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Sex education: Talking to your teen about sex

Is your teenager ready to make tough choices about sex? Uncomfortable as it may be, sex education is your responsibility. Here's help getting started.

You understand the importance of sex education. But don't count on classroom instruction alone. Although the basics may be covered in health class, your child might not hear - or understand - everything he or she needs to know. That's where you come in. Awkward as it may be, sex education is a parent's responsibility. By reinforcing and supplementing what your child learns in school, you can help your child make good decisions about sex.

Breaking the ice

Sex is a staple of news, entertainment and advertising. It's often hard to avoid this ever-present topic. But when parents and children need to talk, it isn't always so easy. If you wait for the perfect moment, you might miss the best opportunities. Instead, think of sex education as an ongoing conversation. Here are some ideas to help you get started - and keep the discussion going.

  • § Seize the moment. When a TV program or music video raises issues about responsible sexual behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion. If a good topic comes up at an inconvenient time, say you'd like to talk more about it later - then actually do so.
  • § Keep it low-key. Don't pressure your child to talk about sex. Simply broach the subject when you're alone with your child. Sometimes everyday moments - such as riding in the car, putting away groceries or sharing a late-night snack - offer the best opportunities to talk.
  • § Be honest. If you're uncomfortable, say so - but explain that it's important to keep talking. If you don't know how to answer your child's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
  • § Be direct. Clearly state your feelings about specific issues, such as oral sex and intercourse. Present the risks objectively, including emotional pain, sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn't a risk-free alternative to intercourse.
  • § Consider your child's point of view. Don't lecture your child or rely on scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Instead, listen carefully. Understand your child's pressures, challenges and concerns.
  • § Move beyond the facts. Your child needs accurate information about sex. But it's just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes and values. Examine questions of ethics and responsibility in the context of your personal or religious beliefs.
  • § Invite more discussion. Let your child know that it's OK to talk with you about sex whenever he or she has questions or concerns. Reward questions by saying, "I'm glad you came to me."

Addressing tough topics

Sex education includes abstinence, date rape, homosexuality and other tough topics. Be prepared for questions like these:

  • § How will I know I'm ready for sex? Various factors - peer pressure, curiosity and loneliness, to name a few - steer some teenagers into early sexual activity. But there's no rush. Remind your child that it's OK to wait. Sex is an adult behavior. In the meantime, there are many other ways to express affection - intimate talks, long walks, holding hands, listening to music, dancing, kissing, touching and hugging.
  • § What if my boyfriend or girlfriend wants to have sex, but I don't? Explain that no one should have sex out of a sense of obligation or fear. Any form of forced sex is rape, whether the perpetrator is a stranger or someone your child has been dating. Impress upon your child that no always means no. Emphasize that alcohol and drugs impair judgment and reduce inhibitions, leading to situations in which date rape is more likely to occur.
  • § What if I think I'm gay? Many teens wonder at some point whether they're gay or bisexual. Help your child understand that he or she is just beginning to explore sexual attraction. These feelings may change as time goes on. Above all, however, let your child know that you love him or her unconditionally. Praise your child for sharing his or her feelings.

Responding to behavior

If your child becomes sexually active - whether you think he or she is ready or not - it may be more important than ever to keep the conversation going. State your feelings and calmly explain your objections. You might say, "I'm disappointed in your decision to have sex. I don't think it's appropriate or healthy for you to have sex right now. But the decision is yours. I expect you to take the associated responsibilities seriously."

Stress the importance of safe sex, and make sure your child understands how to use contraception. You might talk about keeping a sexual relationship exclusive, not only as a matter of trust and respect but also to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Also set and enforce reasonable boundaries, such as curfews and rules about visits from friends of the opposite sex.

Your child's doctor can help, too. A routine checkup can give your child the opportunity to address sexual activity and other behaviors in a supportive, confidential atmosphere.

Looking ahead

With your support, your child can emerge into a sexually responsible adult. Be honest and speak from the heart. Even if your child remains silent, he or she will hear you.

From Mayoclinic.com

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