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When Your Teen Tells You They Are Ready To Have Sex

In The Blog by Dr James Wellborn

Kids begin to be sexually active in significant numbers beginning at 15 (Guttmacher Institute). The average age American adolescents lose their virginity is 17.  By 18, 61% of kids have had sex.  Where are kids getting information about when, where and how to have sex?  Unfortunately, it is from the internet, advertisements, performers, celebutants, pornography and the music they listen to.  Your kid can’t turn around without bumping into somebody (or something) pushing sex and sexuality.  Where they need to be getting their information is from you.  And, sometimes, when you do things right, have the right kind of kid and the stars align in your favor, your kid will actually talk to you when they are thinking about wanting to have sex.  What are you going to say?  Here are some things to include.

Set the stage.  If your kid has come to you to talk about having sex, you have already done something right.  You have mined parental gold.  If you haven’t established this kind of communication and your kid hasn’t talked to you about their sex life, get to work.  You need to establish a relationship with your kid where they feel comfortable asking for your help in making important decisions; especially ones that can change the course of their life.  Your kid needs to be educated about sex before they have sex.

Consider the words you use.  There are a number of words to use in talking about sex:  commitment, serious, significant, big step, decision, worth the risk, tenderness, respect, gentle, love, complicated, confusion, uncertainty, change, relationship, responsibility, obligation, emotions, regret.

Be grateful.  Tell your kid how much it means to you that they are talking to you about something this important and personal.  Let them know how proud of you are that they are taking this seriously and thinking it through.  Tell them how much you love them.

Don’t lecture.  This is not the time to launch into your “abstinence is the only safe sex” speech.  Your kids already know what you think.  (And, you can work this in later.)  Be thoughtful.  “There is a lot for you to think about then.”  Be gentle.  “I am really glad you came to me to talk about this.”  Be respectful.  “Well, this is a very big decision.”  Take this seriously, like you would if a friend came to you with a serious decision. It is not the time to tell them you won’t allow it (partially because you won’t be able to stop them).  It is not time to make jokes.  It is the time to teach them how adults deal with confusing and complicated issues.  (This assumes that the kid you are talking to is 16 or older.  Conversations about sex with younger kids wanting to have sex are even more complicated and serious.)

Ask questions.  A good way to raise issues and to provoke thinking is by asking questions.  “Is there a reason you are thinking about this now?”  “Are you in love?”  “You must have very strongly feelings for her/him.”  “What has made you think now is the time for this kind of commitment?”  “Have you thought about (consequences, emotions, etc.)?” “What would you do if . . ?”  “Are you prepared for . . .?”  “What do you know about Safer Sex, contraception, effects of sex on your emotions, etc.” “What do you think will change after you have had sex in you, in your partner, with your relationship, for future relationships?”  “Do you think you could spend your life with someone like this?” “If she/you end up pregnant are you ready to deal with having a baby?”

Listen.  Don’t interrupt.  They need to talk this through.  You need to hear what they are thinking.  Make absolutely sure your kid has finished talking before you respond.  Validate their emotions first before you offer any advice, guidance or suggestions.  “It can be really wonderful.   It makes me wonder, though if you have thought about . . .”  “That is very confusing, having both of those feelings at the same time.”  “That sounds really wonderful.”

Be sex positive.  Sex is wonderful.  Make sure you acknowledge that.  Take a little time to wax eloquent about how enjoyable it can be . . . under the right circumstances, with the right person, in the right place, at the right time, at the right age.  Talk about tenderness, sensitivity, gentleness and patience.

Talk about relationships not sex.  Sex is a relationship with another person, even if it is casual sex.  Relationships are about respect and affection and honesty.  Relationships are about caring about the feelings of the other person.  Relationships are about flirting, dating and developing trust.

Talk about values.  Sex is about responsibility.  Sex is about respect.  Sex is about priorities.  Sex is about dignity.  Sex is about love (and caring and sensitivity).  Make sure you discuss important values and morals.

Discuss why they think now is the right time to have sex.  Teens report that they become sexually active because of love (or it’s the right person), everybody’s doing it, curiosity, pressure from their partner, and trying to gain (or maintain) their partner’s affection.  Talk to your kid about how they are going to deal with these issues if they arise.

Review contraception and safer sex.  It is crucial that your kid know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies or the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases or infections.  You can even research these things together.  They also need to know the range of sexual expression that is more than just sexual intercourse (e.g., heavy petting, oral sex, mutual masturbation, etc.).  They also need to know about the ways physical intimacy can lead to sex before they are ready.

Talk about the risks.  Risks associated with sexual intercourse fall into three broad categories.  The first are biological issues such as birth control failure, sexually transmitted diseases or infections, unintended pregnancies and abortions.  Another risk category involves the emotional aspects of sex including shame, embarrassment, regret and anxiety.  A third risk category is the potential social/relationship effects of sexual intimacy.  This includes things like reputation and expectations others have once it is known someone is sexually active.  Sex can complicate relationships by creating a distorted basis of love.  Partners in a sexually active relationship often have times when they feel pressured to continue to have sex once it has happened.  On the other hand, different sexual drives or interests can result in sexual frustration and tension.  Sex can also make breaking up harder to do and more upsetting when it happens.  Once a kid becomes sexually active, they can have higher sexual expectations or pressure (or sexual frustration and distorted priorities) in future relationships.  Sex complicates things.

Tell them what you think is best.  Tell your kid what you think they should do.  Tell them if you think they are ready (or not ready).  Tell them why.  Believe it or not, your opinion matters.

Make them believe you won’t help if they get pregnant.  Finally, make sure they know you are not going to raise their baby.  They should think that if a pregnancy occurs you will expect them to be responsible for the care and raising of their child.  It is even worth telling them that they will need to find a place to raise their baby.  (Even if you don’t follow through on this, especially if you aren’t going to follow through on this, try to make them believe it is true.)  They need to realize that adult decisions require adult responsibilities.  They should believe they will be completely responsible for rearranging their whole life around this kid (because they will have to).

Pay very close attention to whether you kid is getting worn out by the conversation.  This can be a very stressful discussion even when it is going well.  If after all this your kid decides to not have sex, you have dodged a bullet.  Don’t get too cocky though.  It is not only a matter of time before they decide to be sexually intimate with someone.  It is going to be sooner rather than later.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be talking to you about it.  That makes this discussion doubly important since they need to think about all these things each and every time they consider having sex.

Review the checklist for readiness to have sex.

□   Have you had a frank and open discussion with your partner about sex, contraception and what to do if a pregnancy occurs

□   Are you ready to raise a kid, adopt your kid out or have an abortion

□   Have you and your partner been checked for sexually transmitted diseases or infections

□   Can you identify the risks of sexual intercourse

□   What form of contraception have the two of you decided to use

□   What do you want out of sex

□   What do you want your partner to get out of sex

□   What constitutes statutory rape in your state

□   Do you feel safe with/trust your partner

□   Do you feel any pressure to have sex?  (Does your partner?)



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