Tobi Jo Greene of The Empowerment Workshop joined some Oak Grove parents a few weeks ago for a discussion on how to have healthy and productive conversations with children and adolescents about sex and sexuality. Here are a few of the key points from the discussion:

How do I start conversations about sex and relationships with my kids?

  • Everyday life provides plenty of moments for talking about sex and relationships. Here are some common “teachable moments”:
    • When you see an advertisement for tampons, condoms, or birth control.
    • When puberty, dating, LGBTQ issues, love, or sex comes up on a TV show, in a movie, or in a song on the radio
    • When someone you know announces that they’re pregnant.
    • When you see a portrayal of an unrealistic or oversexualized stereotype.
    • News stories that talk about sex.
  • When a “teachable moment” arises, make sure to ask open-ended questions like:
    • “What do you know about how pregnancy happens?”
    • “Would you want to date someone who acted like that?”
    • “Do you think s/he looks like that in real life?”

What if you feel awkward about bringing up sex with your children?

  • Leave books around the house for them to find and let them explore them on their own.
  • Find a trusted surrogate to talk about these issues with your child.
  • Admit your discomfort as a first step in the conversation. The more you talk about it with your child, the more the conversation will be normalized.

What if you can’t find the right time to have “the talk” or your child refuses to engage with you?

  • Use car rides and other times when your child might be more receptive to a conversation. While riding in the car, eye contact is naturally indirect and uncomfortable topics can feel easier.
  • Speaking in generalities and talking about other peers might be more comfortable than personal questions. For example, ask “At what age do you think it’s ok for kids to start having sex?” as opposed to “So, are you having sex?”

Foster closeness with your child

  • Research shows that adolescents who have better relationships with their parents tend to have a lower likelihood of “early sexual intercourse initiation.” On the other hand, the same study showed that lower relationship quality and less parental monitoring increased the odds that a teen would initiate sex. More importantly, adolescents who are educated with comprehensive sex education are better equipped to make strong, positive decisions regarding their bodies and their sexuality, therefore, when they do engage in sexual activity, it is more likely safe, positive, and involved informative consent.

Don’t make assumptions and make sure to debunk myths

  • Kids are picking up information from peers and the internet that is frequently misinformed. The ubiquity and availability of pornography has led many adolescents to have an unrealistic and unhealthy image of what a sexual relationship looks like. In addition, a child might be very knowledgeable about one aspect of sex or sexuality but have large gaps when it comes to other aspects.

Don’t be afraid to start discussing sex and sexuality at an early age:

  • Always use the proper terms for anatomy and teach your children to use them too. Use these terms from the very beginning — so that children are as comfortable naming their genitals as they are their elbows and ankles.
  • Lessons about respecting personal space and asking for permission easily transfer into lessons about consent and personal boundaries.

Focus on do’s instead of do not’s

  • Teaching your child to have a healthy and positive outlook on sex will help them throughout their lifetime. Teach them that it is normal to have sexual urges, to masturbate, and to desire intimacy. Learn about sex positivity and move from that direction, rather than from fear. The idea of our children being sexually active can be scary for most parents, but the alternative, not discussing these topics, can have a negative impact on their sexual health and well being.
  • Most parents naturally trend toward discussing what not to do and often forget to place emphasis on what to do when it comes to sexuality and personal safety. If your child learns how to react when stuck in a dangerous or uncomfortable circumstance, they will be much more likely to remember it in the heat of the moment.
  • When teaching assertiveness, be very clear, that speaking up about what you DO like or want, is also very healthy.
  • When people feel that they are in charge of their own bodies and their sexuality, they are more likely to communicate with sexual partners about protection, testing for STIs, and safety. They are also more likely to feel comfortable talking with a doctor about their bodies or a trusted adult when something in their relationship doesn’t feel right.

Learn with your child

  • Don’t assume that you know everything about the topic. If you don’t know the answer to something, you can look it up on your own or together. You can say, “I’m glad you asked that question. I’m not sure how to explain it/what the answer is. Let’s look it up!”
  • Be honest with yourself about areas of sexuality you find offensive, don’t agree with, or make you uncomfortable, and educate the ignorance out of yourself. You can do real damage to a human being that you love with your spoken or unspoken messages about something they may be personally dealing with.

Links to resources that discuss sex, sexuality and healthy relationships.

For parents and kids seeking reliable information:

Specifically for teens: