What real-life teenagers wish their parents had told them.
A: Where did you get your info about sex?
B: What sources did you wish you had?
These were two questions I asked college-aged students enrolled in my two basic Human Sexuality courses.
It’s early in the semester, and I conducted this as a brainstorming activity. Students called out their answers, and I wrote them on the board. They were eager to share, often talking over one another. I had to have them repeat if I missed one. If I needed to know more about a particular item, I paused to ask for a more detailed answer. You can read the list and see the train of thought in the room — I started on the left, wrote a column and ran out of space, and started a new column.
When I ran out of that space, I filled in the empty spaces. Some of their responses will not surprise you; others may shock you (I was blown away by a few entries). Take a look:
What this list tells me is our kids are actively getting information about sex all around them, sometimes from places I wouldn’t expect. For example, SpongeBob? I asked if they were serious and they said yes. I need to check this one out for myself. Some of these items were not surprising, like Grand Theft Auto, because there have been write-ups about the first person perspective, sexual experiences available in the game before.
What else does it tell me? It really points out that if I am a parent and I think I can “preserve my child’s innocence about sexuality by avoiding the topic, then I’m being incredibly naive. If I want to be responsible, then I should get in front of the issue.
A good place to start is to think less about talking about sex and think how I can help my child develop healthy relationships? What messages are there out there about dating? If I’m not talking about it, what could be doing the job for me? Twilight movies (I gotta pick on this one) are one example I’m not so excited about. A LiveJournal author once posted an article comparing 15 behaviors in Twilight with warning signs from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. A psychologist in Psychology Today also wrote about the patterns. If we aren’t telling kids about sex, love, dating, and relationships, we must tell them that movies, magazines, porn, etc., are someone else’s fantasy.
Here’s the good news.
When I asked them Question B, the students generally thought this was a tougher question, but without any prompting or leading on my part, both groups of students said they wish they got their sex ed information from their parents. When I asked them to “tell me more,” one student shared a “wish they were more open and comfortable” talking about sex. It’s a tough topic. We aren’t supposed to talk about it, and yet we’re supposed to know everything about it.
I find if parents have a tough time talking to their partners about sex, then having a discussion with their kids can be equally if not more challenging.
The good news is you can talk about it. You can ask questions, just make sure you connect with people who can give you straight answers. Maybe even someone who can help you get over the strong feelings you have about this topic and get curious about why and how you can move forward to help your children.
I love to use pop culture as a jumping off point to start a discussion. And it’s interesting to hear what my kids think. I don’t want my kids to carry the ignorance I had about sex. There are times I could have made better choices if I understood the why. I think I’m helping my kids think through they why for themselves.
There’s this weird idea that we should protect our children by keeping them from learning about sex — opting out of sex ed classes in school, placing filters on internet browsers, etc. These things can have logical justifications but without a conversation with your kid about why, it just makes them figure out ways to go around you. I mean, I did when I was that age.
But, research shows that talking to kids about sex does not make them want to go out and have sex. It’s the kids who don’t get sex ed that has their sexual debut sooner, fail to use protection or contraception at first sex and get involved with partners where there is an age-discrepancy. The benefits of getting an education about sexuality are not limited to if and when to have sex, but they also learn about consequences of their behavior.
This pair of questions would probably be considered a case study; the sample is not big enough to be an official survey. It’s also tough to generalize the results here to the whole population of kids. It’s a fairly exhaustive list though in my opinion. Also, I asked the students to think back and recall their experiences; some people may have simply forgotten all of their sources for sex ed info.
I think the message we can take away is our kids want us to talk to them as long as we are being honest.
No telling kids that kissing makes them pregnant. Don’t tell girls that boys shouldn’t touch you because that will make them pregnant. Talk to boy and girls about the changes that happen to bodies during puberty. Teach kids how to attune to one another and notice body language. Don’t think of The Talk as a one-time conversation.
Find someone who can help you think through what to say when your kid asks about sex. It can be easy, but it’s probably going to require you to get over something that’s holding you back. You owe it to yourself and your kids.