It's probably worse than jumping off a cliff or sleeping on a bed of nails. Even screeching fingernails on a chalkboard must be more pleasant. But there comes a time when every parent must have "the talk" with the kids.
It shouldn't be avoided, and studies support open communication with your children about sex. They're likelier to wait longer to begin having sex, have fewer partners and to use contraception. It's also important so your child can develop healthy attitudes about intercourse and learn responsible sexual behavior while you have a chance to provide accurate information. Your kids are going to learn about sex somewhere, so it's better they learn from you.
According to a Teenage Research Unlimited study commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and loveisrespect.org of more than 1,000 tweens (children between the ages of 11 and 14) and parents, nearly half of tweens have been in a dating relationship and more than 25 percent of tweens say that having sex (going "all the way") is part of a normal tween relationship. About one-third of tweens who are in relationships know peers who have had sex. Only 7 percent of parents think their own children have gone beyond "making out."
By the time many parents decide to talk with their kids, their kids already may be sexually active. It's scary, and you may not feel as if you know what to say or how to answer their questions, but it's never too late to start openly communicating about sex. Here are some tips to help you provide sex ed for your own children:
--Research and find support. If you need extra help, there are plenty of organizations and even training programs for parents that may give you extra information or push you to talk. The Utah PTA started a campaign to teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex. Family physicians, clergymen and pediatricians may be helpful. Advocates for Youth, Children Now and 4Parents.gov are excellent resources for facts, talking points and materials. Visit their websites for more information, or search for a local training program.
--Find the right moment -- many times. It's best to let the topic of sex arise naturally instead of abruptly calling attention to it. Training programs advise bringing it up in everyday situations that may lead to sexual thoughts, such as during love scenes in movies or on TV or seeing a couple kissing nearby. Remember that your kids may be embarrassed, too, so the conversation can be light. Different points can be brought up at different times so everyone involved can be comfortable and get the most out of each talk. Talk about it again and again and ... again.
--Be honest and communicate your own values. Don't be afraid to be specific, whether it's about yourself or how sex works. Your message is important, and in order to share your values, you need to communicate openly. Being vague doesn't help your child understand how sex may relate to intimacy and relationships or how to manage sexual pressure. Think about how you may feel about your child's participating in certain sexual activities, such as dating casually or oral sex, and be honest with your thoughts so your child may consider them.
--Listen, listen and listen. Open communication is the key element in talking about sex, and this means being a good listener just as much as it does being a good talker. To help your child consider the pros and cons of sexual choices, you need to know what his/her thoughts, feelings and situations may be. It may be difficult not to interrupt or lecture, but prove you can listen by restating what you hear and supporting your child.
Remember that it's important to talk to your kids about sex and all that goes with it, including love and intimacy, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. It advises that parents should pay attention to and respond to the individual needs and curiosity level of their children.
Talking about sex doesn't have to be painful and shouldn't be avoided. Start talking as soon as they need to know and are ready, not necessarily when you are.