I still remember having “the sex talk” with my mom. It went a little something like this: She said, “Now that you have your period, we should…” and I interrupted with, “Nope! I already know. We’re good!” It was 20 seconds of me squirming, and then I bolted.
That was almost 30 years ago and times have changed. If the sex talk you’re planning to have (or had) is the same one that you got, you’re missing something. And to find those missing answers, your kids will go to a friend, YouTube video, or health class at school. Here are 7 ways the sex talk needs to be different from the one we had with our parents. Warning: This isn’t for the faint of heart—but then again, neither is parenting.
1. It needs to happen way earlier.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you wait until they’re 13 or when you find out they’re sexually active, you’re missing the opportunity to lay valuable groundwork. No, it’s never too late. But the sooner you start, the better the chance that your child will be comfortable talking to you when some bigger issues arise. A good way to start talking with your children about sex is to ask them what they know.
The average age of a child’s first exposure to sexual material is 11 and they have Google at their fingertips. Would you prefer they ask you what “masturbation” means or that they ask Google?
2. It needs to cover pornography.
You know how easy it is to come by porn today. It is literally a click away. And this isn’t the same pornography that was around when we were kids, stumbling across a magazine while babysitting. What was softcore is now mainstream and what was hardcore is now average porn.
If we don’t teach our kids about sex, pornography will. And no matter how you feel about porn, it’s not good for kids’ brains. When porn enters the brain, it triggers the reward center to start pumping out dopamine. New pathways are created that connect watching porn to feeling pleasure. Those pathways are strong and they increase the desire to return to porn. In short, it’s as addictive and unhealthy as junk food.
3. It needs to cover sexting.
The talk about porn goes hand-in-hand with the talk about sexting. Even if your child isn’t doing it, it’s something he or she likely will encounter over time. As this study reports, over 50 percent of teens say they’ve been asked to send a sext.
Sexting has become a measure of popularity. Girls say they feel flattered when asked for a nude photo and rejected when no boys ask. Boys think it’s a sign of masculinity to ask a girl and that it could lead to a hookup.
4. It needs to cover gender identity and sexual orientation.
This part of the sex talk will come in phases and it’s helpful to ask questions to see what your child knows and thinks. My friend’s sixth-grader came home from school and said a boy flat out asked a classmate, “So are you a boy or a girl?” It was more than my friend expected her daughter to overhear during math class.
Our kids are growing up in a world that says they should announce their sexual orientation at a young age, even if they’re not sure yet. This is a great opportunity to teach your children about your values while learning about theirs. And no matter what, we need to teach them that every person deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.
5. It needs to cover “friends with benefits.”
If your child isn’t in a relationship, you could assume he or she isn’t having sex—but that might not be the case. Classic dating isn’t as common as it used to be. A common theme I’ve heard is teens saying there’s too much drama in relationships, and who has the time? So they think friends with benefits is a great way to explore sexuality without baggage.
But just because there are no romantic relationships or break-ups doesn’t mean there isn’t any emotional investment. Any time there is intimacy with another person, there is a level of vulnerability. Our kids need to know that “no strings attached” doesn’t include heartstrings.
6. It needs to recognize that sex is not just intercourse.
Many teens consider themselves virgins as long as they don’t have traditional intercourse. This is nothing new. What is new is that thanks to the proliferation of pornography, these other kinds of sex are being normalized. And it’s easy for teens to think there are fewer risks.
The new sex talk needs to address that it’s not just about not getting pregnant or avoiding an STD. Like friends with benefits, there are still repercussions and chances for emotional trauma (and yes, a sexually transmitted disease).
7. It’s not just one talk.
This is a lot. You’re not going to cover all of it in one drive in the car or over one shared milkshake. The sex talk with your child needs to be an open conversation that never ends.
Think about how you viewed sex and what you knew the first time your parents brought it up versus three years later. As our children grow, so should the conversation. Start now and keep the dialogue open.
What kind of sex talk did your parents have with you?