by Becky Knight
It's no secret that I love to talk about sex. However, most parents don't. The dreaded "talk" is feared, delayed too long, or altogether avoided. But talking about sex doesn't have to be stressful. I gave a five-minute presentation - "How to Talk About Sex Without Breaking a Sweat" - at the first ever Ignite Charlotte. Here it is:
Kids want to know what the adults in their lives, especially their parents, think about sex. Yes, really. They need a framework for making sense of the cacophony of voices telling them discordant and often horribly skewed expectations of what sex is and should be. And sex should be understood to include more than just the physical act. Kids need help understanding all of the facets of their sexuality, including (but not limited to): anatomy, physiology, sexual development, body image, gender roles, sexual coercion and manipulation, sexual diversity, flirting, dating, rape, reproduction, setting boundaries, communication, and sexual health.
On a personal note: My father has never uttered a word on the topic. My mother has gotten better, but when I was younger she caught me reading The Joy of Sex, promptly pried it out of my hands and snapped, "If you have any questions, just ask me." I was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to her, so I got the important details on sex and baby-making from my older cousin. My sister didn't fare much better, but at least my mom gave her a book on the subject - it was a book about puppies, as I recall.
Be an "askable parent." Be age-appropriate, of course, and don't overwhelm the kids, but pay attention to their questions. Those who don't have a parent willing and equipped to talk about sex will turn to less credible sources of information, like their peers or the Internet. Don't be afraid to admit you don't have all the answers. It's OK to model how to get information.
Don't wait for them to ask, either. Initiate conversations that are relevant to them. Playing video games, shopping, watching television, or flipping through magazines can provide you with ample opportunities to ask open-ended questions.
What do you think of that ad? What's the message?
What are expectations put on you simply because of your gender?
What do you think of the lyrics to this song?
What makes someone beautiful?
What do you think makes for a good friend?
Kids who have open and honest and ongoing conversations with their parents about sex are apt to make better sexual choices. The evidence bears this out. They wait longer to have sex, they have fewer sex partners, and they are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. That doesn't mean they will necessarily adopt all of your views and values, but it means they will be more informed and more thoughtful about their choices.
Visit the Parents Sex Ed Center at Advocates for Youth website http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=108&Itemid=206 for more information, tips and advice.