Most parents would like to delay their child’s first sexual experience.  Research indicates that the only way to really do that is prevention.  Prevention means talking to our kids about physicality when they are very young, and talking about sexuality when they are about to begin middle school.  Parents can hesitate doing this for many reasons, and, frankly, it is much easier to avoid these conversations.  However, with our sexually saturated culture, where sex sells everything from beer to tires to vacations, we cannot protect our children from sexuality even when they are little.  We can, however, teach them to think critically about sexual images, which also often include the sexual exploitation of women. 

The impact of culture on parenting and family dynamics is stark here.

Most parents ask me about this after their child is having sex or they think he or she is about to have sex. Even if you’ve not had many conversations to date, it is not too late to start talking!  Whether or not you believe sex outside of marriage is a moral issue, it is still compelling to kids to talk to them about sex in practical terms- from their point of view. 

Don’t preach abstinence, sell it!  Tell them how their bodies are ready before their feelings are ready. If you waited until marriage, tell them why you think that’s the best way. Then, no matter what, talk safety.  STD’s, including AIDS, are very real.  Learn about sexually transmitted diseases and talk to your kids about the risks.  Include that condoms are the best way to be safe, and that it’s a crock that they render you a wuss.

Remember, teens and young adults think they are invulnerable, because their as-yet-undeveloped prefrontal cortexes tell them so. Give them some stats on teen pregnancy, including how many kids misuse birth control.  Before they “hook up”, ask them to consider how they will feel if that person never talks to them again after the encounter. 

Teach them that in the beginning, dating is a game and that you need to play smart.  That they should never trust someone until the person earns their trust, and that they should be with people who also look at trust as something to be earned.  Let them know they can have a fulfilling sexual relationship without having either intercourse or oral sex.

 Finally, older kids will try to avoid these conversations, so have them in the car or some other place where your child does not have to look at you and can’t run off.  If he or she disses you, don’t let that put you off, even if you have to re-visit the subject another day.  You can always get across what you want to say in sound bites. 

Finally, explain to them how casual sexuality and sexuality with a beloved other are quite different.  You don’t have to moralize about casual sex to do this.  If you wish, speak from your own experience, your kids will definitely listen then.  And always speak from the heart.

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