Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Teenagers and Sex, #3

I have really been enjoying your comment about how you talk to your kids about sex. If you read the latest post on teens and sex before the comments, you may want to go back. Part of me is also frustrated because everyone is giving variations on the really good answer, "I started when my kids were young."


I'm not the only one who takes teenagers in as teenagers, am I? Let's see...there's Bug, whom I think no longer has the teens she took as teens, and there's Lionmom who hasn't been writing. Dan did it for a while, but now he and his wife are in the process of adopting a baby.

Anyone out there parenting teens who came to you as teens? Anyone? Beuller?

I feel alone.

Really though it isn't all that different. Except for the fact that you haven't had time to build up trust, have no idea what information they have been given or values displayed, and they totally lie to you about everything personal.

Other than that though, it is exactly the same.

Rachel said she was hoping for "Five Easy Steps to Talking to Kids about Sex." I wonder if I could write such a post. Of course this is just what sort of works for me.

1. Avoid "the talk." Instead have many short talks. Take advantage of anything that might help initiate a conversation.

2. I find the car to be the best venue. Since I am driving and must look at the road, there is no eye contact which helps with the embarrassment factor. Though they can roll their eyes, they can't walk away. If they really don't want to talk I don't push it, but I have had more luck in the car than other places. (Putting aside being given unexpected revelations while driving at high speeds. "I am safe! Really! We only go to safe places. Like when we were at the water park, we went into the Women's restroom in instead." "And that is safer why?" "Women aren't going to beat us up!")

3. Don't let, "I'm not doing anything and I'm not going to" or "I already know all this" shut you up. Yeah, they already know a whole lot of information. If they have been in the system they may have actually gone to a class. That class probably focused on pregnancy prevention and consent, so even then there is ground left to be covered. If they are GLBT there is a lot left to be covered. I have not yet met a high school or even college student who already knew that orally-transmitted STD's are on the rise.

4. Speak bluntly. You can speak clinically rather than crudely, but it is the details they need. This means getting over being embarrassed. Read Dan Savage columns, although if that is too much you may want to start with Dr. Ruth. Actually, read both. Find others. There are things you don't know you don't know, and reading people writing about sex without embarrassment can help. Find other people who can talk to your kids. Take GLBT kids to a youth group for queer kids. Talk to the group leader and tell him/her that you are hoping that they do talk about sex. Tell your kids therapists that it is okay with you that they talk about it. Get your partner to open up.

5. Think a lot about why you think that people of a certain age shouldn't be having sex. That is what I was trying to get to before. Even if you answer is "sex belongs in marriage" still, think about why you think 14-year-olds having sex means something has gone wrong. Try to think about reasons that would make sense to a 14-year-0ld. There are two things that I think are less effective with teens who have moved into your home as teens.

  1. The wait-until-marriage: Kids who are sexually active will tend to think that you are too late, even if you think that it is possible to recommit to chastity and that will be good for him. They are likely just to disregard you as totally out of touch. If this is what you believe, I am not saying that you should not communicate it. I think you should. I just don't think that by itself it makes a good case. Other than not being married, why do you think that 14-year-olds shouldn't be having sex? Unless you are lucky enough to live in a couple of states with marriage equality, this answer is pretty much nonsensical to GLBT kids.
  2. The risks of sex answer. Again, kids need to know about pregnancy and STD's. A reasonable response to these risks is contraceptive/condom use. That is good, but there is more than that going on, and it is the more-than-that that kids need someone to talk to.

Okay, here's a for-instance. When young teens are having sex they are often trying get needs for love and comfort met, needs that are still appropriately met by parents. It isn't sex they need. It's hugs. Now, again, things are complicated with foster teens because they often don't feel safe with touch and adults. So there isn't some simple answer for particular kids, but think about your kid's need for physical, nonsexual touch. Is there anyway to help them meet that need?

Brian at fourteen still comes to me for some pretty serious cuddling. He is a big boy and a bit overwhelming, so I will tend to tell him after a few minutes of almost sitting on my lap that oxygen is becoming an issue. I shift him so he can get some cuddling without my feeling like I am going to be squashed. The last night Andrew was home we watched a TV show taking turns massaging each other's hands.

David and Carl initiated a fair amount of hugs and cuddling. Evan not so much. Gary is always pleased when I hug him, but I don't know any way to offer him more touch that feels safe and meets those healthy needs. I think martial arts does some of that for him. It isn't affection, but it is human-to-human respectful, nonsexual contact. It also makes him feel good to be able to throw or pin men who are larger than himself. I think at some level he is re-enacting something like his own abuse except he is successfully defending himself.

There are other reasons why kids start having sex before they are ready, and if we are going to convince them to wait until they are ready, we need to deal with the reasons they are having sex.

