Sexual education for pre-teens is the pits. What do you say and what is too much? Meditate for a minute. Relax. The first step in approaching sexual education is to define what it is and what your kids need to know. Sexual education is teaching your child about his or her body. It is about teaching your child what sex is, why it happens, what can result from it, and how to prepare for it.
The Sex Talk is an Ongoing Conversation
The minute you sit your child down for a lecture, the whole universe feels side-ways and awkward, even if the lecture is about something innocuous, such as how to stay organized in school. When your child was a baby, do you remember sitting him down one day and teaching him how to talk? No? You talked to him. His whole network of family and friends talked to him. The television did too. As your child ages, you talk about things regarding his or her body in a conversational tone. Sexual education includes so many big things for a child that “the sex talk” is nearly impossible. The actual sex talk doesn’t happen in a day. It happens over time. For example, if you see something in the news relating to sex, ask your child to discuss his or her opinion, and then offer some words of wisdom. Licensed school counselor, Resse Hendricks explains in his article, “Don’t Lecture Me: The Power of Story With Your Teen,” that life lessons come to life for teens through stories. He suggests that parents tell a story; read or watch a story; then listen to their teens tell their stories.
Do Approach Protection
Teach your kids about sexual protection. It doesn’t have to be a sit-down talk in which you pull out the chairs and lock the doors and make a formal sex-talk. I once told my daughter about “the condom lady” at my job. I casually mentioned that I worked for a social service agency and that there was a woman who worked for another nonprofit whose mission was to prevent the spread of HIV, and because of that, she went to various nonprofit agencies and handed out jars of condoms so that the clients could freely take them. I said, “So one day, a little old woman came up to the desk and with a big smile and said, ‘Ooh, you have candies?'”
That anecdote led to a plethora of interesting questions. I didn’t push the “sex-talk” on my daughter, but from there, I was able to put out what a condom was, the fact that there are female condoms, and that condoms help prevent the spread of disease and reduce the chance of getting pregnant. And yes, she asked “What do you mean reduce? Wouldn’t they always stop it?” I was able to answer those kinds of questions. To further your motivation to discuss protection with your kids, consider the fact that the Centers for Disease Control say that one in four new HIV infections happen to people under the age of 22. One in six new HIV infections happen to people under the age of 26.
Don’t Make Sex a Boogie Man
Surely, you want for your teens to wait to have sex. As human beings we know so much at such young ages, but we aren’t fully mature until well past our teen years. Neuroscientist, Sandra Aamodt, spoke in an interview with NPR’s Tony Cox to put our maturity into perspective, “The car rental companies got it first, but neuroscientists have caught up and brain scans show clearly that the brain is not fully finished developing until about age 25.” Since sex is a natural, biological urge, young people are at the mercy of an impulsively driven mind-set. Considering sex may result in a child, a disease, or in some cases, emotional distress, engaging in it is something that should not be taken lightly-but telling kids to avoid it because it is ugly or dirty may not be the best approach toward controlling those instinctual urges.
Sex is something that one can look forward to doing. When done in the right context with the right person and with the true intention of one’s own self, it is a beautiful connection between two people. Framing sexuality in the context that it is always an ugly or dirty thing to do could have emotional consequences for a young person who finds himself or herself engaged in it, even at an appropriate age. Teaching your child that it is something worthy gives him or her a sense of value to the act-that it isn’t something to simply take lightly.
Teach About Consent
Are there ever times when consent might be tricky? One way to approach the topic of consent is to discuss current events or news events that relate to the topic of consent. Open up a dialogue about a news topic. For example, “What do you think about the story about that teen who had sex pictures posted all over the Internet?” Teach your child that alcohol can make a situation complicated. Teach kids that to really be involved in sex, neither person should be incapacitated beyond normal ability to make a clear judgment. Teach your sons and daughters to feel confident in saying no–to know that if they aren’t sure, the best answer is “no.” Teach your sons and daughters that it’s totally acceptable to really want to have sex, but it’s absolutely not okay to push it, and that it’s never okay to be the only person involved in it. The Good Men Project website has published an incredible guide on teaching children about the concept of consent, entitled, “The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1 – 21.”
Be Honest About Real Life
Your teens have seen sexy bodies. If your teen has access to the Internet, there’s at least a fleeting chance he or she has gotten a little curious and found explicit material on the Internet. That said, any opportunity to talk about fantasy vs. reality is a good time to talk about expectations. In real life, people have body hair. Real people in common situations experience sexuality in a multitude of unexpected ways. In real life, sex includes unusual noises, sweat and sometimes funny moments. You’re not trying to guide your child into sexuality, but talking about the reality of sex is sometimes a funny, light-hearted way to engage in a conversation without the pressure of getting “the sex talk” from a parental figure. Moreover, kids will idealize it beyond reality, and that’s not good.
In the lines of this conversation are the lingering concepts of body-acceptance, sexual objectification, and self-esteem. The big picture is the human connection, but the good feelings from sex are a by-product. Letting your kid know that sex involves humanity, and sometimes humanity can be pretty raw, helps instill a sense of the big picture-that it isn’t a romance movie, and it that it is worth waiting for the right person in whatever context that means when your teen is old enough and mature enough to know what that context is for himself or for herself.
Use the Context of Your Moral Framework Without Compromising Sexual Education
I was kind of apprehensive about writing this article. I know that, for some people, sex is only something done within marriage. So how and why would anyone talk to a child about sex if the child isn’t old enough for marriage? It’s a dicey situation, and for that reason, you’ll be taking advice from the Internet with a healthy grain of salt, but I offer the suggestion that valuing sex within a marriage does not necessarily mean a teen doesn’t have to learn about it. I offer that your child should learn about sexual impulses, how to prepare for natural situations in which he or she will feel tempted, and that he or she should learn it is completely natural to feel those temptations. I also offer that, one day, your child will probably want to get married, and so at what point will your adult child get “the sex talk?”
Years ago I met a woman who was in her early 70’s. She told me about her marriage when she was a young woman and how she had no idea what sex was. She said she felt completely unprepared for what it was. She said her parents never once even considered breaching that subject. She lamented that she wished she had learned about it so she could feel more involved in it with her spouse–so she could plan her pregnancies with more knowledge. Research has shown that talking about sex has a positive effect on kids’ decision to delay the act. So when you talk about sex with your teens, go ahead and talk about it as something that happens within a committed relationship, but still talk about it.