Adolescent Sex

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I asked my sister if she talks to her 15-year-old son about sex. “I just told him I’m here if he wants to talk about anything,” she answered. He’s never come to talk to her about anything.

I don’t want to come down on my sister but I just think it’s sad how uncomfortable so many parents still are when talking to their kids about sex. I mean, I realize a lot of kids feel like parents are the last people they want to talk to when it comes to sex, but isn’t that partly because parents are still so awkward and obviously embarrassed by it themselves?

How else do you explain a USA Today recently that announced that “U.S. teens are clueless about sex.” Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. “Despite the hip demeanor adolescents display,” Danene Sorace, program manager of a teen-sexuality site (www.sexetc.org), says in the piece, “they’re asking elementary stuff. They don’t understand the mechanics.” Samples from among the 1,000 or so questions from kids 14 to 17 the site receives every month show kids wondering about everything from whether petting can lead to pregnancy (I find it hard to believe kids use the word “petting,” but whatever) to whether or not intercourse is supposed to hurt. We’re talking basics here, folks.

So how is it that, in this day and age, with sex everywhere from beer commercials to the Internet, some girls still think you can get pregnant from a blow-job? “I am always shocked at how misinformed teens are about sex,” says Patricia Jamieson of Kids Help Phone, a toll-free, 24-hour Canadian counselling and referral service for kids (1-800-668-6868). [there is one based in the U.S. called Teen Line at 1-800-852-8336.] She pulled the above blow-job question from the 800 or so calls they receive daily, about half of which have to do with sex and relationships.

Jamieson has plenty of other examples: Kids who want to know if they can reuse condoms (“At least the environmental messages are getting through,” Jamieson laughs), or whether you can prevent pregnancy by hoping it won’t happen (that one they got from adults for sure) or by having sex standing up. The problem, says Jamieson, is that most parents are still too embarrassed to talk to their kids about sex. “They’re relieved to have the school do it.”

Parents are worried they’ll say the wrong thing, she explains, or that the kid’s going to ask if mommy and daddy do it. (I don’t know about you but that was the last thing I wanted to know as a kid.) “It’s hard enough to talk to kids about other stuff in their lives nevermind yucky old sex,” says Jamieson. “It’s tough to explain to a nine-year-old what a blow-job is.”

So how do you explain what a blow-job is to a nine-year-old? “If a kid calls wanting to know, we usually ask them where they heard about it so we can figure out the context,” says Jamieson. “Then we ask them if they have anyone they can ask questions of rather than get the information from a complete stranger. If they don’t have anyone they can talk to and still insist on an explanation, we tell them it’s something adults do during sex. You have to understand most kids want to know what something is, not how to do it.”

Personally, I still think that’s being a little vague. What is so wrong with telling a kid that a blow-job is a sex thing that involves putting a man’s penis in your mouth and doing nice things to it with your tongue because it feels good? Is that really such a big deal? At least it would save a lot of confusion later when they go huffing and puffing into their first blow-job attempt. It is only sex after all, people. One presumes that if you have a kid, you’ve likely had sex. So you should know what you’re talking about. If my kid asked me to explain nuclear fusion on the other hand, well, then I’d be a little nervous.

Considering the questions kids are asking, it doesn’t seem like schools are doing a much better job. Jamieson thinks it’s often too little, too late when it comes to sex education in school. (Or antisex education as I often call it, because it focusses on how not to get sick and how not to get pregnant. I’m surprised kids even want to have sex after looking at gonorrhoea slides all day. Thank God Dawson’s Creek still makes it look so fun).

Jamieson, like me, believes that it’s never too early to start talking to kids about sex. “Kids are calling Kids Help Phone with unplanned pregnancies at age 12,” explains Jamieson. “If they don’t need to know about sex at this age, then how come we have to deal with this stuff on the help line.” Now there’s no need to be giving them crib-side blow-job demonstrations, but making kids comfortable about nudity and sexuality from the day they’re are born is essential to a healthy sexuality. Kids learn most by example. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that teen pregnancy rates are lower in Northern European countries where nudity is much more accepted and parents talk openly with their kids about sex.

And being open with your kids doesn’t mean you have to have little Billy show off his new masturbation skills to Aunt Betty when she comes to visit. Privacy and appropriate behaviour are all part of a healthy sexuality.

As is having good sex. I still think that what is lacking mostly in any information we give kids about sex is pleasure, and, dare I say it, technique. We’re so terrified of letting kids in on the secret that, hey, sex can be fun, especially if you’re good at it. Maybe we’re afraid this might make them want to do it. Of course, they do it anyway because they’re surrounded by the suggestion of it (and end up having bad sex because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing). We push our kids to be the best they can be in everything else they do – why not sex too?

In many ways, kids are no different than grown-ups. They struggle with the same things when it comes to sex and relationships, but with less information, poor buggers. Doesn’t it make sense for us to at least hand over what we know? Of course, the problem is, kids aren’t the only ones still clueless about sex. That’s why there are books about it. Tons of books about it. At the very least, if you’re not comfortable talking to your kids about sex or you’re clueless yourself, you can at least give them good stuff to read, with valuable information about all aspects of sex. And believe it or not, the internet is not the evil den of inequity some parents fear it to be — there are tons of valuable sex information on the web for young people. Make it okay for kids to read about it. Hell, it might even inspire them to ask you a few questions. “I think parents should be proactive when it comes to teaching kids about sex in the same way they would teach them to swim so they won’t drown,” says Jamieson.

And make sure you teach them all the strokes.

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