The news is good: According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of sexually active U.S. high school students has declined over the past 10 years, as have certain risky sexual behaviors. Talking to your teen openly and honestly about sex, being sure to cover everything from oral sex to STDs, is one way to ensure your child’s health and well-being. Here’s how:
1. Admit that sexuality is positive. (Perhaps the hardest thing to admit to a child on the brink of lust and love.) If you cast sex as negative, as in “Don’t do it!” then your child will simply tune you out.
2. Don’t give boys short shrift. Broaching sexuality is easier with girls, because you can start with menstruation. With boys, talking about wet dreams and ejaculation is far more disquieting. It’s hardly surprising then, that surveys show girls get far more information about their bodies and sexual urges than boys.
3. Define sexual behavior as a romantic progression. Explain that sexual attraction begins with a smile and proceeds along a path from kissing, to touching and onto intercourse. Remember first base (kissing), second base (petting above the waist), third base (petting below the waist)? Ask if kids still use this home run lingo. A step-by-step approach ensures that a child can stop at any time. Make that point.
4. Girls and boys require different instructions. Take the issue of consent, for example. Girls need to learn to say no firmly looking a boy straight in the face. Sometimes girls look away or say nothing; this can be misinterpreted by a boy who continues making sexual advances. Boys need to be warned of the danger of assuming consent. He may be liable for charges of date rape or sexual abuse.
5. Listen carefully to your child’s comments. Each generation has different sexual expressions and values. Think back to the 60s or 70s. Remember your parents’ take on free love? Begin to learn today’s lingo and norms. Then you know where to start.
6. Clarify the danger of oral sex. In today’s culture, oral sex is considered casual and convenient. Raised in the shadow of AIDS, our children seize upon oral sex, thinking its safe sex and, technically, doesn’t undo virginity. Explain that any exchange of bodily fluid can result in STDs or HIV. Define abstinence.
7. Offer a checklist for sexual decision-making. How does someone decide it’s right to have sexual intercourse? Discuss typical reasons. Love. Boyfriend or girlfriend pressure. Pressure from peers. Lower inhibitions after drinking or using drugs. Here is where you inject your values — when and why one would take this step.
8. Link sex to emotional consequences. Sex is a physical drive, but with emotional connections. Put sex in a loving context. Explain how it bonds people deeply. Once sex happens people are more vulnerable. Broken hearts hurt more. Reputations get juicier. Regrets happen.
9. No parent gets off the hook. Mothers and fathers each bring important perspectives to sex talks. Boys need to hear from their fathers about what is appropriate and what’s not. Only mothers can demystify women to their sons; only dads can explain men to their daughters.
10. Take advantage of all the help you can get. TV, movies, magazine articles, newspaper stories — all provide teachable moments. Use everyday opportunities to comment and listen to opinions from your young adolescent. The sex talk is an ongoing educational conversation.