My mom called me into her room for “the talk” when I was 12 or 13. As I recall it now, 25 years later, the conversation seemed more focused on fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the mechanics of reproduction (which I already knew about) than on the real issues in my head: cute boys, love, feeling good.
My mother was a product of her time and had her own discomforts with frank discussions of intimacy and sex. Because of that, I was left to figure out when and with whom I would be intimate.
Times have changed, though. Now, experts advise parents to skip the big sex talk. Rather, sex education, much like every-thing else we teach our children, should be an ongoing conversation over the years. Begin with honest answers to basic questions about anatomy, eventually graduating to the clear articulation of your values about sex, dating, and relationships.
Does Talking About Sex Lead to Sex?
Parents may worry that talking to their daughters about sex will lead to more sexual activity, but the opposite is true, says Debra W. Haffner, noted sex educator and author of From Diapers to Dating and Beyond the Big Sex Talk. “There’s 30 years of research out there that says when parents talk about sex, the talks don’t lead to sex,” says Haffner. “In fact, if you give a clear message of waiting, kids are more likely to wait.”
Pretending your daughter doesn’t have a natural curiosity and a developing sexual identity doesn’t help anyone. “If your daughter is in love, she is going to be thinking about sex and how far to go,” says Haffner, who suggests parents keep discussions at this stage brief and to the point.
Communicating Sexual Values
Tell your daughter what your values are: that you want her to wait until she’s in a respectful, loving relationship; until she’s out of high school; until she’s engaged or married; or whatever you would like her to do.
But, Haffner says, make a point to say that if she is going to have sex, her life and health are what’s most important to you, and encourage her to use contraception and condoms.
Sex is everywhere in our culture and in your daughter’s mind. But by teaching her what’s important to you as a parent and what she can do to protect herself against pregnancy and disease, you can help your teen confidently negotiate her new sexual self.
As you have these ongoing conversations, remember to talk about the real meaning of sex: love and intimacy. Listen to her point of view, so she’ll keep talking to you. Admit that you don’t have all the answers. And remind her that you love her no matter what she chooses to do as she explores her sexuality.