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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Time for The Sex Talk

The Sex Talk...  Something every parent dreads!  We all want our kids to have a solid and healthy understanding of sex, but as parents we don't generally want to be the ones that give it to them.  Proof of this is usually found in the "talks" we had as young people.  The "talk" that I got was pathetic, it consisted of "do you know how sex woks?" and "don't do it til you're married."  And my sister didn't even get one.  My husband said he never got one either. And most people I have talked too had similar experiences.  It was just assumed by most of our parents that we would learn what we needed somewhere else. Well, most of us did. I did. But many of us didn't or didn't learn it in time.

Is it REALLY that important that teens know and understand all the issues surrounding sex?  If we simply teach abstinence none of the other stuff is necessary - right?  Well first, few things are as important as a healthy understanding of sex related issues.  And second, if just teaching abstinence worked, there wouldn't be any teen pregnancy.  It doesn't work, frankly, it never did.  When my grandmother got married in the 1950's it didn't work... And it doesn't work now.

But here's some good news: "The Talk" doesn't have to happen!  Well, if doesn't have to happen - IF YOU DO IT RIGHT!

So how can you "do it right" if it doesn't have to happen?  I'm certainly not suggesting that you shouldn't teach your children about sex.  Instead of "the talk" though I'm suggesting an ongoing conversation that starts when they're young.  This is something that makes many parents just as nervous as the idea of talking to a teen does. There are questions about "am I taking their innocence?" and "how much is too much information?" and of course "when and how is the right time?"  Lucky for you, I'm here to answer all those questions and more.

Before we get in to those questions though, there is an even more important one to discuss and that question is "What should I teach them?!?" So lets deal with that first...

Sex education isn't JUST about intercourse.  It also includes learning the basics about their bodies, understanding what we as children called "Red Flag" and "Green Flag" touches and even self esteem.  IF you start their education with these subjects and continue the conversation - openly and honestly - as they age, you will both be ready when it comes time to discuss things like STI's and Pregnancy.  So start young...

Once a child is old enough to learn where their hands and feet are, they are old enough to begin learning where their private areas are too - and this includes teaching them the proper names.  Nicknames are okay for conversation, but it's very important that they learn to identify them with the proper names as well.  While they are learning proper names, it's important to teach them "body rules" at the same time.  It goes without saying that you're going to teach your child that "hands are not for hitting."  But parents often slack off when teaching rules about the private parts.  I suggest teaching the "Body Rules" at the same time of teaching the body parts...  This way the idea that "this is my hand" and "hands aren't for hitting" are equally understood. The rules for private parts can be taught the same way.

So what are the "Body Rules" that should be stressed?

  • NO ONE is allowed to touch, tickle or play around with your private places!
  • NO ONE is allowed to look at our private places for fun!
  • We don't show our private places to others without Mom/Dad there. (this is important because you don't want them to be afraid to discuss or show their parts with a doctor, but you also don't want them doing it without you)
  • We don't touch other people's private parts
  • Your private places are yours and no one else's
  • If someone breaks these rules it's okay to yell "STOP THAT IT ISN'T ALLOWED" and run to tell someone.

While we're on the subject of "rules" for private parts, lets talk about educating kids on sexual abuse.  Every parent believes it won't be THEIR child... But it does happen, even to children with loving and protective parents! And since MOST cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by someone the child knows, there is no such thing as keeping your child completely safe all the time.  Thankfully, even this doesn't need to be painful.  There are some great books out there that will help to teach the issue without making it something to fear.  And the great thing is some of these books are "childish" enough that they can be integrated into the child's library very early on.  Here are the ones I recommend:

The really great things about these books is that they help to bring the subject up without turning it into an awkward moment. They allow you to discuss serious issues even with young children and in terms that they understand. The best part is that teaching your children these basics before it becomes something they are unwilling to talk about - before it becomes "taboo" in their minds - creates an open channel between you and them which will encourage them to come to you for answers when they need them.  It also means that when it's time to step up the education, you will know they already have the basics and you'll both be comfortable talking about these subjects. 

So when is it time to "step it up?"  I say around the time they start school, but definitely no later than second or third grade.  Why? Because it is right around age 8 or 9 that some girls will begin to develop.  Now, it's true that most won't really start til 11 or 12, but we all develop at different ages and it's important that they have the information about what is happening before it starts happening to them, or their friends. You know yourself if you understand what's going on or what's going to happen, it's less scary, and kids are the same way. 

They need to understand not just what is going to happen with their own bodies, but with the bodies of the opposite gender as well.  Basically because if they don't hear the facts from you, they're going to hear it from their friends who are also learning and experiencing these things. But since many of their friends are learning these things from questionable sources, that's NOT what you want them thinking is the truth.  It is just as important for girls to understand that boy's voices are going to change naturally and it's not an illness or "gross" as it is for boys to learn... And of course it's as important for boys to understand that menstrual blood isn't going to attract sharks or make them sick as it is for girls...  

I've discussed creating a "moon box" in the past, so I'm not going to do so again here. But I suggest that you do some research on "coming of age" celebrations, gifts and books before you believe your children will need them. It will also help you get a handle on what information your kids need and how to present it. There is a HUGE difference between the clinical "here's what's going to happen in your uterus" and "a woman's blood time is a blessing because..."  

It IS important though that they understand the clinical aspect of those changes. So if you don't have a solid understanding of the cycles women go through, it's worthy of a review.  

