Talking to Teens about Sex

We all agree that its best for teens not to have sex, however it’s irrefutable that lots of teens do. Bristol Palin’s, (Alaska’s governor Sarah Palin’s daughter), recent interview with Fox News puts the spotlight on a topic that lives in the shadows: teens, sex and abstinence. It would be nice if families could approach sex the way they do fire safety in the home. No one wants a fire but everyone knows they have to prepare, just in case.

Talking about sex is different. Part of the problem is the misinformation and myths which persist despite reliable research and scientific data. r While there are no simple answers, but there are common myths that need to be exposed and there are some important facts that every parent needs to know in order to make good choices:

Myth: “That’s not my problem.” “My child would never do that.”

Fact: If the daughter of a governor can have an unplanned pregnancy, anyone can have a problem, no matter one’s race, economic status or religion.Sexual activity in teens does not mean you’ve been a bad parent or that you have a bad kid. Kids have sex for many reasons: hormones, peer pressure, media hype, to relieve stress, and sometime because it is forbidden. No one is completely immune to sexual temptation.

Myth Abstinence Only sex education programs are the best way to stop sexual behavior in teens.

Fact Repeated studies have shown that abstinence programs do not work. Likewise appeals to religious beliefs or programs which have teens commit to celibacy have reported overwhelming failure rates. Abstinence programs were also shown to promote inaccurate information about sex, conception and disease.

Myth: Medically accurate and comprehensive sex education only encourages sexual activity and “Puts ideas in their heads.”

Fact: Research consistently shows that students who have comprehensive sex education: 1) postpone becoming sexually active longer, 2) have fewer STDs and pregnancies than students who have had abstinence only classes or none at all.

Myth : There is nothing that parents can do that will help. Kids won’t listen to parents preaching about sex.

Fact: No one likes to be preached at however, parents not only can make a difference, they must do a better job of talking with their kids about sex. Parents’ embarrassment can create a negative and guilt ridden atmosphere when it comes to sex that make open discussions impossible. Even worse is the attitude: “if teens are sexually active, then they deserve whatever happens”. This irrational attitude refuses to even acknowledge that teen sex is prevalent and thus leaves teens vulnerable to pregnancy and disease. Parents who are unable to respond sensitively to sincere questions from their kids or who shame by saying things “ You’re too young to know.” or “ Why do you want to know?.” burn bridges of communication and strand their children to cope on their own. Stranded teens have more problems coping than those who can talk openly with their parents.

Things don’t have to be like this. . Parents who “keep it real” have credibility with their kids. Being honest and admitting when you don’t know go along way in establishing the believability which is needed to talk about something as sensitive as sex.

Likewise, parents who understand that being curious and having questions about sex is normal and who are open to responding to their children’s curiosity and questions create trusting relationships. When a child is able to trust his/her parent s/he is more likely to talk about a situation before it gets out of hand.

These remarks were prepared by Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC for Bridge Street 2 19 2009