“When Should I Talk to My Teen About Sex?”: 5 Sex Talk Tips for Parents

“When they were eight years old they all agreed they wouldn’t do anything, but now that they’re hit puberty we’ve got to have the talk all over again…”

 

–Bill Cosby Those Of You With Or Without Children, You’ll Understand

 

 

The most frequently asked question I get from parents when I give an overview of my sex talk curriculum is, “When should I start talking to my kids about sex?” Truth be, told many of them, like Cosby, already spoke to their children about sex prior to entering adolescence, but recognize that a new level of conversation and disclosure needs to be had now that they’ve entered adolescence and puberty.

The concern is that their young teen might not be ready or willing for that conversation. On the flipside there is the concern that they might have waited too late to continue the conversation on sex that began so many years earlier. You don’t want it to be awkward and yet you don’t want them getting the bulk of their information from all the sophisticated fools on the bus, playground, or in the cafeteria. With that in mind here is a general answer to the question of when parents should reengage their young teen on topic of sex as well as four other tips for having conversations on sex with young teens.

1.     Don’t Wait Until You Think They’re Ready. A psychologist friend of mine asked me to guess what the national average is for when kids are first having sexual intercourse. I guessed twelve. She said the answer is ten. Surely there are some of you that are thinking that can’t be true and would like to see the research. Like myself you started thinking about all the variables—single parent homes, socio-economic class, education, early onset of puberty in girls—but that’s not the point. The point is on average they’re getting started early so don’t wait until you think they’re ready. Besides, you’re never going to know for sure if they’re ready until you begin to talk to them about it. If they get uncomfortable (which is different than awkward) then use some discernment to know when to stop. You don’t want them to be so uncomfortable about it that they don’t ever want to talk to you about it again, but you don’t know how cold the ocean is until you stick your toe into the water.

2.     Do It In Stages. If you’ve never talked to your children about bodies and sex prior to adolescence more than likely it’s going to be really awkward when you initiate that conversation with a young teen (If you haven’t then even more of a reason to not delay any further). There needs to be a general conversation about their body when they’re five about the difference between boys and girls. They need to know that their penis or vagina is private, and they should never let anyone else touch it (You may be caught a little of guard by my choice of words there. More on that in the next tip). By eight years old I recommend you should have a general birds and the bees/“where do babies come from?” conversation. Fifth grade is usually when there is a more in-depth anatomy and mechanics discussion on sex in school health classes. It’s not a bad idea to preempt the school. After that having a more in-depth conversation is fair game as they will be on the precipice of adolescence and puberty. From personal experience my parents talked to me about sex in stages so when it came time to have the more in-depth conversation they had disarmed my ability to try and be awkward about it. They were even able to remind me of and pull out the books they used as resources to have the previous conversations with me.

3.     Don’t Talk In Code. I’m likely dating myself with this pop-culture reference, but remember in Kindergarten Cop starring Arnold Swarzenegger when the small boy announces to the class, “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.” Part of the reason that scene gets so many laughs is because typically five year olds are taught code words for their private parts. Once again a psychologist friend of mine was telling me how they and many colleagues have watched defense attorney’s cast doubt in child sex abuse and molestation cases because the child did not know the anatomically correct term for their genitalia. There is also research on serial pedophiles where they confess to avoiding children who know the correct names because they know someone has talked to that child about their body. There really is no reason for us not to use the words “penis” and “vagina” with our children. When we don’t use those words or get awkward about saying them we teach them that those are dirty words. Thus we inadvertently teach them that their bodies are dirty gross and disgusting, which isn’t healthy for their development, nor is it true.

4.     Dual Parent Involvement. Both mom and dad need to be involved in these conversations with their children regardless of the child’s gender. In other words girls shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their mother while dad stays silent. Boys shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their father while mom stays silent. The whole point of having these conversations with your children is not simply for transferal of information. It is about shaping and forming a healthy view of bodies and sex in your children. There isn’t so much different roles mom and dad play as much as, depending on the gender, different things they need to hear from each parent. For example, moms are best suited to talk daughters about menstrual cycles, whereas dad is best suited to talk to her about what boys are like. Dads are best suited to talk to boys about nocturnal emissions and moms are best suited to talk to him about what girls are like. Still there is plenty in regards to sex that needs to be both mom and dad talking to children and young teens together. The point being that if they have questions or want to talk further they need to feel safe talking to either parent.

5.     Is A Weekend Camping Trip Really Necessary? If you have to schedule a special weekend to go away and have a sex talk with your young teen around a fun activity then maybe it should cause you to question whether or not you are creating regular rhythms where you are caring for the heart of your child (not to mention this tactic typically violates the previous tip). Put another way to drive the point home, if you aren’t the camping type and it isn’t something you typically do with your son or daughter, then they are going to think that something is up. They’re going to be suspicious and it will most likely be real awkward. For example if my dad wanted to have a more in-depth conversation with me about girls, and sex and so forth, then the natural rhythm would have been to initiate it during halftime or commercials of one of the countless basketball games we watched during my teenage years. Some of my fondest memories of spending time with my dad that nurtured my heart was watching the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers go at it during the NBA Playoffs in 94 and 95 while eating pizza from Domino’s. If you don’t know or don’t have a natural rhythm of caring and tending to the heart of your child by investing time in them with out an agenda then it is not too late to discover what it is or create one if necessary.

