidemic proportions, with seven new cases transmitted per minute! This is in the U.S. alone.
Twenty six percent of all teenagers who take a vow of abstinence are pregnant in one year. This is a direct result of a lack of basic sex education. Just look at television today and you can see the current glamorization of teen pregnancy from Glee to Secret Life of the American Teenager to Teen Mom, to name only a few.
Teenagers who are questioning their sexuality (i.e., wondering if they might be gay) are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. They are also twice as likely to succeed.
In many states across the country, the law is very clear about sexual assault and the consumption of alcohol. If one or both participants in a sexual encounter are intoxicated and later allegations of rape are made, the law states that there was no consent. This means rape. That means that your son gets kicked out of school, may go to jail and have to register as a sex offender for life because he chose to get his date drunk first so she would have sex.
Hopefully by now you’re sufficiently convinced that the time has come to talk to your teenagers about sex. It is never too late to have this talk! Honest education about healthy sexuality can protect them from disease, unplanned pregnancy and sexual assault. And more importantly, talking about sex is a perfect way to bridge the transition between parenting a child and mentoring a young adult. Your teenagers are about to walk across that bridge and it is this bridge that begins the wonderful adult relationship you are destined to have with your children and with theirs too. As they continue to look to you for guidance about other adult situations, it will be this open and honest dialog about the taboo subject of sex that they will look back at as the turning point in your relationship.
The bottom line is that if they can talk to you about sex and you can talk to them, then they can talk to you about anything, knowing you will be supportive, informative and non-judgmental. And let’s face it, as a parent it doesn’t get any better than that. You can be both a parent and a friend to your children!
Next week we’ll show you exactly how to start this conversation, how to make it as comfortable for all of you as possible and how to keep the lines of communication open.
Until then, visit www.SexEdBootCamp.com for more information and the ability to e-mail Dr. Joni Frater & Esther Lastique with any questions you or your kids have about safe and healthy sexuality. Dr. Joni Frater & Esther Lastique are the founders of www.LoveHerRight.com and www.PassionateLifeClub.com and the authors of "Love Her Right: The Married Man’s Guide to Lesbian Secrets for Great Sex!" Visit their sites for more information on their Love Warrior Challenge, live appearances, and seminar classes. At www.LoveHerRightStore.com use the discount code HITCHED for a 15% discount! To purchase their book, please click here.