Not wanting to talk about sex with your parents is a self-fulfilling prophecy…we think it’s impossible and awkward and unnecessary, and so it becomes impossible and awkward, even if it is necessary.
And frankly, talking to parents about sex has a bad name—but they can actually be a very important resource for teens who are just beginning to deal with relationships and sex. Parents have much more experience than their kids and they obviously know us very well; ultimately, they care about us more than anyone else in our lives and want to help us make good choices, so it makes sense to use them as a resource. But the prospect of discussing intimate topics is made no less scary by the fact that parents could have a good perspective to offer. There are several things that both the parents and kids can to do to allow these types of honest conversations to happen.
The first—start early. The longer a family waits to start discussing sex and relationships, the harder it is to start. If it’s never spoken of, it becomes taboo, and few teenagers will feel comfortable suddenly bringing up something related to sex when they themselves begin to consider it. If the conversation starts earlier, it becomes more normal and parents and children can talk about what they think about sex before sex is on the near horizon. That makes the discussion less high stakes, and sets the foundation for an open environment later. (For Sex and the City super fans, think Wallis Wysel and her kids Vaughn, Franny, and Zoey)
But say it’s late into your teenage years and the conversation still hasn’t started…hope is not lost. Too often teenagers don’t even consider approaching parents about sex at this point because they think they know exactly what their mom or dad will say. Some variation of “No, just don’t.” or “You are NOT having sex—I don’t want to hear about this!” This doesn’t give our parents enough credit. If you come to your parents and try to initiate an open and honest discussion about how you’re thinking through decisions in your relationship, they aren’t going to respond by furiously criticizing you and your choices. (On the off chance that they do, it could be because you’re making a mistake or doing something harmful, in which case you will thank them later). More likely, they will try to understand where you’re coming from, tell you their opinions, and—believe it or not—answer any questions you have. Many of my friends have been shocked by how helpful and approachable their parents became once they broached the topic of sex. You’ll never know if your parents might be a similarly good resource, and there’s no harm in trying.
But take the worst-case scenario—your parents are adamantly against what you are considering doing or are disappointed in your choices. The hardest part of talking about sex is reconciling your parents’ real, unabridged opinions—even if those opinions completely disagree with what you think or want—and their love for you, their kids. Your parents don’t want to alienate you but they aren’t always going to agree with your choices. The goal is to find some middle ground and, even if you have to agree to disagree, your parents won’t scold you forever. They are fundamentally good and reasonable people, and it’s better to have them in your corner so they can help you if you ever need them in the future.
The bottom line is that talking to your parents can be comforting and informative, and if you have been at all convinced in the value of having a conversation with them, there’s no better time to start the discussion than now. A great way to do so is by talking about sex in a non-personal way, like through the plot of a TV show (16 and Pregnant anyone?) or a story about a friend, or by bringing up the National Day to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy! I know my parents will be thrilled with my 7 out of 10 performance on the National Day Quiz, ranking me a “semi-sexpert.” Who knows where our dinner conversation will go from there!