 

Conclusion: What Is Your End Game?

What do you hope to accomplish by talking to your young teen about sex beyond simple information transfer? Simply cautioning them to abide by a certain standard or moral code is not enough. You need to ask yourself, “Whom will my son go to first if they’ve gotten someone pregnant? Who will be the first person my daughter will go to if she’s contracted an STD? Who will be the first person my teenager will go to when they’re tired of being teased and harassed about choosing to abstain from sexual intercourse and intimacy until they’re married? They’ll rarely say it but young people are looking for adult mentors who are willing to show them what it looks like to be an adult as they are growing into one. Young people need a safe secure place to talk about how they are living out their sexuality. Teenagers need to feel safe enough to talk to their parents about their sexual lives even if they know they’ll be disappointed at what they hear. Sex is not just a reproductive process of two bodies joining together in a purely physical act, nor is it “the nasty”. There are emotions, feelings, and a sense of self, wrapped up in the complicated beauty that is human sexuality and relationships. Parents always have and always will have the most potential impact in their children developing dysfunctional or healthy sexual lives.

Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

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“Why do we perceive sex as so gross? Most people think its gross.”

That is one of the questions I received last week from one of my students anonymously on a 3×5 card. Last week we talked about myths and lies about sex from culture. Ironically enough we will be addressing the question this week when we talk about myths and lies about sex from the church. It is actually the third on my list of church myths under the title of, “Bodies and sex are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.” However, if we’re being fair the lie of sex being gross is perpetuated by both the church and culture at large (I feel I should clarify that when I refer to the church in this case I’m referring to the Christian subculture as a whole in America. It’s not just a generalization of local church bodies but also Christian pop-culture of books, movies, and bible study curriculum).

I believe the reason why so many, probably not a majority, but a sizable amount of people, thinks sex is gross is because of the fear tactics meant to discourage us from having sex when we’re young. One of the buzzwords of our sex talk is ‘formational’. There are so many aspects of our culture that is formative in how we think about our bodies and sex. Given some of the messages we receive early on about sex from what is said and also what isn’t said has a way of teaching us that sex is gross.

Given how sex saturated the culture at large is some I assume many disagree that it actually uses fear tactics to scare us out of having sex when we’re young. I would point out that most of my students were apprehensive about having a sex talk to begin with because the sex talk they would have gotten at school was extremely awkward. Think back to the sex-Ed portion of your middle and high school health class curriculum. If you remember nothing else you probably recall being shown pictures of genitalia with rashes or worse due to sexually transmitted diseases, and video clips of a childbirth. Why would our culture, which tends to be fairly reckless with their depiction of sex on the opposite end of the spectrum use fear tactics to discourage young people from having sex? Above all else our American Western culture values individual autonomy. One sure fire way to threaten your autonomy before you even reach adulthood is to get pregnant, get someone pregnant, or get an STD. More to the heart of the issue if any of those things happen before you reach adulthood you’ve sent a shot across the bow of your parent or guardian’s autonomy (and their insurance premium). So if scaring you doesn’t work they’ll gladly teach and instruct you in the proper use of birth control and contraceptives. Also I think we would be amiss if we didn’t give some credit to the pervasiveness of hardcore porn to the belief that sex is gross. Most pornography is completely and utterly dehumanizing.

As for the church its uses fear tactics to try and scare you into obedience to God. Often the unintended overwhelming message from the church in regards to sex is that it is not allowed. Well that is until you get married. In the church premarital sin is treated like the unforgivable sin. I’ve read books and heard talks from Christian sources that would have you convinced that if you have premarital sex, you’ll be haunted by ghosts of your sexual past for the rest of your life, that you are used and soiled goods. Whereas the Bible teaches that purity is as much about sex as it is how we treat widows, orphans, and foreigners, the church has created an entire market around sex being the be all end all of purity from purity rings to the “True Love Waits” campaign. One of the most egregious examples of the church using fear tactics about sex, is Kay Arthur’s book The Truth About Sex where she likens sex to a can of Drano. That’s right, she likens sex to a toxic cleaning chemical engineered to clear out a clogged bog. She highlights the cautions and warning labels where it says “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed. Causes severe burns to eyes and skin.” I get what she’s trying to communicate. Being reckless with you sex life and misusing sex can put you at risk. However, what are the chances that a few teenagers hearing or reading that illustration is ever going to want to have sex even when they get married? In extreme cases they’ll only ever want to have sex in order to procreate or occasionally begrudgingly appease their spouse.

It is likely that both the culture and the church is to blame for why so many parents feel inept to talk to their kids about sex. Sex either becomes part of a child’s null-curriculum leading to curiosity suspicion and at time the assumption that it is wrong to talk about. Some parents feel awkward using technical terms when talking about sex and create code words for body parts and intercourse. Not only does this have the possibility of teaching kids at an early age that sex is always naughty, but it could have even more devastating consequences. I spoke with a psychologist once who told me they and many of their colleagues were witness to failed child abuse cases because the defense attorney seized on the fact that the child referred to their body parts with code words they learned from parents like “flower” and “butterfly” instead of an anatomically correct term.

