The television hanging above my head in the waiting room airs an episode of the syndicated talk show “The Doctors.” The topic? Sex.
But not just sex. Graphic sex. The guest talks candidly to the show’s regular cadre of physicians about exactly how she contracted HIV, and she’s not using any euphemisms.
Call me repressed, but I just don’t want to share this moment with a roomful of strangers. As my teenagers would say, “AWKward.”
On the other hand, I’ve never felt awkward talking to my teens about sex. It’s a subject we’ve discussed openly in our home since our children were young. At every age and stage of development, we’ve addressed their curiosity and need for information about human sexuality just as we talk about other issues of health and morality.
It turns out for all our culture’s “sexual liberation,” today’s parents are still too reticent to discuss sexuality with their children. This month’s edition of the journal Pediatrics includes a study that shows when it comes to communicating with children about sex, America’s parenting can be summed up thusly: Too little, too late.
“Many adolescents report little or no communication about sexuality with their parents,” the study found. Worse, “Many parents and adolescents do not talk about important sexual topics before adolescents' sexual debut.”
Past studies have suggested that many parents underestimate their adolescents’ sexual activity, assuming their children are not engaging in sexual behaviors. One such study found 58 percent of teens reported they were sexually active, while only one-third of their mothers believed they were. Perhaps this is why so many parents miss the chance to influence their teens’ choices to become sexually active.
Yet one thing is abundantly clear: Parents who make their moral beliefs about sex known to their children and clearly express their disapproval of adolescent sex have a positive influence on their children’s attitudes and behavior. These conversations also serve to strengthen relationships between parents and adolescents, and closer relationships also are a key to avoiding premature sexual activity.