Today’s world is highly sexualized. Children are no longer sheltered from “adult” material and in fact, are encouraged to express their own sexuality at younger and younger ages. These days, it is hard to find a primetime TV show that doesn’t have a sexually explicit scene — and many of these shows are explicity marketed to teenagers and young adults. Contraceptives are sold in the nearby convenience store, right alongside soap and shampoo. And many teen celebrities — some barely out of puberty —sport a sexy image; some even find themselves as tabloid fodder because of irresponsible real-life sexual behavior.
Given that sex seems to be in the very air we breathe, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting responsible sexual behavior in children. The cost of poor choices when it comes to sexuality can be very high, from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs to unwanted pregnancies, to early, often inappropriate, marriages. There’s also the psychological cost of premature sexuality: kids having unwanted sex due to peer pressure or partner pressure, finding out the hard way that love and respect doesn’t always accompany the sexual act, regretting being intimate with the wrong person and experiencing deeper levels of hurt and/or betrayal when intimate relationships are disrupted.
What can parents do to encourage responsible sexual behavior in their children? Consider the following:
Communicate Your Values Early
Different parents have different definitions of what “responsible sex” means. Some families do not believe in sex before marriage, for practical or religious reasons. Other parents are more liberal; they allow sexual behavior before marriage, as long as a child is at the right age and safe sex practices are being followed. Whatever your family’s belief system is, it’s best that you share it with your child, especially if they are already in the teenage years. The public library also offers an array of books for young people that cover all aspects of teen sexuality and romance – you can bring them home for your kids to read and you can also use them as a starting point for discussions about the topic.
Explain the Risks
Not all teenagers are aware of the risks involved in irresponsible sexual behavior. Or some kids are aware but they do not take the threats seriously. As parents, it’s your job to educate your child about the serious negative consequences that come with irresponsible sex, particularly unprotected sex. Unprotected sex refers to sexual intercourse without any intervention designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually-transmitted diseases. Two common methods of protection are common: condoms and birth control pills.
Parents must make sure kids know facts from fiction. For example, there’s a myth that goes “if you only do it once, you will not get pregnant.” This simply isn’t true. While having sex only once does lessen the risk of a pregnancy, it doesn’t eliminate it. Similarly, a child can contract a life-long sexually transmitted disease from having intercourse only one time.
Kids Must be Educated about the Limits of Their “Protection” of Choice
Condoms, for example doesn’t protect against HIV virus passed from the saliva or sperm of an infected person to an open wound in the mouth. HIV-AIDS remain without a cure until today, and causes much pain to the person who has it. Birth control pills (if used properly!) only protect against unwanted pregnancy, they don’t protect against most sexually-transmitted diseases. They also have known side effects. The emergency contraceptive or the morning after pill doesn’t 100% eliminate the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it merely lessens it.
Kids should see a medical doctor for examination and preparation for responsible sexuality. The doctor can explain how to reduce or prevent disease and pregnancy and the youngster who wants to act like an adult in the bedroom can take the adult steps of preventative care.
Tell Them That There’s Nothing Wrong with Waiting
The best protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases remains one thing: abstinence. Tell your children that there is nothing wrong with waiting to become sexually active until they are ready. They need not give in to peer or partner pressure; they always have a right to say “no.” Friends may chide you for being a virgin, but sexual activeness is not a race — you don’t lose points for starting late. Waiting does not necessarily mean until marriage. It can mean waiting for a serious committed relationship or waiting until one is closer to the age of marriage – simply to reduce the number of sexual partners one will have and thereby reduce the risk of sexual disease.
Work at Your Marriage
Research has consistently shown that the best way to teach a child about responsible sexual behavior is to for parents to model what a respectful and loving relationship is like. If kids know the standard that they should aspire to, and how beautiful this standard is, they are less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.