It is a whole lot easier if you can start when you kid is 5 or 10.

6. Listen. Once they have started talking to you SHUT UP. Even when you want to respond to what they have said, stay quiet until they stop to give you a turn. Don't feel that you have failed if they walk away before you have your turn. Sometimes telling you what they needed to tell you is all they can handle at the time.

7. Address the concerns that they express. If a kid tells you that the problem with adults who teach sex ed is that they don't understand romance, ask what they mean. If what they say is that using condoms is not romantic and talking about condoms will totally kill the mood, consider talking about that. It is tempting to say, "Well, if you aren't ready to talk about condoms then you are not ready to be having sex." That might be true, but that isn't what your kid needs to know. Your kid might not already be having sex. Don't assume otherwise. They may just be reacting to the class and letting you know that there is another piece of information they need to store away for the future. In case you are interested, my response to that one is, "You don't have to talk about it. You don't have to say anything other than, 'just a sec.' Just get the condom and put it on [your partner.] They will probably be relieved you took action."

Okay, so that wasn't 6 steps and it wasn't easy. Was it helpful Rachel?

Anyone have anything to add? You always have really good ideas.


  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    AWESOME AND REAL. Great job yondalla!

    I just want to add (as probably your most "religiously orthodox" reader, that it *is* important to state that while your child may have differing views, you need to state your own views. i.e. my husband sat down with my 14 yo stepson (his bio-boy), and talked about sex and pregnancy and gave him a box of condoms. He told him that our personal beliefs are opposed to pre-marital sex, but we also understand he is not living our lifestyle and it is possible that he won't wait. As my husband put it succinctly, "I don't want him to have sex yet, but if he's going to do it I can't stop him and I don't want him to get a girl pregnant or catch a disease, G-d forbid."


  2. What a great synopsis of a complex situation. And even starting when your kid is 5 doesn't always make this easier! My Robbie is the quietest kid I have EVER met. Getting him to open up is a huge challenge. In addition to the car, I find that when I am doing dishes works pretty well. The kids tend to sit at the island in our kitchen doodling or whatever and my back is to them if I am washing dishes.

  3. Anonymous6:53 PM

    I think you covered things wonderfully. To me, the biggest one is to shut up when they start talking. I've learned more and gained more trust that way than any other.

    As we've gotten teens, I find that the time in the car is best as well. It lessens the intimidation factor and they tend to open up quite a bit. I try not to ask leading questions and go along with whatever it is she (we get girls) is talking about. I do not pry into their backgrounds and just let them share whatever they want to about their past (which, so far, has always included sexual abuse). We do a lot of talking about boundaries and why we have them and I really try to help them realize how they are unique and beautiful and worthy of respect.

    Amazingly (knock wood), all of the girls who have been here were sexually active prior to being here and were able to develop a sense of self that allowed them to move away from getting the attention they deserve and need from random sexual encounters. They understand their worth and how they are deserving of that respect.

    With my oldest, who is a boy, I had always had open discussions with him and he was pretty comfortable with coming to me with questions or concerns. As he hit puberty and got interested in girls, hubby provided him with a box of condoms and we told him that while we would prefer he wait until he was at least 40, we would rather he (and the girl) be protected from unplanned pregnancies, diseases, etc.

    I don't feel I've done anything differently with foster children than I have with my bio children. I try to provide them with the tools they need to make decisions, whether that is about having sex, drinking, or how they do in school.

  4. Anonymous6:52 AM

    I lurk and read you faithfully.

    Yes, we take teens. Yes, each one has their own set of sexual issues. The way I talk to them is very different than bio kids or kids that come at younger ages.

    I agree that the talks in the car are usually the most beneficial. That atmosphere is so much more laid back for teens, especially teen males.

    I have had to have the talk about what ages are appropriate too often. My teens are often emotionally so much younger than their chronological ages. Thus, they are drawn to younger teens. But a 17 and 13 yo is a no no. It is hard for them to grasp this, but the law says no.

    My kids have a hard time with 13 and 14 yo girls preying on my 16, 17 and 18 yo boys. They call and call and flirt and flirt. The boys need to be responsible and often try, but the attention is so appealing.

    I like teens though. We almost only take teen males.

    Momma D

  5. We take teens as teens.

    So far we've had two females, both came to us at 17 and were already sexually active. I talked with them both, bluntly, about sex, pregnancy, and STDs. They both went on birth control pills immediately and received condoms.

    The first teenager didn't realize that BC isn't 100% effective and she also didn't understand her cycle (when she ovulated - when she should expect her period - etc) nor did she have a clue about STDs. It embarrassed her to have the talks, but she would ask questions so I think she learned from them.

    The second teenager was better educated and just required reminders.

  6. Sue Johanson is also an amazing resource for how to talk about some of the more tricky aspects of sexuality.


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