When my brother-in-law's dad took him to college in 1962, he asked his son, "You know about girls, right?" Paul Soglin answered, "Yes." His father said, "Good," gave him a hug, and drove off. That brief conversation at 17 was the long and the short of the sex talk Soglin, today a 62-year-old management consultant in Madison, Wis., got from his parents.
Nowadays, experts advise there is no one "big" (or, as in Soglin's case, small) sex talk. Teaching teens about their bodies and sexuality is best when it's an ongoing dialogue, starting in childhood.
Specifically for parents of teen boys, an effective strategy is to "bottom line" their communications and then go on to talk about their values, advise Amy Miron, MS, and Charles Miron, PhD, authors of How to Talk With Teens About Love, Relationships, and S-E-X. That's because boys are more likely to be comfortable and pay attention when their parents keep the message simple and direct. "Many men are action-oriented in terms of verbal communication, and it often works best to cut to the chase," says Charles. Adds Amy: "You can say, 'Use a latex condom properly every time,' and then fill in the details with discussions of values, respect, and love."
Teach Your Teen Boy to Wait for Sex
Also important for boys to hear is something about social attitudes toward sex, especially since the double standard, while perhaps somewhat watered down from Soglin's day, still persists. "Men are supposed to be the hunters and go after anything and not care. They 'score,'" says Charles, so some parents may be tempted to give their boys a wink and a nod while telling their girls to wait to be sexually active.
But boys, like girls, need to be pulled back and given a reality check. They need to hear what their parents think about love and intimacy and be given a chance to talk about their own ideas.
Talk to Your Teen Boy About Sexual Values
Parents should also talk to their sons about how the sexual activity they may be involved in -- be it oral sex, intercourse, or kissing -- might mean something very different to the girl they're with. And because many teens have been exposed to pornography, it's important to reinforce that what they see -- sex for sex's sake -- is usually different from reality.
Be sure to ask your son his own thoughts and feelings about relationships and sex. But remember to also articulate your own values: "I'd like you to wait until you're in love or you're engaged or you're married" or whatever your values are. Let your son know that everyone has to explore his sexuality, it's normal, and you love him no matter what.
"The biggest thing -- and this is the same message we give boys and girls -- is that the first time you're sexually active you're going to remember until the day you die," says Charles Miron. "In other words, you're writing your own personal history, and you want to make sure you're going to read it and feel proud of it."