Yeah, I knew that article title would catch your attention, and it’s probably one of the most anxiety-provoking subjects that us parents have to wrestle with: talking to our children in an age appropriate manner about relationships, intimacy and sex. Worse, it’s not The Big Talk any more, it’s not one time you steel yourself and have a mutually embarassing conversation with your teen about the proverbial birds and bees, it’s actually a series of conversations you’ll have to endure over years of adolescence.
Then again, where else are your children going to learn about sex than from you? And it’s not just sex, of course, because there’s a lot more to it than what Monty Python would call” the old in-out”: there’s everything to do with your values, ethics and morals surrounding relationships and intimacy too. And those transcend something as daft as just saying “our family’s all about abstinence. end of story.” because even if your children do marry having never been physically intimate it’s a sure bet they’ll have been emotionally intimate with one or more people along their journey to adulthood.
As a single dad, it’s even more complex because my ex and I can’t sit down and have a civil conversation about something as important as how our children approach their own relationships either, so do I just assume that she’ll tell my 15yo daughter all about sex and relationships? And, for that matter, do she and I as co-parents actually view relationships, commitment, and trust the same? Our life paths demonstrate that we do not view these similarly. ‘nuf said on that topic.
So it falls to me as Dad to talk about all of this with my children.
Okay. I can do this.
Fortunately, one resource I have is my friend Certified Sex Therapist Tara Galeano. Yup, that’s her real job. She offers monthly lunchtime talks on various topics, including talking with your teens about sex. So I went. And it was me, the lone parent, and a bunch of other local therapists. Hmm… do parents not talk about this stuff with their teens? Or do y’all think you’ve got it completely wired and don’t need advice or help?
I also got some books. I like books, and research just about everything before I jump into it, whether it’s as banal as getting started with iPhoto or as complex as teens and sexuality. I also got a review copy of The Sex-Wise Parent and it was awful, all doom and gloom about pedophiles and shockingly devoid of actual practical advice and tips on how to talk with your children about sexuality and relationships.
Well heck. No easy solutions.
Instead, I’ve just been talking with my daughter about my relationships, my background, what I think is important in a relationship, and her being completely confident knowing that I’ve always got her back if she has to suddenly split from a party or if something goes south with her and her boyfriend (or another person in her life), even at her Mom’s house. And sometimes we talk about sexuality, but I gotta say, I’m not comfortable with the topic. At least, not with her. She’s my little girl!
One thing that did jump out at me from the last talk that Tara gave, however, was how so many children learn about sex and sexuality from books and magazines that their parents leave around or hide insufficiently to truly keep them from curious little eyes. I remember as a young boy being astonished at a family friend who left his issues of Playboy on the coffee table (and his wife didn’t mind!). I liked visiting. I’d, um, read it for the articles, of course. 🙂
I asked Tara for some suggestions on books I could “accidentally” leave around that would be appropriate for my teen daughter and my rather precocious 12yo son to read and get some decent, accurate information about sexuality that was also consistent with my own beliefs and values. Turns out that the AASECT (American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators and Therapists) has a book list designed for us parents to leave laying around for our children to read on their own time and without us parents staring at ’em.
I went through the list and here are a few that I’m most interested in:
- S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You through High School and College by Corinna, Heather.
- Beyond the Big Talk: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens, by Haffner, Debra W.
- Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens, by Richardson & Shuster.
She also recommended teensource.org as a good resource, so I’ll check that out.
Now, dear readers, how are you talking about sex and sexuality with your children, what are your experiences, and have you found any books that are actually useful, interesting and something you’re comfortable knowing your teens are eagerly pouring over?