As parents, we learn early on how to answer questions. We spend the early years responding to what often feels like an endless stream of questions. Why? What’s that? When? Why?
And a little later on, we become skilled at gaining answers to our questions. Why is your brother crying? Where did the house keys go? What did the teacher say?
But as our children go through puberty, many parents are nervous to answer or ask questions about one topic. Sex. When it comes to sex and sexuality, we know the conversations are important. We know we want to communicate our values and provide accurate, honest information. It can be difficult (and sometimes downright scary!) to start and continue the dialogue we know we need to have with our kids.
But proactive, honest, and ongoing communication about sex and sexuality has the opportunity to positively impact your child’s behavior and experiences. And there is no better time to talk then today – since October is Let’s Talk month, when sexuality education providers and advocates are encouraging parents to talk with their children about sex and sexuality.
No need to fear! There are a few things to keep in mind that will help.
Remember that sexuality isn’t just about sex. It is also about healthy relationships, body image, reproduction, gender and sexual orientation, sexual behavior and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. There are so many opportunities to talk!
So let’s get started!
- Be honest. This is your opportunity to clarify your values. What are your attitudes and beliefs about sex and sexuality? Share those values with your teen.
- Allow for differences. It’s possible your teen may have their own attitudes, beliefs and values about sex and sexuality.
- Promote healthy self-esteem and decision making by affirming, validating, and listening without criticism or judgment.
- Gather the right facts and resources to make sure your child has accurate and healthy information about sexuality. If you don’t know the answer – that’s ok! Let your teen know you will research it and get back to them.
What does it look like in action? Here are a few examples.
Question from a 15 year old: Why do people enjoy sex?
Try this answer:
Just like there are many different ways to define sex, there are many different reasons why people enjoy sex. Everybody’s body is different and therefore people enjoy different things. People usually enjoy sex when it’s a mutually consensual act, or both people have agreed to it, and when both people are emotionally and physically ready to be intimate (close and loving) with one another. A huge part of sexual intimacy is open and honest communication between partners. It’s not like on TV. In real life, the emotional is just as, if not more, important than the physical. And, just like with other mammals, the human body is designed to enjoy sexual behaviors.
Values - mutual consent, honest communication are important
Facts & Knowledge – humans are designed to enjoy sex to keep the species going
Question from a 16 year old: Mom, when did you start having sex?
Try this answer: I understand that you’re curious about my life experience. I’m not so sure that the age of when I had sex for the first time is as important as what I was feeling or thinking about it. Although you will decide for yourself when the best time is to have sex for the first time, I want you to know that I hope you wait until you are older and in a mature, responsible relationship.
Values - wait until you’re older and more responsible before having sex
Feelings & Self- Esteem – it’s normal to be curious about parents’ life experiences
By Amy Cody, a sexuality educator for over 10 years and manager of Parent Education at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Learn more at pplm.org/parents.