At the end of the day the fear tactics from both camps fail because sex is good. Sex is designed for us, and in our sinful brokenness we have turned it into something it is not. Despite all the ridiculous illustrations and disgusting pictures of STDs people keep having sex because sex is a tremendous gift that God has given to his image bearers to experience the peak of companionship and oneness. And as with any great gift some people just can’t wait to open it. As with any great gift it can be misused and abused. None of that changes the fact that it is good.

 

Teenagers Under Pressure: Academic Achievement and Anxiety

It is relatively old news for me to tell you that teens are under an enormous amount of pressure these days. I know there’s a correlation but I still find it very curious, in my experience as a youth pastor, that the highest achieving students are often the ones that are struggling the most with anxiety. The kind of anxiety that necessitates prescription meds to cope and overcome. I’m not writing this to be critical of parents in their efforts to help their children continue down the road to success as adults. Nor am I writing this to be critical of schools. I would simply like to share a few observations and a few things I’ve learned.

1. What Is Failing? We should encourage and even push students to maximize their academic ability. Even if a student is capable of getting all A’s getting a B never has and never will be failing. Unfortunately I know all too well from personal experience the gap between a B and actually literally failing a whole class let alone one test or assignment. I know it both at the High School and collegiate level. When you’ve really failed a class you have two options; either admit defeat or take the class again. If you graduate with a B average there is a very small number of schools you will either have a difficult time getting into or simply don’t stand a chance.

2. What Is The Right School? I didn’t believe it when I first read it because it went against everything I had ever been told since Middle School. I don’t have the book in front of me but Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good For Everyone, by Richard Settersten & Barbara E. Ray to quote it, but it they’re research and findings challenged what a lot of us tell young people about the importance of getting into the right school. We tell students they need to get into these top-tier schools to get an advantage when it’s time to get a job start a career and get paid. Whereas it may have been true thirty years ago today the only measurable difference that can be found between top-tier colleges and universities (with the exception of Ivy League and a handful of other schools) is the debt students leave with. In some cases the difference in the debt is absolutely crippling. With the job market being in the current state it’s in the advantages to going to a more prestigious school are not as profound as it once was.

3. What Remains True? Of course considerations need to be made for a particular school having a strong department in the field of study one wishes to pursue, but one thing remains true. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Put more accurately it’s not so much where you go, but who you get to know wherever you go. Personally I’m not big into networking (the very thought of it exhausts me) but I’d be a fool to think that who I know had little to do with where I am today. I went to a relatively small university in the middle of nowhere Michigan, but I met the right people while I was there which helped in landing a job at a mega-church straight out of college. The irony for me is that one of the people I knew had no affiliation with the university I was attending at the time.

4. Success At What Cost? I recently met with a middle school student of mine who was struggling with some things at school. They were conflicted with the fact that she had started become the target of cheating. In other words other students were looking to her to allow them to cheat. Nothing new with cheating except I found it interesting that this is a student who is in a number of honors classes. Maybe I’m naive or revising my own experience but I recall it was usually the students who weren’t high achievers trying to cheat, but now it’s the kids who have shown they can apply themselves and perform at a high level academically who are opting to cheat. Personally I think the extra emphasis on “class rank” has a lot to do with it. It’s not enough to show you’ve mastered what you’ve been taught you have to outperform everyone else, and thus a culture of cheating has gotten out of control.

Conclusion: I’m sure some of you will disagree with my observations and conclusions. Disagreement is welcome. At the end of the day we all want the same thing for our young people. We want them to grow up to be successful and high achieving adults who contribute to the world being a better place. We also want to see them be healthy and not fall victim to crippling stress and anxiety. Therein may lie the biggest problem. We have an entire generation of young people who have been bathed in the culture of fear that has been created and the finger of blame could be pointed in a lot of directions. A whole post could be dedicated to that topic alone, but in the meanwhile t wouldn’t be a stretch to say if we peeled back the layers on each of the four observations I’ve made here we’d find a culture of fear at or near the core of each one.

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

Should Girls Be Held Responsible For Boys Lusting?: And Other Thoughts on Modesty (2nd Edition)

Revised with an additional thought at the end in attempts to keep it balanced and make sure that a double standard is not being communicated while keeping in mind the differences between men and women.

So Says Ced

Yesterday evening I got into a discussion with some of my female volunteers about modesty. Of course whenever there is a discussion about modesty as it pertains to teenagers its usually a conversation about the way girls dress and how boys respond to the female figure. This particular discussion came up because some of the girls had understood our policy against the girls wearing two pieces to trips and retreats as being primarily an issue of not wanting them to cause the boys to have lustful thoughts. For clarification sake I’ve maintained this particular part of our dress code in the youth ministry as being a modesty issue. It begins and ends with modesty. With that in mind here are some thoughts when it comes to the issue of modesty.

Leggings Show More Than Just Your Legs
Could someone please explain to me why we make such a big deal…

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