I was a little late to the “Friday Night Lights” bandwagon, but since the show has gone off the air, and is now on Netflix, I binge-watched all seasons in a few weeks. In one of the episodes, Coach Taylor found his 17-year-old daughter in bed with her boyfriend. He told his wife, of course, and his wife immediately went to tell their daughter that they would need to have a big conversation about it. The daughter avoided it for a day or so, but when she finally sat down to talk with her mom, I couldn’t help but remember the situation I found myself in as a teenager.
I was 15 when I had sex for the first time. My boyfriend was 18, and it happened without us ever discussing whether or not we were ready. I was not prepared for it, but I thought he loved me, and I desperately wanted to be loved. In the moments, hours, and days afterward, I was in shock that I’d had sex, but also a little flabbergasted that that was the thing I’d been told was so special – and a sin to do before marriage. It certainly wasn’t as grand (or enjoyable) as I’d imagined it to be. Over the next few weeks, we continued having sex, and I told a friend about it. Well, she told her mom, and unbeknownst to me, her mom took my mother out to lunch to break the news to her. The next thing I knew, I was being checked out of school and my parents drove me to a church parking lot where they proceeded to lecture me about what a terrible thing I’d done.
The following months were some of the worst of my life. My boyfriend quickly forgot about me. My parents had my youth minister come over to talk to me. I was banned from going out with friends or leaving the house – except to travel to and from school. And I was made to feel like a huge disappointment, not only by my parents, but by all my church friends who were shocked at how I had “fallen.” I don’t blame my parents – they were doing the best they could – and I don’t blame my friends. It was just the culture I grew up in. Sex was very, very, very bad. Unless, of course, you were married.
Now, back to the Friday Night Lights episode. Tami (mom) sits down to talk with her daughter (Julie), and starts asking her (in a frustrated tone, mind you) about whether or not they are using some form of protection. She asks if she knows how to use condoms correctly, asks if she knows they aren’t 100% effective, and if she feels like she could tell her boyfriend “no” if she didn’t want to have sex with him anymore. And after all of that, Julie says she didn’t tell her mom because she didn’t want her to be disappointed in her, and her mom assures her that she’s not.
In my mind, I was thinking, “This conversation will be different with my girls.” If we find out our daughters are having sex, that won’t be the first time we’ll have talked to them about birth control options. We’re not going to be mad at them. And it won’t be the first time we’ve told them that they should know they can always say “no” and that they don’t have to have sex with someone they’re dating.
All of these conversations should happen years before sex is a possibility, and should be ongoing.
Regardless of your views about sex outside of marriage, the fact is that while rates of intercourse have dropped amongst teenagers, the rate of teens participating in other forms of sex (oral sex in particular) has increased (and STD rates are on the rise as well).
“Kids are not having intercourse at a younger age, and they’re not having more intercourse than they used to. They are engaging in other forms of sexual behavior, younger and more often. We have to broaden our definition of sex, because by ignoring and denying these other forms of sexual behavior that kids are engaging in, we are opening the door to a lot of risky behavior… [Oral sex] is considered to be less intimate than intercourse… They felt it was safer sex, which is true and not true, because the rates of STDs have actually shot up among teenagers, even though the rates of intercourse have not, because they think that oral sex is safer sex and things like gonorrhea are spreading much more quickly.” – Peggy Orenstein, author of “Girls and Sex”
For parents who hold abstinence as the ideal, there’s no reason to shield kids from comprehensive sex education. For a comprehensive sexuality education that includes abstinence and contraceptive information, research shows that the more educated teens are about sex, the less likely they are to participate in risky sexual behavior.
Sex within a healthy relationship can be wonderful, and I want it to be wonderful for my kids. I want my children to know their bodies, to feel comfortable in their skin, to be confident in their ability to set limits and boundaries, to know their limits, to know it is their right to say “no,” to know about birth control, pregnancy, STDs, different ways to have sex, and how to make sex the most pleasurable. And most importantly, I want them to know that they can come to me when they’re thinking about having sex, or when they’ve already had it, because I am in their corner. I will always see them as the whole, beautiful, valuable girls that they are, no matter what they do.
Sexuality education should start at birth.
Yes, you read that right. When I say that you should teach your kids about sex, I’m not merely advocating teaching them about intercourse. Sexuality education with young children includes learning about body parts and how bodies work, gender (roles, expectations, identities), good touches/bad touches, and personal boundaries, among other things. Don’t know where to start? I’ve got some resources for you (and professional training as an Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum facilitator).
The following books are used in conjunction with the OWL curriculum, and are my top choice for all-inclusive guides to bodies and babies for kids of all ages.
by Robie H. Harris et al.
This is the first in this series, and was the first book that I bought for my girls. It has great pictures of bodies of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and is a great introduction to some of the subjects that parents dread bringing up with their children. I suggest reading about one topic at a time – not the entire book at once. It is appropriate for ages 4 and up.
by Robie H. Harris et al.
This is the second book in this series, and it has always been my oldest daughter’s favorite. It goes into a bit more detail, and introduces things like menstruation, in the same age-appropriate and clear way as the first book. It is appropriate for ages 7 and up, though my daughter showed a preference for this one when she was 4 and 5.
by Robie H. Harris et al.
This is the last book in the series, and dives into the topics of internet safety, conception, AIDS, and making decisions about relationships and physical intimacy. It is appropriate for ages 10 and up.
If you think your kids are too young for these books, they’re not. Your kids will learn about sex somewhere, and YOU need to be the one giving this information out first. If your kids hear it at school before they hear it from you, chances are they’re going to be getting incorrect information. And, they won’t tell you about it.
The rule of thumb is that if your kids are asking about it, they’re ready to hear the answers. When my oldest was six years old, she asked what happened to eggs that aren’t used to make babies. I sat down with her and one of our books, and started talking about ovulation and menstruation. We had a great discussion, with her asking questions when she didn’t understand something. I told her that I wanted her to know about these things because I didn’t want her to be scared when she was older and started having a period; that some girls don’t know much about it and it can be scary for them. She laughed at me and looked at me like I was being ridiculous. “Why would I be scared? It’s just my body doing what it’s supposed to do,” she said.
Make sexuality another normal conversation with your child, and your child will come to you when they have questions. If you start these conversations early on, some of that awkwardness and fear (much of which is on our end) will dissipate before the more important conversations happen down the road. You will have set the stage for open and honest dialog, and your children – and, more importantly, your relationship with them – will benefit.
Still wondering what to say?