Discussing sex is never easy. To be honest, it takes me some time to write these articles because it isn’t easy to discuss it, even with other single parents. There are issues of terminology, what we were brought up to understand as proper conversation, and just the generally embarrassing aspects of such a conversation. Most of us have trouble discussing sex with our spouses/lovers, much less with our children.
And yet it is absolutely necessary that we have these conversations. So how can we make them easier on all concerned? One fact is obvious. We cannot assume that our children are going to make it any easier; it is all up to us.
The first thing that a parent must do is keep an open mind and an open ear. We really must listen to our children. Do not over-react to terminology and choice of words in conversations. Unless you have discussed a subject before, the likelihood is that the only terminology to which your child has been exposed is that of others his or her own age. While those terms may be offensive to us, often our children aren’t completely aware of the details of the acts that they are discussing. The first question to ask is whether the child knows what the terminology he or she has referred to means. If they do, then you are on to correcting the terminology with a more appropriate term. If they don't, then it is time to explain. If a child feels comfortable verbally expressing a thought, then he or she should know exactly what they are saying.
When my youngest daughter was in the sixth grade, she came home from school upset one day because a young boy had said that her best friend liked to perform oral sex - only he used a more offensive slang term. My daughter repeated that term verbatim. I honestly was shocked to hear such words come from her mouth, but I chose to keep a calm demeanor, knowing that a shocked expression would shut down the conversation. I asked her if she knew what her classmate meant and to my surprise, she did. I explained to her the correct term - oral sex – and asked her why her classmate would accuse her friend accordingly. As it turned out, the boy was upset with her friend because he had asked the girl to be his girlfriend and she had declined.
In connection with the incident, I spoke with the guidance counselor at her middle school. The information I found out during that conversation was a real eye-opener for me. Middle school children not only discuss sex more often and in more detail than ever before, but acts of oral sex are on the rise in this age group. These children, partly because they have been exposed to only the basics of sex education and partly because of the society in which we live, are attracted to oral sex because 1) they don’t view it as sex and 2) they know that they cannot get pregnant from oral sex. They are not considering the obvious ramifications of the act including the risk of their reputation, the risk of low self-esteem, and the sexually transmitted diseases.
So how do we make these obviously necessary conversations easier?
1) Start conversations with your children at an early age. If you think they may be discussing sex or even the opposite sex with their friends, they are. If you haven’t thought about it yet, do so – because they will not wait for your permission.
2) LISTEN. Listen to how they talk with their friends when you are around. Listen to the conversations in the car when you are carpooling. Listen to your children when they come to you with questions. Listen to them when they tell you about their day, their friends, and their teachers. There are messages throughout their conversation that we, as parents, need to hear.
3) Start conversations with your children. Use open-ended questions to avoid dead-end conversations. Questions that require “yes” or “no” answers, while time-efficient, are information-lean. Find out if their friends are allowed to date or attend boy-girl parties. Find out how your children feel about such activities and make it clear what your guidelines are for the same. What does your child consider to be appropriate PDA (Public Displays of Affection)? Does this differ with your opinion? Discuss your different viewpoints.
4) Do not ACT shocked by the terminology or the actions that your child may describe to you, no matter how shocked you may be. Decide NOW that you are going to become comfortable with such terms as penis, vagina, oral sex, masturbation, homosexuality, and the list goes on and on. Use correct terminology in conversations with your children. This is how they will learn to use the correct terminology for the slang they already know.
5) Be honest!! Talk honestly with your children about your values and your expectations. Talk honestly with them about mistakes that you made when you were their age. Let them know how to protect themselves by making wise decisions. Let them know that bad things sometimes happen to good people so that they will not be afraid to come to you in the event they are assaulted or raped.
While some of us may have been raised in a more sheltered environment than others, I believe that we can all agree that there is no “safe” environment anymore in which we can hide our children. For that reason, we must take it upon ourselves to educate them for their own protection - for today and in the future. If we want to make it easier to accomplish this task, then we must take that responsibility upon ourselves.
Never close down the lines of communication between you and your children. Make sure to have two-sided conversations where you spend as much time listening as you do talking. Your children will be better off for your efforts.