Almost everyone agrees that teens should receive some sort of sexual education. The problem lies in who should do the teaching, when, and what information they should share. Because there’s such confusion on what the right message is, and because there’s awkwardness around discussing sex, many parents would prefer to just leave the sex education up to their child’s school. They rationalize that the school is better informed about what to say. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Following is our own top 5 reasons parents should tackle their teen’s sex education.
Reason #1: There is no standardization in the school system.
The school curriculums for sex education not only vary by state, but they even vary among local districts. There are wide discrepancies between what is taught and how the information is presented, so you cannot assume that any specific topic will be covered. Additionally, most people would think that sex education programs at schools could be relied upon to teach accurate information, but according to Advocates for Youth, sex education curriculums often include distorted information. For example, some school curriculums have stated that “half of gay male teenagers in the US have tested positive for HIV,” “condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse,” and “as many as 10 percent of women who have an abortion become sterile.” None of these statements are accurate, but many teens will believe them if they are taught in school. Apparently, in response to this problem, many states have recently enacted bills that would require medical accuracy in school sex education.
Reason #2: Parents can tailor their talk to their belief system.
If inaccuracy and uncertainty over what will be covered in your school’s curriculum doesn’t encourage you to become your teen’s sex education teacher, than perhaps the realization that your school may not teach things according to your values will. There is a lot of debate about whether teens should be taught abstinence, contraception, or a combination of both. Most scientific evidence at this time supports the idea that sex education programs that include both abstinence and contraception are most successful in helping teens delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use, and have fewer sexual partners when they start having sex. Regardless of which method you agree with, parents can tailor their own talks with their children to explain why they believe certain things. Parents can also use this opportunity to talk about the characteristics of a good, healthy relationship. You should be instilling your values in your child so that they will be better equipped to choose a positive dating partner and not be pressured into becoming intimate faster than they want.
Reason #3: Parents can address the emotional issues that go along with sex.
Schools are going to cover the black and white facts of sex. But we all know that sex isn’t just black and white, and it can seep into a wide variety of emotional issues. The great thing about parents talking to teens is that they can help them think through ALL of the consequences of sex, not just pregnancy and STDs. (Plus, when it’s just the two of you, it becomes more of a conversation so that you can answer your child’s specific questions, instead of him or her just receiving the standard fare the school is dishing.) Obviously, your talk needs to be adjusted to your child’s maturity level. Additionally, take the time to debunk common myths. For example, you could talk about how unpredictable emotions are and how sex doesn’t necessarily make two people grow closer. When two people are not ready for this type of intimacy, it makes their relationship very awkward. Parents can discuss how sex is not nearly as glamorous or romantic as in the movies. These are subjects that a school’s sex education program will not cover.
Reason #4: Seriously? You want their peers to inform them?
Kids learn about sex from four main sources: schools, parents, peers and the media (Internet, TV, pop culture, etc.). If teens don’t get the information they want and/or need from school or from parents, then by default you are allowing the media and their peers to educate them. We know the media promotes false ideas, such as it is acceptable for two people who just met to become physically intimate. And unfortunately, their friends are generally as uneducated and misinformed as they are. Even more disturbing are the activities in which their friends are engaged. Let’s look at two recent studies that show some alarming trends.
First, researchers at the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center have determined that anal sex is on the rise among teens and young adults. They say that teen girls are often persuaded to try anal sex to be intimate without risking pregnancy or their virginity. They might feel they are “being abstinent,” but in fact they are engaging in an even riskier activity with serious health consequences. Many students think they can’t get AIDS because they’re not having vaginal sex. In fact, anal sex can be more risky for HIV infection and other STDs, as tissue may tear and cause direct blood exposure to infected fluids. If their peers are going to tell them they are being safe and maintaining their virginity by engaging in oral or anal sex, then it must be the parents that counter this argument.
Second, the most recent National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health suggests that high school dating follows the principal of “supply and demand.” In general, the majority of teen boys are interested in having sex, while the majority of teen girls are interested in relationships and would prefer to wait. When the population of a high school creates an unbalanced ratio of boys to girls, the gender in low supply gets their way. For example, a low supply of boys creates unconscious competition among the girls and causes them to be more willing to have sex in order to date a boy. When there is a low supply of girls, the girls are in more control and that high school, as a whole, has less teen sex than average. This even continues into college. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where girls outnumber boys 3 to 2, female students admit to putting up with bad behavior, such as cheating, from their boyfriends because the alternative is having no relationship at all. Schools, media, and peers will never teach children that they should not “settle” for second best or compromise their own values. Parents must talk to their teens if we want them to make positive decisions.
Reason #5: Parents are more effective than any other form of sex education.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that teens, ages 15 – 17, are not as sexually active as most people believe. Seventy-two percent of teens aged 15 to 17 had not had sex, which is a decline from 20 years ago… that’s right, this generation of teenagers is less sexually experienced than their parents’ generation. But the CDC report shows that this trend reversed by ages 18 to 19, when about 7 in 10 teens reported having sexual intercourse at least once. This is still an encouraging change because the older someone is when they have sex, the more likely it is that they will make more responsible choices about their partner and birth control, leading to less teen pregnancies and STDs. Amazingly, the report attributed the delay in teen sexual activity to parents talking to teens and telling them about the dangers of having unprotected sex.
Additionally, in several recent surveys, the majority of teens have said that they wished their parents would talk to them about sex. Most do not feel they are getting adequate sex education from parents or teachers, and many teens believed that sex education was primarily the parents’ responsibility.
Parents have so much more power than they realize. Don’t depend on a flawed system of sex education at the schools. Despite the eye-rolling, teens need you to talk to them. You will have the greatest impact on whether or not your child makes a positive choice.