The Sex Talk

Teach Your Teens to Say No–or Yes–to Sex

Written on October 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm , by

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

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.”


How One Mom Talks to her Teen Daughter About Sex

Written on October 9, 2012 at 8:00 am , by

In honor of Let’s Talk Month, an annual effort to get parents and teens talking about sexuality, Mom Judy Forbin-Morain shares how she talks about sex with her daughter, Jada Kearse. Blog by Judy Forbin-Morain and Jada Kearse.

As mother and daughter, we don’t always agree, but we know we can always talk with one another.  Like most families with teenagers, conversations about sex and relationships can be pretty tricky in our home.  Like a couple days ago, when Grandma said, “I hope you never have a boyfriend until you’re, like, way older.”

Afterwards, we talked a little about that comment, and we both agreed that it was a pretty old-fashioned to think that way.  It was a little awkward though, because, even while we could agree that Grandma’s way of thinking isn’t how we both feel, we still have different expectations when it comes to boys and dating. So, we talked about establishing some ground rules, like no one-on-one dates with boys before 16.

We didn’t always agree with what the other was saying, but we talked it out.  In the end, we both agreed that it was important to set boundaries when it comes to dating, and that you shouldn’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with when it comes to relationships.

Our best conversations usually happen when one of us sees or hears something—like a song or something on TV—that  gets us talking.  There is a commercial, for example, where a mom invites her daughter’s friends over, and then she orders pizza for them so that they will all see that she’s the “cool mom.”  Then one of them says, “Maybe we can just toke up in here.”  The mom just leaves and lets them do it.  So we talked about that, and how that’s not going to happen in our house.

When it comes to sex, relationships, and really serious topics, we’re both grateful that we talk with one another about these issues.   And it isn’t just about serious things — we talk about having crushes, cute boys, and other topics.  We also try to find ways to make conversations funny so it isn’t scary or awkward.

We try to keep an open and honest dialogue with each other, which is why Let’s Talk Month in October is so important to both of us.  It’s a reminder that we need to continue talking about these issues.  It’s also a chance to let our friends know they should be doing the same with their parents or teens.  Don’t be afraid; just be honest and keep the lines of communication open.

Judy Forbin-Morain is a former volunteer for Planned Parenthood New York City Adult Role Model program. She and her daugther, Jada, 14, live in Brooklyn, NY.

“The Sex Talk”: Why Fathers Have To Get Involved

Written on October 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm , by

 

 

Along with prom dress shopping and handling first heartbreaks, a lot of duties get relegated to Mom—including The Sex Talk, which we explore in “How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen” in our November issue. But the burden shouldn’t be solely on mothers, says Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health and professor and director of the Doctoral Program at the Silver School of Social Work. We asked him to explain why fathers are so critical to the conversation, how to get them involved and what Mom and Dad must discuss first:

Q. Why is it so important to involve Dad in The Sex Talk?

A. When most people think about fathers, they think of them as economic support or associate them with being disciplinarians. But the truth is fathers do a lot more than that.

Even in families where Mom is doing a good job, when a father adopts a strategy of talking to their kid about sex, it makes a difference. Dad contributes something independent and unique.

Q. What’s unique that Dad adds?

A. One important point is that Dads have their own unique paternal influence. It matters when your father says he does or doesn’t want you to do something. Also there’s more opportunity for parents to supervise and support their child.

Q. Is there something about giving your child a male perspective that’s key here?

A. Anecdotally, I’d say young people benefit from that. An adolescent girl hearing from her father about dating or hearing a male view of a healthy relationship can have value. As an adolescent boy, it’s great having a role model, seeing how another man navigated situations, hearing what it was like when your Dad was a teen.

Q. What about the value in having two people who have opened the door for you to talk to them about this—as opposed to just one.

A. We know that when teens have clear messages from their parents they’re more likely to adopt their parents’ perspective or at least consider it. So when you have both parents talking about it, there’s more opportunity for the teen to hear and understand their parents’ view. It doubles the opportunity.

Q. What should Mom say to Dad to get him involved?

Tell him: “Regardless of what I do, you can make your own impact in our teen’s life.” It’s really important that Dads understand that they play an independent and unique role. It’s also important that Mom and Dad be clear on what the message is going to be about appropriate behavior.

Q. That’s a great point. What if Mom and Dad have different views on birth control, sex or appropriate relationships?

A. What’s important is to have a common goal. Most parents agree they want their teen to do well in school, stay healthy, have a positive future and good opportunities. If Mom and Dad can keep that common goal in focus, maybe they can deal with more sensitive issues better. When it comes down to speaking about my teen not getting an STI, my teen finishing school, my teen’s future not being compromised, parents become highly motivated to act.

Q. What else should Mom and Dad keep in mind as they have The Sex Talk with their teen?

A. Parents tend to focus on all the negatives that could happen if their teen is sexually active: unplanned pregnancies, STIs and HIV. Teens focus on the potential good things that might happen: feeling closer to their boyfriend or girlfriend, feeling more mature, being more popular. Even though all the adult reasons are important, they’re not the things that will be most influential in a teen’s decision-making about sex. If you want to be effective in talking to your teen, focus on what they’re focusing on.

Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.

5 Things Every Teen Should Know About Sex

Written on October 2, 2012 at 10:44 am , by

 

 

 

In our November “Sex Talk” feature, we offered up dozens of ways to get that important dialogue going with your kid. Looking for more conversation starters? Try these five  things every teen should know about sex.

