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When you first had sex, did you tell your parents? Either parent? BOTH of them?
In my case, being a 70s child, I never discussed sexuality (my own or others) with my mother or father. After I had three kids in my 30s, I assume they figured out I knew what to do between the sheets. But the subject continued to be an unexplored, let’s say completely closed, family topic.
But parenting has changed radically in one generation. I talk to my kids about sex all the time. Many parents do, and I believe this sexual candor is a big factor in why teen pregnancy rates recently hit a 35 year low.
Now, I refuse to divulge personal details or to answer me-specific questions, such as when, how many, what type of oral sex do I like, etc. I believe in boundaries. But sexuality is an open subject between us in ways that would make my parents keel over and retch.
To date, all this current family sex-ed has been easy. Open talk about penises, vaginas, and what happens between the two. Little kids love that stuff. By the time they were ten, my children could probably have taught their school’s sex ed class - they can tell you what Plan B is, how gonorrhea is transmitted, and exactly where CVS keeps the condoms.
However, my two older kids are teenagers now. My youngest is closing in on 13. Statistics show that 70% of people have sexual intercourse by the time they are 19.
In other words, this is no longer a hypothetical discussion.
So the question, in my mind, is quickly becoming: do I expect my children to confide in me when they start having sex? Do I want them to? Are there good reasons for me to know (access to birth control, for instance)? Good reasons for them to keep it all private?
And - this is a killer - what if my children want to confide in one parent, but not the other? My oldest child is a boy. It’s natural that maybe he’d want to tell his dad (the same-sex parent) but not me. And maybe my girls wouldn’t want to talk about losing their virginity with Dad, but would tell me.
So - is this okay? Should sex education include parents talking in advance and figuring out whether to keep or break the child's confidence? I have a friend who has given her son advice about bringing a woman to orgasm. I know girls on birth control whose fathers don’t know. I can think of good reasons both parents should know, and good arguments for why kids would prefer to keep this intensely personal part of their private life... private.
I was stumped by my own questions. So I did what I always do when it comes to my kids and sex: I turned to a friend from high school, my own personal teen sex guru, a mom with two teenagers. Her name is Karen Lieberman Troccoli, CRNP, MPH, and she is co-author of the book Like It Is: A Teen Sex Guide. She is the former Director of State and Local Action for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Here’s Karen’s advice:
“Open communication with a parent trumps both parents HAVING to know. The bottom line is your kid’s physical, psychological, and social safety. Their feeling safe in telling even one parent about having sex is key. Conversations about preventing pregnancy and STIs, resisting peer pressure, and sharing points of view can all arise from that confiding in even one adult.
It would be wonderful if our kids opened up to both parents equally. But adolescence is a tumultuous time; teens are going to lean on whomever they feel safest or most comfortable with in a particular context. Parents shouldn't take it personally; it’s not a referendum on parental preference.
So my view is that it's OK for a child to confide in one parent about having sex and for the other not to know. Parents have the ultimate say in whether the information will be shared, but parents have to be honest with children, especially given how sensitive sexuality is. If the child ends up feeling betrayed by either parent through deception, communication will shut down. And that's an important missed opportunity -- and a risk to the child’s health and safety going forward, especially if/when) their teen becomes sexually active.
Given the importance of sexuality, and how sensitive the subject can be, it's wise for parents to talk about this potential scenario in advance so they can explore how they'd react/ handle it when the situation is still hypothetical. This discussion also gives parents the opportunity to assess whether they on the same page about teens and sex, and to find common ground in the interest of their teen's well-being.”
Well, ok then.
Should be an interesting week in my household. First, I talk to my husband. I predict his response will be giggling, which is what he does when he gets embarrassed. Then we talk to the kids. They are going to die of embarrassment. And maybe, one day I will be hurt if they choose not to confide in me.
But that’s a lot better than silence and shame between parents and kids when it comes to sex.