For some of us, the awkwardness of ‘that chat’ can linger with you from your early teens into adulthood.
The ominous approach of a parent, clutching a book and wearing an expression of terror mixed with mortification #cringe.
Regrettably there’s a common theme that unites a huge swathe of young people and their parents or carers - the horror of talking to each other about sex. But while a lot of teenagers admit to feeling uncomfortable about discussing sex, they still want to.
A 2010 government survey showed that more than half of 18 year-olds who’d had sex wished they’d talked more with their parents about the emotional implications; 40% said they would have waited longer to lose their virginity had they understood this. The more parents and other adults talk to teens about sex, the more likely they are to make better decisions for themselves – reducing underage or unwanted pregnancies, abortions and STIs.
It’s really helpful if parents can talk about sex with their children from early on, adapted to their child’s level of maturity, comprehension and development. It avoids the ‘one-off chat’ with a teenager and enables a natural and tailored evolution, via everyday conversations, from toddlers’ blunt questions about their bodies, through body changes, wet dreams, puberty and periods, to having sex, contraception and relationships.
With teenagers, addressing relationships, emotions, sexuality and pressures is possibly more important than discussing the biological facts, which let’s be honest, they all pretty much know. It makes conversations about contraception and STIs much easier too. Evidence suggests that dad’s dread talking about sex the most, but this is not just a conversation to be had with girls, nor a task only for mothers!
The characteristics of ‘parents with sexually healthy children’ include demonstrating value, respect, acceptance and trust in their adolescent children; discussing sexuality with them; modelling sexually healthy attitudes in their own relationships; and seeking appropriate information and guidance as needed.
There are loads of websites, books and videos providing practical guidance, plus support from GPs and school nurses.
According to sexual health charity FPA the core messages for teenagers are:
- They should not give in to pressure to have sex if they’re not ready
- They should not pressure their partner to have sex
- Use condoms – to help prevent STIs and pregnancy
- Other types of contraception
- Sex is not just about biology. It’s about relationships, puberty, body changes, love and feelings, including self-esteem.
There are also the unique pressures of this generation: the dangers of the internet; access to porn; peer pressure, enhanced via social media; societal pressure to be a fully-formed mini-adult in your early teens.
A significant report (Daily Mail - Talking about safe sex with your teenagers) that took over three decades to research and involved over 25,000 adolescents concluded, 'that parent-adolescent sexual communication is a protective factor for youth, and a focus on communication remains justified in future intervention efforts. The meta-analysis suggests that communication with parents has a protective effect on adolescent contraceptive and use.
As inviting as it may seem, sex is a conversation topic that really shouldn’t be avoided and to be honest, the more you talk about it, the easier it gets. Wouldn’t it be great to have a generation of empowered individuals who feel confident in making the choices that are right for them?
Parents should really try hard not to be judgemental or to weave sex education around personal biases (of culture, faith, sexuality, experience, political leaning etc), and it's essential to keep confidences. It will allow conversations to flow and lead to much happier relationships in later years, both between you and your offspring and them and their chosen partner