As the new year starts and your adult kids begin their journey to university, many parents are daunted by what their kids will experience (likely based on their on own experiences). So, here’s how to prepare yourself and your kids for the (possible) inevitable…
Talking to your teenagers
If, like many parents, you’ve never had a conversation with your children about sex, it’s likely that they already know way more than you think and as teenagers, they have probably tried a lot of it too. It might not be what you want to hear, but young adults are going to explore and try things whether you like it or not, so here’s a little crash course on how to deal with the dreaded topic of sex with your older kids.
Do your absolute best not to shame
The most important aspect of any sex education, at any age and to any child, is to avoid shaming your child at all costs. I cannot emphasise this enough. As soon as you shame your child for touching themselves, looking for porn, or even wanting to kiss someone, you immediately imprint a negative attitude to sex and sexual pleasure on them. You give them the message that ‘sex or sexual desire is bad!’ Trust me when I say that this is one of the biggest issues that I have to work through first with clients when they consult with me for their sexual concerns as adults.
What a lot of people don’t know is that kids start touching themselves when they are in the womb. They do not do it for sexual pleasure, but they do it because it feels nice. This curiosity continues when they are born, and as children. This curiosity turns to a purposeful act around puberty (anywhere between 10-13), with boys starting earlier than girls. And this is normal! I’ll say that again… NORMAL! Exploring our changing bodies, touching ourselves and wanting to be touched by a partner are things that should develop as we grow up. So even if you were brought up thinking it was ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’, you’ll do your kids a huge favour by doing the opposite: set boundaries (“only in your room”) but give permission (“it’s normal and ok”).
Open the door to conversation
By the time your kids are heading to university, they probably know more about sex than you can imagine. So, rather than them learning the good, bad and ugly from friends or worse, Google, talk to them about it and give details if they ask… but not all of them. You don’t need to share your experiences (unless they want to know), as this is likely to ‘freak them out’ even more. Tackle the topic before they head off to start their first year… I promise that them having the knowledge is invaluable.
The best way to start a conversation, if it hasn’t been an on-going one since they were younger, is the following:
- Choose an appropriate time and place when you’re alone and they can give you their full attention (phones away please!), but keep the chat relaxed and informal. This is not a lecture. And if you’re embarrassed, say so! You can actually laugh about it together.
- Ask them how they feel about sex and talking about it, and ask them if there’s anything they want to know about sex before they go off to university.
- If they are mortified (this is likely), tell them that you are always there if they have a question or problem, and that no matter what you will try your best never to be upset or angry when they share with you (i.e. if they share they’ve had unprotected sex or have fallen pregnant – that isn’t going to help anything!). So give them the space to ask questions if they want or suggest someone they can talk to if they are too embarrassed to talk to you (a safe person, perhaps and aunt or older cousin they trust).
- Share your own values with regards to sex, as young adults respond to these.
- Educate them that sex isn’t like the movies or porn. That is ACTING. Things can go wrong! Sex might hurt and continue to do so (they need to tell you if this happens), they might experience pressure or failure during sex, they might struggle to orgasm, they might have their heart broken by someone who only wanted to sleep with them, or they might get very drunk and not remember having sex or giving consent to it (again they should call you)!
Remember your own experience
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Do you remember finding out about your body? That touching certain places felt good and that you were attracted to the opposite sex, same sex, or both? Do you remember feeling completely confused and not knowing what to do or where to start with sex? If yes, then you’ll have some remote idea what it’s like to be a teenager. However, teenagers these days have got so much more to deal with than their parents did at their age. From social media pressure and bullying, to wider access to explicit content at the touch of a button or simply sending of a message.
If you and your (adult) child have an open relationship, and they are sharing details with you that you find difficult or don’t want to hear, try and remember your own experiences… and if possible, acknowledge how lucky you are that they feel comfortable to share with you (it’s rare).
Educate your kids appropriately
Sexting and social media aren’t platforms you had to deal with as a young adult. It’s important to educate you kids about the dangers and how to ‘share’ appropriately. First and foremost, CONSENT (yes that’s loud for a reason), is the cornerstone of any sexual experience (even sexting). Being coerced into anything is not consensual. Explain what consent is to them, and how it can be affected by peer pressure, drinking or drugs. If they are going to sext, make sure it’s because they want to not because they are being forced to. If they are going to send photos, never EVER have their face in the shot! And when they have sex, they have to consent to it, and this consent can be taken back at any time and sex stops! This little video is my favourite way to explain consent, and I’m sure you’ll agree it sums it up to a T (excuse the pun).
Don’t instil the fear of god into them about sex and its associated infections (HIV, Herpes etc.). Treat sex as something fun, special but also something that as an adult is their responsibility to have safely. When your kids are older, sharing more specific details of sex other than the above is important. When they were little, the basics were suitable, but as they prepare for university, it’s important for them to understand that sex is psychological, emotional and physical. It’s fun, intimate and exciting. When they ask questions, don’t fabricate an answer because you are embarrassed. You’re not doing your child any favours. Be honest – they will learn the truth eventually I promise!
It’s not sexy, but condoms can literally be life saving. If you can afford to, offer to buy them condoms! Sound terrifying? I think its less terrifying than your child telling you they have and STI, HIV or have accidentally fallen pregnant. Even if you have very strong views on sex before marriage, it’s far better to prevent than cure, as they say. And research has found that Sex Ed programs that promote abstinence have the highest rates of unwanted pregnancy! Encourage your boys AND girls to carry one on them all the time.
- Chat to your child about keeping their drink safely with them when they’re out with friends, to make sure as a group they look out for each other, and never to leave a venue alone, especially as a woman. If in doubt, they can and should call you!
- If your daughter is going to be having sex, she NEEDS to be on contraception! End of story! Research options NOW so that you can discuss these with her. Getting an implant or an IUD/S (Copper T/ Mirena) means no remembering to take a pill and less overall affects on her body. Talk to her about this in the same honest and non-judgemental manner.
- Teach your kids respect for their bodies and for others’. When having the pre-university chat, reiterate to them that you trust them to be responsible and have fun, but that no matter what you are there for them.
- Get your kids to find out about on-campus assistance as all universities have resources available to students. Most have Safe Sex programs and education, have condoms in the bathrooms on campus or in residence, and have easy ways to access contraception.
As a parent, you can be the change you want to see. It’s unlikely your parents spoke to you before university so think about what a difference you can make in your child’s life by preparing them. If you are far too embarrassed, ask a ‘safe person’ or give them appropriate articles to read, like this one. Ultimately, you need to realise that they are off to begin the first part of their adult life, and adult life involves sex. Embrace it… don’t shame it.