Talking About Sex

Parents Need to Do a Better Job Communicating with Their Kids

Last year, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 70 percent of parents surveyed want to do a better job talking to their children about sex. But they don’t know how.

Part of the problem is that we confuse sex with sexuality, says Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., author of But I’m Almost 13! and an adolescent health specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Parents think sex education is all about genitals, and that’s a discussion for when your child is ready to learn about anatomy and sexual intercourse, he says. But “sexuality is a continuum of human behavior that includes loving, intimacy, caring and respecting yourself and others,” Ginsburg says. “That you teach your little, little kids. You begin very early.”

Psychiatrist Lynn Ponton, M.D., author of The Sex Lives of Teenagers, laments that many American parents are unable to converse with their kids about this important topic. She blames the conflict between the “sex is bad” Puritan mindset amid a liberal media with graphic sexual advertising. “So you’ve got explicit images in a culture that doesn’t discuss sex,” Ponton says. “That’s confusing for young people.”

It’s never an easy discussion at first, but Ponton offers 10 tips in her book:

1. Speak directly about sex, using simple language to describe feelings and activities.


2. Start early. Explore language your child may hear outside of the home, and observe and discuss messages around sexuality in the media.


3. Talk with teens about the extremes in cultural attitudes toward sex.


4. Avoid talking about your sexual experiences. Ask teens for their opinions and ideas, and don’t just give them yours.

5. Make the topic an ongoing dialogue, not a single conversation about “the birds and the bees.”

6. Realize that all teens have sexual lives, the bulk of which is focused on fantasy and masturbation rather than intercourse. Experimenting with sexuality helps adolescents develop their own sexual identity.

7. Remember that adolescence is about taking risks and that teens need safe, healthy options, even if their behavior runs counter to parental values. Encourage your teen to talk with other trusted adults.

8. Look for risky activity, including unprotected intercourse. Other problems such as depression, low self-esteem, self-mutilation and unhealthy risk taking (substance abuse, gang activity) might occur at the same time.

9. Learn about the range of adolescent sexual behavior. Don’t enforce rigid gender roles or sexual orientation.

10. Communicate values and morals by example. Watch how you act and speak about sexual gender issues. Be a good role model.


From United Parenting Publications