Deborah Roffman, author of Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids’ Go-To Person about Sex, shares advice for parents and "the sex talk" for Planned Parenthood's Let's Talk Month.
If you define the word "sex" the way most Americans define it, the title of this blog might seem pretty controversial. Perhaps even misguided. Educating teens to say "Yes" to sexual intercourse? Why would a parent want to do that?
In my experience as a parent educator for more than 30 years, most parents definitely prefer that their children postpone potentially risky sexual behaviors until they are mature enough to manage the physical, social and emotional aspects of deeply intimate relationships. (There are other parents who prefer that their children postpone these behaviors until they are married or in a long term committed relationship, no matter their level of maturity.)
But the thing is, the kinds of sexual experiences teens engage in run the gamut from kissing to French kissing to hugging to touching breasts or genitals to more intimate and potentially riskier behaviors like oral sex or vaginal intercourse. These are all forms of sexual behavior, and engaging in any one of them constitutes being "sexually active."
Unfortunately, when adults use phrases like "sexually active" as the equivalent of "having intercourse," as most Americans do, we imply to kids that these other forms of sexual behavior don't really count and don't require careful decision-making.
Each of the behaviors along this continuum represents a real yes or no choice, regardless of the particular behavior involved, and many if not most of our kids will eventually find themselves in situations where they'll need to make decisions about participating, or not, in one or more of them. Moreover, many parents might even consider some of these experiences during the teen years to be a healthy and normal part of growing up.
So, indeed, most parents don't want their children to always say "no" to all sexual experiences. Giving our children guidance about good decision making means giving them the tools to know how and when it might be okay to say yes to a particular sexual experience, and under what circumstances it would probably, or definitely, be best for them to say no. That means talking with them about a host of issues, including relationships, pressures, values, motivation, communication, mutuality, consent, caring, empathy and respect for boundaries, our own and others'.
If we wait to begin these conversations until the point in time when our children might be contemplating engaging in sexual intercourse, we'll have missed out on lots of opportunities to teach them how to make good sexual decisions, regardless of whether they’re going to say yes or no.
Read more about having "the sex talk" with your teen here.
Deborah Roffman is a teacher, parent educator and author who has given hundreds of presentations for parent groups across the country. Her most recent book is Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids' Go-To Person about Sex. Her website is Talk2MeFirst.com. Read more of her advice on talking to teens about sex in our November feature, "How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen."