Sex Education for Teenagers
Tips on talking with openly with teens about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases and other touchy topics.
By: Gregory Germain, MD
All of the discussions about sex before now were just a prelude to the real thing. And now is when you need to have the “real talk,” which can be quite a challenge for some parents. But rest assured that some of the work has most likely been done for your teen in a human development (or health) class at your child’s school.
The scary truth for parents, though, is that while teen pregnancy rates are down, the rate of sexual activity among teens is increasing and along with it the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Teens often see themselves as invulnerable, believing that “it can’t happen to me.” You need to convince your child that it indeed can, but that there are ways to prevent life-altering issues.
How to Have “The Talk”
Keep It Relaxed. Discussing sex with your teen should be done without interruption in a casual setting. Some parents find that a long car ride is the perfect setting, although others say they prefer sitting across from their child so they can maintain eye contact. If you are nervous about the discussion, your child will no doubt pick up on that. So stay as relaxed as possible.
Put It In Perspective. You may want to start the conversation talking about how sex and sexuality are depicted on television—how it is usually shown in an unsafe or violent manner. Let your child know that this is entirely unrealistic. Sex should be presented as a healthy part of adult life. Let your child know that contrary to many media messages, sex can and should be a positive way two committed adults show their feelings towards each other.
Emphasize Safe Sex. While you want to discourage your child from experimenting in sex, you also want—first and foremost—for him to be safe. Studies show that access to condoms at schools did not raise the rate of sexual activities among teens. But more sexually active teens did use them when they are available.
You need to come to a consensus with your partner about how you approach this in your household. (If you are a single parent, you might want to discuss it with your pediatrician or parents of older teens or young adults). If you feel more at ease helping your child to decide on a method of birth control, which will also keep him safe from many sexually transmitted diseases, then talk about the options available. Explain the advantages of each and how they work. And also talk about the huge responsibility of raising a child to put it all into context.
Difficult Sex Topics
Masturbation: Let your teen know that self-exploration is perfectly natural and part of budding sexuality.
Homosexuality: At this point in their development some kids worry about their sexuality. If your teen is attracted to both sexes, it is totally normal and doesn’t mean that he is gay. And if your child does, in fact, realize that he is gay, love him for who he is.
Date Rape: It is important to determine whether your teen is being pressured into sex. Remind your teen that real friends don’t pressure people into anything. Date rape is an increasing concern for teens nowadays and there is a strong correlation between date rape and the use of drugs and alcohol. Remind your teen that it is OK to say no under any circumstances. Rape is also a big problem for teenagers—according to a 1997 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 40 percent of rape victims are under 18 and 15 percent are under 12.