Talking with Teens about Sex– A Guide for Parents

Last week I wrote about an article by former U.S. Attorney General, Jocelyn Elders, and what she called the “hormonal imperative” teenagers have when it comes to exploring their sexuality. I pointed out the fine line FPA staff have to walk when working with teens on issues of sexuality and sexual activity.

The reality is, our staff have all been trained on how to talk with young people about sexual health issues and they get regular, ongoing training. Basically, FPA clinical staff are experts in the field of sexual health and they are about as comfortable talking about sexuality as a person can get.  They get lots and lots of practice, each and every workday.

While we have these discussions with teens here at the FPA every day, we know that some of the most important conversations about sexuality happen in the home, between parents and their teens.

The late Sol Gordon, PhD was a clinical psychologist, educator and widely-respected sexuality educator, who wrote several books on the subject.  In this essay, Gordon opens with the following scenario —“Imagine the one day your child comes home and asks you, point-blank, what intercourse means. What do you say?”

Those of you who are parents of older children are nodding your heads and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember that day.” Your child may have worded it differently or she may have asked it piece by piece, gathering bits of information as she went along, but at some point, we all have to deal with The Question.

Studies have shown that young people WANT to talk with their parents about sexuality issues and that teens who are close to their parents are more likely to wait to have sex, have fewer sexual partners, and use contraception more consistently when they do become sexually active. Being an “askable parent” goes a long way.

That’s all very broad and what we parents often need are concrete suggestions. So, without further ado, here are some tips for talking with your teen from The Simple FACTS of Life, an FPA publication available for download on our website.

Listen more than you talk. Your children might surprise you with their insight.

Don’t criticize. Be shockproof. Sometimes children are just seeing where your boundaries are.

Answer questions and talk about the changes they are going through. If you don’t know the answers, look them up together.

Allow yourself to make mistakes or be embarrassed. Your child will appreciate that you are trying.

Respect their privacy. If they do share something personal, let them know that you won’t tell your friends or their grandparents the things they said.

Are you a parent who has more or less successfully navigated conversations about sexuality during your child’s teen years? I’m sure there are lots of folks out there who could benefit from your experience. What worked for you and your teen?

~ Nancy

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