“Why is it harder to talk to your children about sex than almost anything else?” asked Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator and author of “Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex.”
The parents who recently packed the auditorium at Wilmette Junior High School had lots of reasons:
- I’ll say the wrong thing and I’ll say it in the wrong way
- My kid will tell all the other kids on the playground
- My child might ask embarrassing questions about my sex life
- My teenager thinks he knows it all and doesn’t want to talk about it
Roffman pointed out that these issues are all parents’ issues. They are the anxiety many parents carry over because our parents weren’t comfortable talking to us about our bodies or reproduction, let alone sex.
“Sex shouldn’t be hidden away in a little box in the basement, only doled out on special occasions,” says Roffman. “We need to learn how to talk about sex and how to talk about the values that it represents.”
She offered these pointers:
- Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Use age-appropriate language and correct anatomical terms, but talk, talk, talk.
- Parents lose their common sense because it’s sex, so pretend you’re talking about something else. “How did I get here” is really a transportation question, so treat it just like your child is asking, “Where did the bus come from?”
- Facts aren’t inviting your child into your sex life. Everyone has reproductive parts and functions. You don’t need to tell your children about your personal body parts or your personal sex life.
- Teens really know very little. The media tells your teen that sex is simple, but really sex is complicated and it requires a lot of thought and consideration. Use politics, news stories or movies as a springboard into a conversation (not a monologue).
It still isn’t easy, but Roffman reminds parents that it’s so important.
“Data consistently shows that conversation helps postpone the age of first intercourse and it slows kids down,” she said. “Same with all other risk-taking behavior. Parents matter.”
She gave the audience 5 nurturing behaviors that parents can use when talking about sex:
1. Affirmation: Unconditional love and acceptance. You show that by listening to your child’s questions.
2. Information: Given in an age-appropriate way.
3. Clarity about Values: Name the values you want your child to have in a relationship—honesty, respect, safety were a few the audience contributed. When you see something that doesn’t uphold those values (commercial, television show, music video) point it out to your child. Be your child’s cultural interpreter.
4. Limit Setting: Tweens and teens want and need limits. It’s your job to set reasonable boundaries to keep your child safe.
5. Anticipatory Guidance: “What if . . .” conversations help kids problem solve and think through situations they may face.
Finally, she reminded parents that although talking about sex isn’t easy for most of us, it is easy for the media and marketers. They don’t have your child’s best interests at heart, but you do. So start the conversation and keep it going.
Parents of younger children may be interested in Ms. Roffman’s books:
For a list of resources for parents and educators, visit the Resource Page of Deb Roffman’s website.
To read our article on talking to your daughter about her first period, click here.