Teenage Sex: Changing the Conversation

To equip your teen for healthy relationships, make it part of your family culture as early as possible. For the sake of his future, burn less energy banning him from sex and instead put your heart into preparing him for healthy, satisfying relationships.
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No parent wants to think about their child having sex, but the reality is that many teenagers are sexually active. Although it may be tough to face up to it, saying "don't have sex" may not work any longer. But an ongoing conversation that's been in place since your child is young will serve you well in continuing to address the real issues he faces.

He may not want to discuss sex with you -- what teenager wants to discuss sex with his parents?-- but if you've laid that foundation, he may find ways to seek your advice without asking.

Of course, by this point, there should be family discussions, stories, and anecdotes about the dangers, risks and consequences of casual, irresponsible sex. STDs, pregnancy and all the risks of meaningless sexual activity need to be discussed in contrast to responsible living and the rewards of healthy, respectful, caring relationships with people who add value to his life.

Rules are good. But as your child moves through adolescence, he's developing toward independence and away from reliance on you to set the rules to protect him. By the time he reaches this point in his life, he needs to be able to draw from the well of wisdom you've instilled in him throughout his life in order to make his own rules and his own choices.

Keep a conversation going that continues to frame healthy relationships. What does it mean to be in a committed relationship vs. a superficial "hook-up"? When a foundation of trust and respect in the family setting has been laid, these conversations can continue to address choices and temptations that cross your teen's path.

How does a teenager choose a partner, build a healthy relationship with them, nurture open and healthy communication, make responsible choices together... then identify when it's time for the relationship to end and have the strength to let it go and move on?

Without open, honest, healthy conversations about sex, how to build strong, meaningful relationships and how to choose people who bring value into his life, your teen is going to get his information from sources that can't be trusted to provide the truth.

Many parents prefer to assume their child is the exception to the rule about teen sexual activity, and in rare cases, they may be right. But, whether your teen waits a few years to experience sex or chooses to engage in it now, what is your role? You can choose to forbid these activities (and feel somewhat powerless beyond that), or you can prepare your child to handle these decisions wisely when the time comes.

Here are some statistics to think about: A study was conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University involving 10,000 teens between seventh and twelfth grades. The participants from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools were interviewed, then interviewed again when they reached the ages of 18-26.

No less than 29% of those interviewed reported having engaged in casual sex -- meaning sex only, without a meaningful relationship. Of those, 33% men and 24% women reported depression in their later years and thoughts of suicide. In addition, those who reported depressive symptoms or thoughts of suicide as teenagers were more likely to have casual, sex-only relationships later.

A cyclical relationship between depression leading to meaningless sex leading to depression indicated "chicken and egg" origins, and lumped both into the high-risk category of activities. Also, it suggested that those who participated in superficial hook-ups as teens found it more difficult to develop meaningful committed relationships later.

So what does all this say?

It says that haphazard high risk one-night hook-ups are as dangerous to your teen's welfare and development as early use of alcohol and street drugs, and it suggests that the alternative is to prepare your teen to develop meaningful, loving relationships that last, even if sex might become a part of it at some point.

The Guttmacher Institute reports
that one-third of all 16-year-olds have had sex, nearly half of all 17-year-olds, nearly two-thirds of 18-year-olds and over 70% of 19-year-olds engage in sex. With these numbers, is it worth the risk to just hope your teen falls on the safer side of the numbers?

So... what is a healthy relationship and how does your teen develop it?

a healthy relationship includes things like
  • mutual respect
  • trust
  • support
  • separate identities
  • fairness or equality
  • honesty
  • good communication

With these things in place, such threatening risk behaviors as one night hook-ups, use of illegal drugs and alcohol and apathy about academics or the future tend to lose their danger.

But here's the rub... an understanding for building healthy relationships can't come to your teen very easily through talking at him, books he's told to read or other short-term fixes.

These skills are most effectively acquired through modeling them yourself, open and casual discussion in the family and the stories you tell about your own life, relationship experiences and what you've observed in others.

To equip your teen for healthy relationships, make it part of your family culture as early as possible. For the sake of his future, burn less energy banning him from sex and instead put your heart into preparing him for healthy, satisfying relationships. He'll practice what he's learned as a teenager, then will carry it forward into his life.