Way Beyond the Birds and the Bees

Most parents have heard that they need to talk to their teens about sex despite the awkwardness, but what constitutes “the talk” varies widely from family to family.  One mother may feel she’s covered the sex subject by explaining the physical process of becoming pregnant to her teen, while another mother might believe that asking her teen if he or she has questions is enough.  The problem is that neither of those conversations are enough. The point isn’t to touch on the subject of sex with your teen to “check off the box” for that to-do item. The reason all the experts encourage parents to discuss sex is that your teen is in a confusing environment where he or she is pummeled with a variety of conflicting, inaccurate, pressuring messages about sex.  Parents need to talk about the issues that their teen is facing everyday.

Eleven percent of all U.S. births are to teens. Teen pregnancy rates are much higher in the United States than in many other developed countries – twice as high as in England and Wales or Canada, and eight times as high as in the Netherlands or Japan. To combat this, teenagers need to know information about sex and relationships beyond the “birds and the bees.” Teens need to know your family values, what becoming sexually active means for their health (possible consequences of STDs and pregnancy), and the incredible difficulties a teen parent must face. Our blog includes an article from February 21, 2010 (“Teen Pregnancy Prevention” under our “Pregnancy and Other Sexual Issues” category) that covers prevention of teen pregnancy and teaching teens the consequences of teen pregnancy.  Refer to this resource to help them understand the gravity of their choices.

Teens want to know more than just information about how sex occurs. They are interested in the whole gamut of relationship management. They want to know how to date, how to resist peer pressure without losing their boyfriend or girlfriend, and how they will know they are in love. Our blog includes an article from November 4, 2009 (“Talking to Teens About Sex” also under our “Pregnancy and Other Sexual Issues” category) that covers exactly the types of topics parents need to cover with their teens that are beyond the basics, including a list of teen’s most common questions.

In addition, covering sexual intercourse with our teens isn’t enough either. Significant amounts of teenagers are engaging in oral and anal sex. Slightly more than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex, with females and males reporting similar levels of experience, according to the most comprehensive national survey of sexual behaviors ever released by the federal government. Unfortunately, teens often believe oral sex is “safer” than vaginal sex, which is not true. They also feel like they are still following their parents’ advice to “abstain.” They don’t consider oral sex to be much more than kissing. Parents must address these issues as well, specifically talking about what you want your teen to abstain from, and parents can’t wait until their child is 18 to discuss these issues. Teens have a casual attitude about oral sex that begins as early as 11. Start talking early!

Flirting is another topic that isn’t something parents usually think about covering with their children, but it’s becoming more and more of a problem. Teens need to understand the consequences of flirting too boldly. Parents might remember flirting by passing notes in history class or getting your friend to ask a boy if he likes you. These days, flirting has gone digital and teens are taking advantage of new technologies — text messaging, cell phone cameras, social networking websites, instant messaging, and more — to flirt, hook up, and even share naked pictures of themselves. Our blog includes an article from September 1, 2009 (“New Survey Results Regarding Sexting” also under our “Pregnancy and Other Sexual Issues” category) that discusses the new digital flirting and how to talk to your teen about avoiding some of those pitfalls.

The subject of sex is a scary topic for many parents to even think about discussing with their teens, but it is an important one that can have life-long consequences. Parents need to be responsible and act like an adult so that their children can grow up to be a responsible adult, too. Finally, it’s important to remember that, as parents, we can become so focused on preventing pregnancy and STDs that we forget to talk about the positive aspects of sex. We want our teens to eventually grow up to enjoy their sexual relationships, so don’t be completely one-sided and negative. Be sure to tell them that sex can be a wonderful part of a relationship.

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