by Rachelle Tannenbaum
Sexual learning begins in infancy and continues throughout childhood and adolescence. Parents need to teach children responsibility about their health and their bodies. However, because many parents never received sex education themselves and are uncomfortable with their own knowledge and feelings, they remain silent. In this article, Dr. Tera Mikula will provide tips to help you open up age-appropriate communication about sex with your children or teenager.
Tera Mikula, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Anne Arundel Community College. She is a licensed professional counselor whose previous positions have included private practice and working in college counseling centers providing clinical services to children, adolescents, adults, and couples. She has specialty areas in body image, eating disorders, gender issues and sexuality. She consults with various eating disorders coalitions and is involved in the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). Tera is in private practice in the Annapolis area.
If you’d like to learn more, then you won’t want to miss our course “Healthy Talks With Teens About Sex.” Details are on our courses page. Alternatively, you can bring us to your neighborhood and have us offer this or any other course at your school, church, or organization. Contact us today for more details!
S-E-X IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD
by Tera Mikula, Ph.D.
Which parent should talk with the children? Both parents should make the attempt to open lines of communication. Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. Talking to your children about love, sex and relationships will be more successful when you’re clear about how you feel about them. You are the strongest influence in your child’s life. Share your values, but understand and accept that your child may not share your attitudes and values about sex. Don’t wait for your child to start the conversation—many adolescents wish they could talk to their parents about sex, but feel uncomfortable asking questions.
Why should I talk to my child about sex? There is no avoiding your child learning about sex, so why not be the primary source of accurate information for your child? If not, they will learn it from peers or TV! Get to know your children. It’s hard to talk about sex with someone whom you never really talk to. If you start early and have ongoing conversations with your children, talking about sexuality will be a much easier process.
Telling children about sex does NOT lead to them to do it. Many people think it does, but that is like assuming that driver’s education causes automobile accidents. In fact, research shows that teens who have talked to their parents about sex are more likely to postpone sex. Your child needs accurate information now to help protect them in the future from pressure to have sex, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.
A single “birds and bees” talk is not enough. Kids need more than a one-time lecture—they need to develop values, morals and beliefs. Be on the lookout for “teachable moments.” Use TV, movies, magazines, or real-life situations like a friend’s pregnancy to talk about sex, love and relationships. For example, if you’re watching a TV show you could comment on the character’s behavior by saying, “It doesn’t seem to me that those two characters are ready for sex—what do you think?” or “That woman seems to be wearing a really skimpy outfit—why do you think girls feel the need to dress that way?”
Don’t limit your conversations to just the sex act itself. Talk to your kids about abstinence, the male and female reproductive systems, pregnancy, birth control, love, sexual orientation, emotional consequences of having sex, the effect of alcohol and other drugs on decision-making, rape and sexual assault.
Emphasize the positive as well as the negative. Yes, sex carries risks. But kids already know that sex is fun--otherwise, why would everybody make such a big deal about it? If you ignore this aspect of human sexuality, they'll know, and this will lower their trust in you. Be honest, and let them know that sex can be fun, but that it should still be taken seriously.
Start talking your child about sexuality early and often. Sex education is more than explaining sexual intercourse. Children should properly be educated about their bodies. Teach them the correct anatomical terms for their genitals a the same time you teach them the names of the other parts of the their bodies. Using “cutesy” words may convey an attitude to the child that these parts of his or her body are naughty or dirty. Leave age-appropriate articles or books about teenage sexuality around your home. These can help spark conversations between you and your child or help with issue that are particularly sensitive or hard for you to talk about. Visit your library for help on books that deal with adolescent sexuality or visit your local health department for brochures and information on sexual issues such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
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