It’s October and you know what that means? It means it’s time to sit down and chat with your children about vulvas and penises and how they work! Yes, October is Let’s Talk Month, a national public health education campaign coordinated by Advocates for Youth. Advocates for Youth is an organization that focuses solely on adolescent reproductive and sexual health in the United States and in developing countries around the world.
According to a 2012 study by Planned Parenthood, most parents of teens are talking to their kids about sex. Nearly 90% of us have had at least one sex talk with our kids. That’s pretty darn good. Unfortunately, while we’re comfortable talking to our teens, the same research says that less than 18% of them are comfortable talking to us.
So who are they talking to? Research doesn’t say but likely they’re talking to each other, which means the information they’re getting might not be all that good.
You can help your teen get solid information and support by finding trusted mentors you can count on to share your family values and letting your child know that this person will respect their confidentiality and that you’ll respect it, too. This could be a relative or a family friend, a teacher or a coach. I’ve designated my kids’ best friends’ parents, who are people I can trust to give good advice and who have already earned my children’s trust.
There are some other challenges for us, too. While parents are discussing relationships and telling their teens to put the brakes on before heavy petting gets to third base, only about a third of us are also talking to our kids about actual sex, like how to do it safely or how to talk about sexuality with a partner. The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank devoted to advancing sexual and reproductive health, found that nearly two-thirds of our teens have had sex by the time they’re 18. Most kids lose their virginity at around 17 (that goes for both boys and girls), which is longer than our generation waited and they’re better about using birth control than we were, too.
But our kids are exposed to way more media sex than we ever were. According to a study published in 2008 in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior, 93% of boys and 62% of girls under the age of 18 have seen online porn, which means we need to be talking about it. It’s not enough to tell our kids to shield their eyes; they’re going to see it and they’re going to need to know that it’s not a realistic depiction of sex.
Parents can point kids to Scarleteen.com, a terrific web site with heavy (and explicit) questions from teens and smart, safe answers. Scarleteen addresses the straight community and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning community
(Note: Scarleteen is a sex-positive site, which means that families who are more inclined to encourage celibacy might not find it appropriate for their values.) With articles like “Porn: How Much (Or How Little) Does it Influence Your Sexuality?” and “Looking, Lusting and Learning: A Straightforward Look at Pornography” teens can start thinking critically and making their own informed decisions about the media that surrounds them.
If you don’t quite feel ready to hand your teen the link to Scarleteen or you’re parenting younger children, you might want to check the site out just to get an idea of what is worrying adolescents today. It might help you start thinking about how you’ll broach the heavier topics and heck, you might even learn something new.
You can also look to the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ for help with sex education. Their “Our Whole Lives Lifespan Sexuality Education Curricula” starts with classes for kindergarteners and continues on into adulthood. A secular program, the Whole Lives curricula was developed in accordance with the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, produced by a task force made up of experts in adolescent development, health care and education from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
The curricula values are: Self Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility and Justice & Inclusivity. Participants learn about human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health and society & culture and are encouraged to examine their own values so that they can make their own good decisions.
For a related piece, read Brain Child’s Conversation Starters by Catherine Buni
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