Poker FaceNo teen wants to hear their parents talking about sex. This forces the teen to consider the fact that their parents know what they are talking about. For the teen to exist, the parents had to have sex. No teen wants to contemplate this. They are much happier just thinking of their parents as more or less asexual or assuming that their parents had children every time they had sex. Two kids equals two nights of passion, no more. This is, of course, inaccurate, but it is the sort of comfortable delusion that most young people hold.
Sex is also private. Most teens keep secrets from their parents. This is not something most parents are comfortable thinking about, but it is true. A teen’s friends are usually their first confidants, and so a teen is less comfortable discussing something as private as sex with their parents than their friends. A teen may also feel embarrassed or guilty. They may be ashamed to admit that they watched porn or masturbate. They have absolutely no desire to admit such activities to their parents. They might be embarrassed about their fantasies or desires, and most teens have a mental “highlight reel.” Some teens also feel guilty about even having sexual desires. Parents, teachers, friends or religious authorities may have made them believe that it is wrong to take an interest in sex.
In this potentially toxic situation, a teen does not need to deal with a parent’s discomfort as well. Even though you are uncomfortable, keep up a poker face. Bury your own embarrassment for the moment, or you will end up creating a self-perpetuating cycle. The more uncomfortable you seem, the more your teen will feel like they shouldn’t be discussing sex with you. They’ll shut down, and you’ll have to push harder which will only make them more uncomfortable.
Straight TalkPeople love to use euphemisms when they talk about sex. There are dozens of round-about ways to refer to sexual acts and genitalia, even the sex talk itself is often called by another name: the birds and the bees.These euphemisms will do less than no good when you are talking with your teen about sex. Using euphemisms will tell your teen that sex is not something that is to be discussed plainly. It is meant to be hush-hush. This means your teen will not ask questions they need answers to or discuss sex with you later in the future.
Using euphemisms during a serious talk can also leave teens confused. If they don’t know what you are talking about, how are they supposed to understand the point you are trying to make? It may be uncomfortable, but use straight talk when talking with your teen about sex. Say what you mean and avoid the euphemisms. It may seem awkward, but using correct terminology will add a clinical air to the discussion and help your teen avoid unnecessary confusion.
Consequences They Care AboutMost teenagers have limited experience with truly serious consequences. “Serious consequences” for them tend to be missing prom, losing their driving privileges or suspension for school. Most teens have never dealt with something that can truly destroy their lives. Sex, however, can. STI’s can last a lifetime and, in serious cases such as HIV, end a life well before its time. Teenage pregnancy is a surefire way to shut down dreams of college and excellent jobs. These realities, however, are far from the daily world most teens inhabit. If you want teens to understand the consequences of sex, you need to put those consequences in terms of things your teen cares about. These consequences may seem small and ridiculous to you, but to a teen, grand descriptions of a ruined life feel false and hollow. Teens read them as a scare tactic or feel that “that won’t happen to me!” “The rest of your life” is intangible to a teen, but some consequences are not. Instead of talking about STI’s that last a lifetime, explain to your teen that an unplanned pregnancy means she won’t be able to wear her dress to prom. Tell your teen about how child support payments mean he can’t buy that car he’s been saving up for. The consequences may be small in your eyes, but to your teen they can mean the world. When you are trying to get your teen to understand, you have to use examples that matter to them, not you.
Know Thy EnemyThere is a lot of information out there about sex and little of it is accurate. Your teen, however, has likely already stumbled upon some of those faulty sources of information. Older siblings, friends, magazines, the internet and, yes, porn are all easily accessed by a curious teen. If you are going to be discussing realistic sex with your teen, you need to know what sort of unrealistic information you are going to have to untangle. Learn about the latest sex myths making their rounds on Facebook and skim the sexy articles from your teen’s favorite magazines. If your teen uses a family computer, check the history to see what websites have been visited recently. When you talk with your teen, you can specifically address the faulty information your teen has already consumed. You can also ask them what they know about sex. This might either tell you what they actually know, so you don’t have to retrace old ground, or tell you what they think they know, so you can address specific myths.
Talking with a teen about sex is never easy, but it does not have to become the painful Gordian knot of emotions and confusion so many parents make it. Be direct and honest with your teen, and you should be able to deal with the sex talk with minimal discomfort.