Talking to Kids About Sex

The topic of sex is still an uncomfortable subject for most adults, especially for parents who wish to enlighten their kids with proper information and not have them learn it from friends or other unreliable sources. Why is sex a taboo topic? Why do parents feel discomfort, embarrassment and uneasiness about talking to their children about this natural, loving, bonding and healthy human experience?

In 1892 The National Education Association promoted sex education as a necessary part of a national education curriculum. In 1899 The Parent Teacher Association advocated for teaching sex as part of the national education curriculum. In 1922 The U.S. Public Health Service published the Manual on Sex Education in High Schools. In 1944 The U.S. Public Health Service labeled school sex education an “urgent need.” In 1955 The American Medical Association and the National Education Association published five sex education pamphlets for schools.

Yet, even today, many parents are ill at ease about bringing up the subject of sexuality, soliciting questions from their teenagers or delivering a message about their openness to discuss the subject. Some parents may fear that bringing up the topic may be tantamount to encouraging or expecting the youngsters to engage in sex. Others may feel that this is a private matter between adults and thus not appropriate to be discussed with their youngsters.

Whatever the reasons, parents should be aware that ignorance is NOT bliss and that their teenagers continue to need parental guidance about all aspects of adult life from developing healthy habits, learning to drive, being well-mannered, respecting the elderly, and being the best human beings they can be. Those tasks should not be relegated to teachers, peers, coaches but to parents who are the most suitable teachers for enlightening and guiding their youngsters during their maturation.

Many adults may not have been taught about sexuality by their parents or in school and thus may feel uneasy about the methods or the proper language to use with their youngsters. Embarrassment, shame or lack of expertise as well as lack of modeling in discussing the topic leads many adults to avoid this part of preparing their teens for adulthood. This is an error that becomes their children’s loss. Most youngsters who have been taught many skills by their teachers or coaches still yearn to have the validation of their parents to feel fully aware and enlightened.

Perhaps it is just a matter of time before the topic of sex will no longer be shrouded with secrecy and embarrassment so that future generations will comfortably help their youngsters mature sexually as they do emotionally, intellectually and morally.

To talk openly with your teenager:

  • Understand that sexual guidance is one aspect of healthy parenting that may spare your youngster grave negative consequences.
  • Realize that your adolescent child is likely to be bewildered and in need of your guidance about his/her sexuality as he/she has benefited from your other teachings about adult life.
  • Be supportive and avoid preaching.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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