Talking about Sex with your Teen

we need to talk about sexYeah, 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:

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?

9 comments on “Talking about Sex with your Teen

  1. You know I’m not in need of this counseling yet. But I am definitely not looking forward to the moment when I have to have these conversations with my daughters.
    For the time being I’ll keep your post saved on Instapaper, just in case it’s still actual when I get there 🙂

  2. Hey Dave, not a dad so can’t really comment on the how to tell them but its not that long ago I was a teenager. I never really had a problem talking about sex with my mum to be honest. Might have something todo with her telling me when I asked “how babies were made” when I was five. And she decided that if I was old enough to ask the question I was old enough to be told the truth about it.

    Actually I think I was about 5 also when i asked what a cigarette was like so she gave me one and didn’t tell me how to smoke it so i ended up choking on it. I don’t smoke now btw.

  3. I’m right there with you Dave! We have to address some major issues this week after finding a .mpg of a video chat my daughter and her boyfriend had involving exposing themselves and other sexual expressions. I’m not looking forward to this at all. But one thing I do know is this: our confrontation will not be based on inducing shame. Somehow, we want to communicate our love and support while encouraging an open dialogue and the consequences of sex. Even more intense, we’re inviting her boyfriend to dinner for this event and confronting both of them… I’m pretty sure this approach will be more effective than my initial, violent reactions when making the video discovery. 🙂

  4. Guess her Auntie could help too 🙂 the idea is just to be open about it. honestly, she’s probably never going to chat with you too much about it because a) you’re her Dad and b) you’re her Dad 🙂

  5. I appreciated this blog, Dave. One thing that I did reflect on after reading it was that after the books are “found”, some parental engagement would be helpful. Maybe a conversation about what your kids thought or felt as they checked out the books. Maybe asking if any questions came up, the most obvious, but probably not spoken, being “Why the heck would you put these on the coffee table, Dad?”. That’s a great question and a great conversation starter. Hoping you all have plentiful, wondrous, thoughtful, conversations about sex and sexuality with your children. I am always glad to give some pointers.

  6. I don’t know what to say 🙁 but I guess I couldn’t do this to my son. If he will gonna ask me things like this, I will definitely let his Dad handle the situation. I couldn’t imagine myself talking these stuff with him…tsk tsk tsk!!! hehehe

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