Parents’ Sex Talk with Kids: Too Little, Too Late

I saw this article over on the Time website and thought it had some pretty important stuff in it.  As a youth pastor, I’ve kind of become convinced so many parents don’t have a clue how early their kids start thinking about (and experimenting!) with sex.  The funniest part is, and the article touches on it, as awkward as it might feel, kids really do want to hear about it from their parents.  The reality is, they’re going to find answers to their questions, and they’re probably not going to search it out from their parents – so if parents don’t initiate, the answers will come from the internet, their peers, and media (music, movies, tv).  Personally, my opinion is that conversations need to begin happening before kids start sixth grade – regardless of whether or not we think they’re at that point or not.  There’s a value in having kids aware of the issues and making decisions about their values before they face the inevitable situations.  What are your thoughts?  Here are a few highlights from the article (you can find the whole thing here):

Parents’ Sex Talk with Kids: Too Little, Too Late

By Alice Park

The sex talk is never easy. It’s not comfortable for anyone involved — parents are afraid of it, children are mortified by it — which is probably why the talk so often comes after the fact. In the latest study on parent-child talks about sex and sexuality, researchers found that more than 40% of adolescents had had intercourse before talking to their parents about safe sex, birth control or sexually transmitted diseases.

That trend is troublesome, say experts, since teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay their first sexual encounter and to practice safe sex when they do become sexually active. And, ironically, despite their apparent dread, kids really want to learn about sex from their parents, according to study after study on the topic.

The study involved 141 families enrolled in the Talking Parents, Healthy Teens program, organized by the University of California Los Angeles/Rand Center for Adolescent Health Promotion and overseen by Schuster. Parents and their children, aged 13 to 17, responded to questions about 24 issues regarding sex and sexuality, including how women become pregnant, body changes that occur during puberty, how to use condoms and birth control, as well as issues around homosexuality.

Researchers asked both parents and their children, separately, when they had first discussed each topic, and compared that information to teens’ self-reports about their engagement in three specific categories of sexual behavior — hand-holding or kissing; genital touching or oral sex; and intercourse. Families were surveyed four times, once at the beginning of the study, then again at three, six and 12 months.

By the end of the study, more than half of the parents reported that they had not discussed 14 of the 24 sex-related topics by the time their adolescents had begun genital touching or oral sex with partners. Forty-two percent of girls reported that they had not discussed the effectiveness of birth control and 40% admitted they had not talked with their parents about how to refuse sex before engaging in genital touching. Nearly 70% of boys said they had not discussed how to use a condom or other birth-control methods with their parents before having intercourse. Yet only half of the boys’ parents, by contrast, said they had not discussed condom use or birth control with their sons.

That difference highlights a primary problem in the parent-child dialogue about sex. “A lot of parents think they had a conversation, and the kids don’t remember it at all,” says Dr. Karen Soren, director of adolescent medicine at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “Parents sometimes say things more vaguely because they are uncomfortable and they think they’ve addressed something, but the kids don’t hear the topic at all.”

What do you think?  One of the first reactions that many church families might have is that this is a secular article based on findings from non-religious families (an assumption, since none of that is discussed in the article), which wouldn’t reflect the kind of activity or pressure a ‘church kid’ might face.  On the other hand, everything I’ve ever read has seemed to indicate that ‘church kids’ are just as sexually active as the rest of the teens out there (with the only difference being that there is a bit of a delay in the ages when various activities start happening).  It’s a bigger issue than we sometimes realize.

3 thoughts on “Parents’ Sex Talk with Kids: Too Little, Too Late

  1. I would much prefer my kids get a thorough education – both scientific and moral – from me than public schools or media. If that means starting early, so be it. I can't see why any "church" parent would disagree.

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  2. From my perspective it's not so much disagreeing, as not realizing their child is ready for that education/conversation. I'll never forget a conversation I had once with a parent at my first church; they came and told me they were concerned that it was inappropriate to have any kind of teaching on sex with middle school students (it was out of the blue since I had just started there and hadn't actually taught on sex at all yet, nor had immediate plans to do so) since it's their last stage of innocence before they get into high school. She went on to say her child just wasn't there yet, wasn't on their radar, etc. A few weeks later I was a volunteer at the local YMCA, helping chaperon their middle school dance … and their child was one of the ones I had to tell not to be groping their dance partner, not to be grinding, etc. There was just a complete disconnect between the perception and the reality.

    That's an extreme example, but I have noticed a reoccurring theme of thinking these statistics and realities apply to other people's kids, which just isn't true.

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