What should you teach your child about puberty in a girl...
  • Hair growth and care:  As hair begins to grow in "new" places girls need to know why it is there and how to care for it or remove it if need be.  Explore with them removal options such as shaving, waxing, plucking, etc., explore with them the proper ways to do these things and their risks as well as their benefits.
  • Body Odor:  Hormone changes create higher levels of sweat and increased body odor.  Explore the various choices in deodorant and antiperspirant as well as pros and cons around these options. 
  • Breasts & Bras:  Girls will develop breasts at differing rates from one another. So it's important to stress that their body is different from their friends. It's also important to discuss bras with them - the different kinds, when to wear what and the pros & cons of bras in general. 
  • Moontime: Clearly the most obvious subject to cover is a girls period.  Not just what is going to happen, but why and the various ways to care for it. Explore with them different options like tampons, cups and pads as well as the pros and cons of these options. 
  • Cycle:  The period lasts around a week for most women, but a woman's cycle goes on every day, so it's equally important that girls understand what is going on in their bodies through the other three weeks of the month too.
  • PMS & PPD: Hormonal changes within a woman's body can result in moon swings, skin conditions and even changes in hair. 
  • Other Body Changes:  Puberty brings on quite a few changes... Weight gain, rounded hips & thighs, as well as vaginal changes.  They need to know not just what could happen, but that whatever their body does is normal and natural. 
What should you teach your child about puberty in boys...
  • Voice changes:  It's not entirely uncommon for boys voices to crack and pop a bit as testosterone levels rise. It's important to understand that this is both normal and temporary. 
  • Hair Growth and Care:  As hair begins to grow in "new" places girls need to know why it is there and how to care for it or remove it if need be.  Explore with them removal options such as shaving, waxing, plucking, etc., go over the proper ways to do these things and their risks as well as their benefits
  • Body Odor:  Hormone changes create higher levels of sweat and increased body odor.  Explore the various choices in deodorant and antiperspirant as well as pros and cons around these options. 
  • Ejaculation:  Wet dreams are not uncommon throughout puberty, and ejaculation after masturbation can be scary for boys who are unprepared (boys often masturbate from young ages, but ejaculation doesn't usually happen until a year or more into puberty).
  • Body Changes:  Puberty brings on quite a few changes... Broader shoulders, longer arms & legs, bigger feet, as well as changes to their testicles and penis. They need to know both what could happen as well as that whatever their body does is natural and normal.  

I've italicized those areas which are more "gender specific" and don't need to be specifically covered with individuals of the other gender.  Clearly, "bra safety" isn't something you need to discuss with your boys, but they do need to understand that girls will all develop differently. 

For most people, puberty will start between 11 and 13, but it can start as early as 7 or 8, or even as late as 15 or 16.  Everybody is different and there are numerous variables that go into when it does or doesn't begin.  In general both boys and girls an interest in sex will usually begin around 12 or 13.  That means it's extremely important that they not only understand the mechanics of sex, but the safety issues surrounding it before that time comes. Don't ever assume that your child won't be interested.  The vast majority of pregnant 13 year old's parents didn't believe their child was interested in sex! 

Beyond the mechanics, it's important that they understand the following subjects:
  • Pregnancy:  There are a lot of teens out there who believe you "can't get pregnant the first time" or "you can't get pregnant with her on top" or a million other incorrect pregnancy prevention methods...  They need to understand that pregnancy can happen ANY TIME!  And that the only tried and true way of preventing it is abstinence. 
  • Protection: Condoms, Female Condoms, Diaphragm, Spermicide, Sponges... There are tons of options out there and they should know how to use them all - plus the pros and cons of each option. 
  • STDs & STIs:  By this point most people know about HIV, but rarely do they know how to recognize other STDs or STIs in themselves or others. Explore each STD/STI with your child and empower them to be able to recognize them as well as understand things like treatment and long term risks.  
  • Oral & Anal sex: It's sometimes hard to talk about, but it's important for them to understand that these forms of sex ARE still sex and they do come with risks (they can still transmit STD/STIs) 
  • Legal issues: This may not seem like a conversation where legal issues need to be brought in, but depending on where you live, two teenagers having sex can end up with one of them on a sex offender list... So they need to have a clear understanding of what can happen if they step outside legal bounds. 
  • Self esteem and Respect:  Health and Legal issues are very important when discussing sex. But in my opinion, one of the most important issues is talking to them about WHEN to have sex.  As parents we all want to say "wait til you're 45" but that's just not a very smart approach.  So we need to stress the idea that they should never have sex because they are pushed into it, but because THEY are making the choice to do so.  Their body, their choice! And it also needs to be stressed that they should have the same level of respect for their partner's choices as they would want for themselves. 
It's also extremely important to discuss dating safety. Make sure you talk to your child about issues like online dating, meeting people they don't know, date rape, and abuse.  You should also make a list of things that they should ensure they ALWAYS have on them - a condom, phone, CASH, and ID most of all. 

As I said before, "the talk" doesn't need to be awkward or stressful. And if you begin early and have an open, ongoing conversation ALL of these subjects can be discussed over time without ever having a need to a "TALK" so to speak.  Instead it allows you to form a relationship where they know they can come to you with anything.  

If your kids are already starting puberty or it's time for you to start discussing sex and you didn't take steps to start the conversation early, it's not too late. Although it's not going to be quite as easy, it's still important to talk to them. So don't put it off, just jump in and do it.  

In the end, we all want to keep our kids safe. But when it comes to the subject of sex, we often find ourselves tongue tied at best.   That nervousness leads to nervousness in our kids and can cause many of us to just hope they find the right information elsewhere.  As parents though, it's OUR JOB to ensure that they not only have all the information they want, but also the information they need!  Above all else though, they need to know that we are here for them - regardless of what happens! They are going to make mistakes, it's our job to make sure that when they do, they know they can come to us and we can help and/or support them as needed.  If you do nothing else, do that!  

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