Where did I come from? What are the birds and the bees? What is sex? Sooner or later, your child will begin to ask questions about sex.
The mere thought of that makes some parents blush and get sick to their stomach. It sends others over the edge. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t hesitate to talk to our children about crossing the street safely or the dangers of playing with fire, but the thought of talking to them about sex – something equally as dangerous – send shivers up the spine? Why?
Many parents have concerns about talking with their children about sex.
Perhaps you fear the discussion will promote sex instead of discourage it. Or that your child might ask you about your past. Maybe you're concerned about the potential for questions you can’t answer. Some parents say that it is just too embarrassing.
These are legitimate concerns. However, there is no evidence to suggest that talking about sex encourages the act.
Consider the facts:
41.2 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) have had sex. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015
11.5 percent said they had had four or more sexual partners. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015
30.1 percent said they had had sexual intercourse in the past three months. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015
3.9 percent of U.S. teens said they had had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015
15 to 24-year-olds account for nearly half of the 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year. Centers for Disease Control 2015 STD Surveillance Report
The Information Highway
If children aren’t learning about sex from you, where do they look for the answers? When Barna Research group asked, “Who should be responsible for teaching young people about sex?” respondents overwhelmingly said that parents should be the ones to teach their children about sex. But numerous surveys of teens and young adults say that television and the Internet are their top sources for information and ideas about sex, usually followed by schools, parents and peers.
Today’s children are hearing about sex much earlier and are exposed to sexuality at virtually every turn in our society. Research has shown that by the time a child turns 18 he/she has witnessed 250,000 sexual acts on television. Interestingly, more than 75 percent of the videos on MTV show some sort of sexual act in which the woman is a sexual object. In 2009, approximately 92% of the 174 songs that made it into the Top 10 contained reproductive messages. (None of these figures include images on the Internet and social media.)
YES! Parents Really Can Make a Difference!
Studies show that you can most dramatically impact your child’s behavior by clearly defining your expectations within the context of close family connectedness. According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (and many other studies), perceived parental disapproval of teen sexual activity and contraceptive use significantly influences the delay of risky sexual behavior in teenagers.
Simply put, parents should be the first and best educators of their children in all matters. This is especially true about human sexuality, growth and development, and healthy attitudes and values about relationships. Although young people tend to act embarrassed, research has shown that teens do want accurate information and they prefer getting the information from you.
The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments, such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer's new brother or sister, as a natural discussion-starter.
Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:
the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,
explaining sex and reproduction,
building healthy relationships.
If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers. Make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. If they want to know more, they'll ask additional questions. You might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult.
Middle school students need to talk about:
sexually transmitted diseases and infections,
the consequences of sexual relationships, and
the benefits of abstinence.
As embarrassing as it may be, it is crucial that you talk with your teen about all aspects of sex, including oral sex. It's also a good time to discuss why people date and what healthy dating relationships look like.
Discussions with high school students should continue to be about:
sexually transmitted diseases,
healthy dating relationships,
wise decision-making when it comes to sex,
setting a standard and living by it, and
self-discipline, in addition to everything listed above.
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