1. You’re not the only virgin. Less than half of all high school students have ever engaged in intercourse.

2. It won’t make him/her fall in love with you. Sex and love don’t necessarily go hand in hand. If you’re looking for something to bring you two closer together, consider how you’d feel if it actually pulled you apart.

3. You can get pregnant the first time. Birth control prevents the sperm and egg from meeting up—not how often you have sex.

4. Two condoms are not better than one. Doubling up condoms increases friction and decreases effectiveness. The only 100% effective form of birth control is abstinence.

5. You can tell if someone has an STI. Not always. And remember, not all sexually transmitted infections have cures and many can impact your fertility or overall health.

Sources: CDC.gov, PlannedParenthood.org and KidsHealth.org

What do you wish every teen knew about getting intimate? Post a comment below and tell us!

Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.

Talking About Sex With Your Teen

Written on October 2, 2012 at 8:30 am , by

By Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Vincent Guilamos-Ramos, Co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU

When Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU (CLAFH) began thinking about our second annual survey looking at how parents and teens talk about sex and sexuality, we couldn’t think of a better partner than Family Circle. We all share a common goal of wanting to help parents and teens become comfortable talking about sex and sexuality so that young people can make good decisions. And there is no better time than October for parents to be reminded of this since it’s Let’s Talk Month—an annual effort to get parents and teens talking about sexuality.

Our national survey polled more than 2,000 parents and teens living in the same households, and the results quickly made one thing clear:  what parents intend to say is different than what teens are hearing.

We asked parents to tell us what messages about sex they most wanted to send to their teens, and we asked teens to tell us the main message they had received about sex from their parents.  Here’s what one parent told us, and what her teenager heard:

To make a healthy choice about who she wishes to date and have a physical relationship for the right reasons.”
— 50-year-old mother

 

Not to do it.”
— her 16-year-old daughter

Time and time again we saw similar communication breakdowns between parents and teens. The good news is most families are talking about sex and sexuality. Still, these talks aren’t as productive as they could be. Parents, for example, think they are having these conversations more often than their teens think they are, and surprisingly, teens are actually much more uncomfortable talking about sex than their parents. Half of all parents and just 18 percent of teens said they feel very comfortable having these talks.

Our survey also found that 80 percent of parents of sexually active teens knew their teens were having sex. That fact alone highlights the importance of parents talking with their teens and continuing to engage them even after they become sexually active so that they know how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and to make sure their teens’ relationships are healthy. So this month Planned Parenthood, CLAFH, and Family Circle are providing tips and a story packed full of information that can help parents start the conversation with their teens.

We know that parents make a difference when they talk with their kids about sex, so let’s teach them how to say no if they’re not ready to have sex, and if they are, let’s continue having these conversations and encourage them to make good decisions about relationships and their sexual health. Bottom line:  keeping our teens healthy and safe means talking with them about sex.

So let’s talk.

Leslie Kantor is Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Vincent Guilamos-Ramos is Co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU. Read more about having the sex talk with your teen, all month, here.

The Sex Talk Dilemma

Written on October 2, 2012 at 7:45 am , by

 

I want to share a surprising story about teens and sex with you—one that influenced our partnership with Planned Parenthood to carry out a groundbreaking survey on The Sex Talk.

Last year I was a guest on “Doctor Radio,” New York University’s SiriusXM show, when a concerned mother called in. She told us that after her teenage daughter admitted to being sexually active, she immediately took her to the ob/gyn to get birth control. But mom later found out her husband disagreed with that course of action and now there was trouble at home. “Did I do the right thing?” she asked us.

Before you answer that question, I’d like you to take a mental step back and look at the events that led up to it:

  • A daughter talking to her mom about something teens spend so much time trying to hide.
  • A husband and wife talking about their relationship expectations of their daughter.
  • And then, mom coming to experts for more information.

The central theme here: Communication.

How many kids do you know that talk to their parents about having sex? (It turns out 50% of teens feel uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex in general—I’m sure that number spikes when it comes to them having sex.)

When was the last time you spoke with your partner about relationship expectations you have for your child? Nearly ¼ (23%) of parents have talked only “a little” or “not at all” with their partner about this.

And have you ever reached out to an expert for help navigating those discussions like the mom who called in did? That family was pretty impressive, I thought, despite the turmoil at home.

When we talk to teens about sex, how often we talk about it and what we say were questions that lingered in my head after that call came in to the radio show. And they were questions Planned Parenthood wanted to explore as well when we joined forces with them to survey thousands of parents and their teens across the country about “The Sex Talk.” (Those stats I rattled off above came from our survey.) And here’s another one: one in six teens say their parents have never spoken with them about anything related to sex.

If there’s one thing I hope comes from this story, it’s a dramatic increase in communication and conversations around The Sex Talk. Studies show that teens who talk to their parents about sex-related topics have sex at a later age and use protection more often. So this month, we at Family Circle have partnered with with Planned Parenthood, the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU and parenting bloggers from across the country to bring you resources that’ll help you start the conversation with your child, make it less awkward and ensure that your points are getting across. And if there’s a question we haven’t answered, post a comment or email us at health@familycircle.com and ask it.

So now back to that caller. What do you think: Did mom do the right thing? Post a comment and let us know.

And read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.