I'm the parent of a pre-teen. I want to know how to broach the subject of sex and STIs with my child. How do I start? What are the main topics I should cover?
Talking to your children about sex is something that almost every parent thinks about. Especially when their child (or their child's friends) start showing signs of puberty.
Here are some points to consider in getting yourself ready.
1. It's not just one Ã¢â‚¬Å“talk.Ã¢â‚¬Â
You want your teen to understand that sex isn't simple so you shouldn't expect to cover everything in one Ã¢â‚¬Å“talk.Ã¢â‚¬Â Relationships, love, the mechanics of sex, the feelings of sex, the good parts of sex, the dangerous parts of sexÃ¢â‚¬Â¦these are all things that require attention, probably more than once.
There are two other important things to remember. First, the fact that you are talking at all is the most important part of helping your child grow up. Exactly what is said, and when, may be less important than talking itself.
Second, listening to your child may be as important as talking. Paying attention to what your child is talking about in other conversations, or watching on television, may give you useful opportunities to engage the issues around sex. As you do this, don't mistake apparent lack of attention for lack of interest.
2. Prepare yourself
It's probably a good idea to prepare yourself to talk to your child about sex. You have your own values and experiences that have shaped you: it may be useful to review those before talking to your child. That process may also be helpful in clarifying your hopes and expectations for your child as a sexual person.
It may help to think about the type of language you want to use. Very few people use formal anatomic language in discussions about sex with others. On the other hand, much of our informal language about sex is considered vulgar. Thinking through the words you can be comfortable with helps express your comfort with the topic to your child.
Finally, do some homework. There are lots of inexpensive resources for parents. For example, Beyond the Big Talk: Every Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens Ã¢â‚¬â€œ From Middle School to High School and Beyond by Debra W. Haffner.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has guides in both English and Spanish for parents wanting to help their teen delay sex and be sexually healthy.
3. Look for opportunities to talk
Parents are sometimes so uncomfortable in talking about sex that they attempt to Ã¢â‚¬Å“scheduleÃ¢â‚¬Â a talk. There are lots of circumstances Ã¢â‚¬â€œ watching television, listening to news, reviewing homework, riding to practices Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when some talk about sex would be appropriate to the context.
J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS
Indiana University School of Medicine