Where did I come from? What are the birds and the bees? What is sex? Sooner or later, your child will ask questions about sex. The mere thought of that makes some parents blush and get sick to their stomachs. It sends others over the edge. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t hesitate to talk about crossing the street safely or the dangers of playing with fire? Still, the thought of talking to our kids about sex—something equally as dangerous—sends shivers up the spine? Why?

Many parents have concerns about talking to their kids about sex.

Perhaps you’re afraid the discussion will promote sex instead of discouraging it. Or that your child might ask about your past. Maybe you’re concerned about questions you might not be able to answer. Some parents say that it’s just too embarrassing.

I get it. But here’s the deal: there’s no evidence to suggest that talking to your kids about sex encourages them to go out and have sex.

Consider the facts from the CDC*:

  • 41.2 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) have had sex. 
  • 11.5 percent said they had had four or more sexual partners. 
  • 30.1 percent said they had had intercourse in the past three months. 
  • 3.9 percent of U.S. teens said they had had sex for the first time before age 13. 
  • 15 to 24-year-olds account for nearly half of the 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year. 

The Information Highway 

If your kids aren’t learning about sex from you, where do they look? 

Barna Research group asked, “Who should be responsible for teaching young people about sex?” Respondents overwhelmingly said that parents should be the ones to do so. Many teens and young adults say television and the internet are their top sources for information and ideas about sex, usually followed by schools, parents, and peers.

Today’s children hear about sex early on and are exposed to sexuality at virtually every turn in our society. In fact, 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 activity 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 Journal of Marriage and Family study (and many others), perceived parental disapproval of teen sexual activity and contraceptive use significantly influences teenagers’ delay of risky sexual behavior.

Simply put, kids benefit when their parents educate them about human sexuality, growth and development, and healthy attitudes and values about relationships. Although young people tend to act embarrassed, research suggests that teens do want accurate information. And they prefer getting the information from you.

So, when’s the best time to start talking with children about sex? 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.

The Talk

Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

  • the proper names of sexual organs and body parts,
  • explaining sex and reproduction,
  • personal boundaries,
  • pregnancy, and
  • building healthy relationships.

If they’re old enough to ask questions, they’re old enough to get correct answers. Make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand what they’re asking, answer it briefly and simply. If they want to know more, they’ll ask. 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,
  • emotions,
  • the consequences of sexual relationships, and
  • the benefits of abstinence.

As embarrassing as it may be, talking with your teen about all aspects of sex, including oral sex, is crucial. It’s also an excellent 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.

*Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015; Centers for Disease Control 2015 STD Surveillance Report

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