I gave my last “birds and bees” talk last year. My youngest was 9, the golden age at which I tackle the job of informing my kids about the basics of sex. I worked up my nerve each time, gave the talk, and fielded the resulting questions. Each kid reacted with appropriate embarrassment and disgust. Now they knew the facts, and couldn’t be fooled by misinformed friends. After my first time giving the talk, I was relieved to be done with it.
I quickly learned that the talk is only the beginning. It’s where you set a posture for how your kids can talk to you about sex. Those kids who wrinkled their noses in disgust would continue to grow. Their bodies would change, and before I knew it, the disgust turned to drive. Had I known the issues that would arise, I’d have been much less nervous about the initial talk than about how I was going to keep communication open during the years when my kids would begin wanting to have sex.
As a product of the early 1990’s “purity culture,” the main message I got about sex when I was a teen was a big fat DON’T DO IT with a couple of analogies about flowers with their petals plucked off and used up tubes of toothpaste. There was no practical advice for dealing with sex drive, and such a taboo was placed on premarital sex that I feared disappointing God and the whole of humanity if I made a wrong move. I didn’t want my kids to experience the same undue pressure. I also wanted my kids to be able to bring their concerns to me without feeling they would be a disappointment to me simply for having natural appetites. So I forged ahead, and here are a few tips I picked up along the way:
Save your shock and awe for later.
Handle yourself well when you discover or are told something your kid might not want you to know. If you freak out, chances are less he or she will bring up any further sensitive topics. I’ve had some toe-curling conversations with my kids, especially through the teen years. Because of situations that have come up, I know way more than I ever wanted to about my children’s experiences with sex. It hasn’t been easy, but I do not want my children to think that they have to go to someone else to get help when they need it. It has been crucial to keep control of my emotions and reactions, remembering that I’m still the parent, and giving my kids a safe place to share.
Come up with reasonable explanations.
Yes, we have religious beliefs about sex. I still feel there is a need to give teens general reasoning and strategies for making decisions around sex. For example, I ask them to consider that choosing to risk pregnancy when still dependent on their parents for daily living is risking the lives of others along with theirs. We talk about the science of brain chemistry during sex and the emotional connection made in the brain. They know the seriousness of disease and the importance of respecting a partner’s boundaries and the boundaries of his or her parents who are paying the bills.
Accept that your kid’s choice is hers to make and decide beforehand that it will not break you.
As my children make more adult decisions and may suffer heavier consequences, they will have enough struggle without my condemnation. I don’t enable, but I don’t abandon. I remind myself that obsessing over the decisions of another human outside my control is codependency. I cannot make my children responsible for my emotional well being by basing my self-worth on their decision-making skills.
What I really want is a good relationship with my kids throughout their lives. I want to do my job as a parent and produce good humans. If you’re talking with your older teens about sex, then the process of releasing them to establish themselves as an adult separate from you has already begun. Ouch! And Yay! Keep talking. They’ll be ok and so will you.