As parents of teens, we question ourselves about the best way to approach the subject of sex and intimacy with our kids. It’s hard to know when the right time is to bring it up and how to even start the conversation. I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex and wanted to share some of her insights and practical advice on the topic.
The pressure on teens (especially girls) to be sexy and sexually desirable has only been amplified by social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter that encourage self-objectification and a hyper-focus on appearance and looking ‘hot’.
But, as Orenstein says, “The body as product… is not the same as the body as subject. Nor is learning to be sexually desirable the same as exploring your own desire: your wants, your needs, your capacity for joy, for passion, for intimacy…”.
Often wanting to be the ‘hot’ girl or the ‘hot’ guy, precludes teens from getting to know their own bodies, and from becoming comfortable with expressing their personal needs and wants in an intimate relationship.
How can we help them navigate this, especially when sex is often a very uncomfortable topic of conversation for a parent to have with their child? I often feel like I’m walking a tightrope with my daughter when it comes to this subject. I don’t want to come down as preachy and authoritarian, and I don’t want to come across as too permissive. I don’t want to characterize sex as something fraught with danger, yet I don’t want to send the message that it’s no big deal either. Not second guessing myself and finding the right middle ground is tricky.
In her book, Orenstein recommends an “ABCD” approach created by Amy Schalet, an a Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a specialist on adolescent sexuality and culture.
A – Encourage Your Child’s Autonomy
– support them in understanding desire and pleasure and how to assert their sexual wishes
– support them in learning how to set limits and prepare responsibly for sexual encounters
– encourage them to learn about their sexual selves by moving slowly with awareness of desire and comfort
B – Building a Supportive Relationship – build a relationship with your child that values shared interest, respect, care, and trust
C – Creating a Sense of Connectedness – maintain and nurture emotional connection with your child; keep the lines of communication open no matter what
D – Model Respect for Diversity – acknowledge, accept, and discuss that there is a diversity and range of sexual orientation, cultural beliefs and development
It’s best not to sit them down for “the” sex talk. Plan to broach the subject more than once. It’s alright to admit you’re uncomfortable and that it feels awkward. You can let them know how you felt when your own parents had the “sex talk” with you. Even if you stumble over explaining things, if you’re coming from a caring and concerned place, they’ll know. Being open and honest is at the core of navigating these conversations. Keep the door open for their questions and worries and learn to listen without judgement.