At 28 years old I have to admit that I still have no clue what the birds and the bees metaphor has to do with sex. I do know that my parents never gave the birds and the bees talk and I was kind of left to figure sex out on my own. Yeah, yeah I received your average Sex Education in my suburban Pennsylvania high school. I learned how to put a condom on a banana, and watched a cheesy movie about teen pregnancy. I was given all of the gory details about STIs and learned abstinence was the best policy. This not-so-comprehensive curriculum was suppose to give me a well-rounded education on sexuality, but my 14-year-old self left with many questions.
Does my penis look like every other guy's penis? What exactly does a vulva look like? How do I tell apart the urethra and vagina? Is anal sex an actual thing? Does everyone masturbate? Do guys shave their pubic hair off or do some guys just naturally have less than others?
Of course this led me to search for the answers to these questions from the only other source I knew of...pornography. Yes, porn was a "great" introduction into heterosexual, gay, and solo sex. I learned that "most" men's penises were circumcised and at least 8 inches long. I found out that "every" guy shaves their pubic hair off and "all" men have assess as smooth and perky as a Ken doll. When it came to sex itself both women and men liked it rough, fast, and impersonal. Condoms "magically" slid onto a man's penis right before penetration. Women "always" had orgasms. And PIV or PIA (Penis-in-Vagina or Penis-in-Anus) "should" last 15 minutes or longer.
Looking at my still growing teenage body, everything that I learned through porn was far from the truth for me (and probably most other teen boys out there)! No wonder many individuals have insecurities about their bodies, sexuality, and abilities! It was not until adulthood when I began to realize that sex, sexuality, and appearance were very subjective. Everyone's bodies, preferences, and sexual styles are unique to them.
This being said, I encourage parents to HAVE FACTUAL conversations with their children about sex and sexuality so that they are not left in the dark or resorting to pornography or their high school health teacher as the sole sources for their sexual education.
Tips for Having a Sexuality-Positive Conversation about Sexuality with Your Teen:
Sexuality education should occur starting when a child is young (keeping in mind what is developmentally appropriate for their age). There are many great books for kids and teens about sexuality. Having an ongoing conversation promotes openness between parent and child, and normalizes conversation about sexuality in the household.
Make an intentional effort to sit down and have conversations (on several occasions throughout your child's teenage years) about the following topics:
- Masturbation. Normalize masturbation and encourage/respect boundaries
around privacy among you, your child, and their siblings (i.e. respecting a
closed/locked bathroom, knocking before entering a bedroom or a bathroom,
etc.). This conversation is best during tween/early teens.
- Let your teen know that it's normal to be curious about sex. Explore with them
what their thoughts are about sex. What is sex to them? When do they think is an
appropriate age to have sex? Who do they think should have sex with one another
(i.e. boyfriend/girlfriend, friends, only adults, etc.)?
- Educate your teen on the truths about pornography, letting them know that what
is seen in porn is a dramatized version of what sex looks like and what naked
bodies look like. Normalize that genitals and bodies come in all shapes and sizes
with different amounts of hair.
- Discuss sexual consent and pressure. (i.e. only you can decide when is the best
time to have sex for you. No means, no. It's okay to say no.)
- Discuss protection and safe sex during intercourse.
Engage in an open dialogue with your teen about crushes for them AND their friends. This again helps open the door to discussion about relationships and intimacy.
Normalize curiosity as a whole, reminding teens that it is normal to be curious what their friends' and other's bodies may look like--male or female
If your child requests protection (i.e. birth control or condoms), have an open dialogue about their reasoning for the request. If you and your teen agree, help your teen set up an appointment with the PCP if needed and provide education on condoms, lubrication, birth control.
Leave the door open for your teen to ask you questions as/when they come up.
The more you present as open and willing to have an honest conversation about sexuality, the more comfortable your teen will feel about coming to you when having sexuality-related questions/feelings. Normalizing conversation about sexuality early on can help ease a teen's anxiety around sex/sexuality and increase their understanding about sexual diversity.
Below are some great online resources for teens and parents about sexuality: