Sexual Education and Your Children October is "sex ed" month: what kids and parents need to know. BY DR. LAURA BERMAN, PHD
Now is the perfect time to start a conversation with your child.
“ Students also reported that the classes were sexist and tended towards shaming female students.”
October is "Let's Talk" month, a national public education campaign that is geared towards helping parents, teachers, and medical professionals better understand how to educate teenagers about sex.
This topic is very timely recent study found that most teenagers reported their sexual education to be "cringe-inducing," "out-of-touch," and "moralistic." Students also reported that the classes were sexist and tended towards shaming female students.
The results of this study are upsetting but frankly, not surprising. Despite study after study which has proven that abstinence-only sex education is harmful, many schools are still hesitant to adopt comprehensive sex education classes, often because they are wary of parents and the school board.
However, the tide appears to be changing, especially as we are beginning to see the benefits of better sex ed and improved access to sexual health resources like condoms and birth control.
Recent results from the Guttmacher Institute revealed that teenage pregnancy has decreased across the board, and that teenage pregnancy rates are lower than they have been in 40 years. Abortion rates have also declined, and they are the lowest they have ever been since abortion was legalized in this country.
I believe that we have to grasp onto this momentum and continue demanding better sex ed in schools and from our pediatricians. The best way to encourage abstinence and healthy sexual choices is by instilling lessons of self-worth in our young people. Instead, we should teach them that their bodies are precious and that sexual decisions are not to be taken lightly. We should encourage them to say "no" and give them tools to do so, but we shouldn't make them feel less than human or worthless if they do explore sexual activity or if they are ever abused or harmed in anyway.
Here are some questions you can ask your teen, plus some tips to get the conversation rolling:
*Have you ever wondered if you are emotionally and mentally prepared for sexual activity? Your teenager's brain is still developing. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulse, and this area is not completely developed in teenagers. No wonder teens seem prone to high-risk behavior and lack of impulse control. This means that you really have to be the voice of reason. Talk your teens through the realities of sex and its consequences, and really take them there without the drama but with numerous details about how an unintended pregnancy or STI would affect their lives now and in the future. Share with them these facts: Teens are the most at-risk group; one in four teen girls has an STI; and a recent study found the rate of AIDS diagnoses among boys 15 to 19 has doubled in recent years, plus their rates of syphilis are also up.
* Have you ever thought about how you will negotiate for condom use? Make sure they know how to put on a condom (and go over it yourself first if necessary). You can have them demonstrate that they know how to do this correctly on a banana. Talk about the importance of negotiating for a condom. Talk about the common excuses that come up feels so much better without it or if you really loved me, you wouldn't need a condom), and how to troubleshoot this issue. Remind them that condoms are always a must, and that even with condoms, STIs and pregnancy can occur.
Remind your teen that this discussion isn't permission. You can insert your beliefs and values about teenage sexuality into these conversations. Make clear that all of this is not necessarily you telling your teens that it's okay to have sex. And, remember, if you aren't too dramatic or over-the-top, they will listen better. Try talking when you are stuck in traffic or some such time when they have no choice but to listen.
It's okay (and important) to teach the value of abstinence and waiting until one is old enough to handle the physical and emotional complications of sexual activity, but it's better to do so through information and empowerment than through scare tactics. Kids are ready to listen--we just have to start the conversation.
For more of Dr. Berman’s unconventional relationship advice or information on her Mind-Blowing Love webinar, please visit her blog at: drlauraberman.com.