Talking With Your Teen About Sex

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Mention the words sex and kids in the same sentence and nearly every parent will cringe. There are very few parents who are comfortable talking to their kids about sex. It turns out, your child’s doctor isn’t so comfortable either: A recent study found that two thirds of doctors failed to speak about sex and/or dating with their teen patients during their annual visits.  (If there’s a hash tag for this it would be: #Yikes.)

There is no question that kids of all ages benefit from understanding sexuality since it is a very important part of their lives that will require them to make lots of decisions. These decisions will affect them both physically and emotionally.

Parents must be part of the dialogue and should encourage the dialogue with the kids’ physicians. I understand the discomfort that parents feel. No parent wants to imagine their kids in that sort of physical entanglement. But here’s the real story: Not talking about sex will not prevent it from happening. In fact, a lack of dialogue may lead to tweens and teens making unhealthy uninformed decisions.

Consider the following guidelines about sex talk from me- a clinical psychologist who has been working with tweens, teens and their parents for 3 decades.

1. It’s Many Talks, Not Just One

I suggest that parents forego the idea of a single “birds and the bees” talk and instead start to answer kids’ questions as soon as they start asking. If your kids aren’t asking then start talking to them about puberty and sexual feelings when they are about 12 years old. I can assure you that they will be grateful to know that it is normal to have sexual feelings.

2. As They Get Older, Provide More Information

You certainly don’t want them to get the bulk of their knowledge from peers on the school bus or even from school health class. They will probably learn about the mechanics of sex and STDs in health class. Please talk to your daughters and sons about the emotional intimacy that is associated with physical intimacy.

Too often your kids are engaging in physical hook-ups only to have their feelings hurt when the physicality does not lead to an emotional connection. Do not let the kids fool you. Despite the fact that they are using terms like “hook-up” and “friends with benefits” they are not able to separate the physical from the emotional. And, please do not forget about the boys. They, too, have their tender feelings in the sexual dance. They are not simply sex-crazed maniacs.

3. Encourage Your Tweens and Teens to Talk to Their Physicians

They should discuss  dating issues and sexuality during any of their visits. You may even want to let them know that you will schedule a visit for them if they simply want to talk about sexual concerns.

4. Ready for the Gynecologist

When your daughters are around 17 or 18, I believe that they are ready to see a gynecologist. Offer this option up to them and then promise not to ask a lot of questions. You should, however, prepare them for what the exam entails. Look, if your daughters are getting ready to have sex, or even considering it, then they are ready to see a gynecologist.

5. Show Time

Use media opportunities to open up discussions about sexuality and dating. If  you are watching a show about teen pregnancies or a show about STDs, talk about these issues then and there. This should be a little easier for parents and kids because the focus is on the celebrity’s behavior or on the show. This might lead to a discussion of your teen/tween’s thoughts and beliefs.

Good luck with this sensitive topic. Don’t worry that you might make mistakes. As you become more comfortable in the “sexual arena” with your child the conversations will get more comfortable. And, remember that you can try to run but you can’t hide from this topic. #Face It.

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Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D. is currently a professional consultant on teen issues at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT. She also maintains a private practice in Fairfield County, CT. She served as a clinical administrator on an adolescent inpatient unit at a private psychiatric hospital for 21 years before dedicating herself to private outpatient practice and consultation work.

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