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Remind teens to consider emotional side of sex

Updated: May 29, 2014 4:32PM

T he consequences of teenage sexuality
are quite devastating and shocking. The United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in
the developed world, and three in 10 teenage girls
will get pregnant before the age of 20.

We all know that sex education is important, but covering the basics of contraception, STDs and safer sex is just part of the conversation. Here are some questions you can ask your teen and some tips to get the conversation rolling:

Do you think you are emotionally and mentally prepared for sexual activity? Your teenager’s brain still is developing. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulse, and this area is not completely developed in the teenage years. No wonder teens seem prone to high-risk behavior and lack of impulse control. This means that you really have to be the voice of reason. Talk them through the realities of sex and its consequences, and really take them there without drama but with numerous details about how an unintended pregnancy or STD would affect their lives now and in the future. Share with them that teens are the most at-risk group and one in four teen girls has an STD. And, a recent study found the rate of AIDS diagnosis among boys 15 to 19 has doubled in recent years, and their rates of syphilis also are up.

Have you ever thought about how you will negotiate for condom use? Make sure they know how to put on a condom (and teach yourself first if necessary). You can even have them demonstrate that they know how to do so correctly on a banana. Talk about the importance of negotiating for a condom with a resistant partner. Discuss the common excuses that come up (“It feels so much better without it” or “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t need a condom”), and how to troubleshoot this issue. Remind them that condoms are always a must, and that even with condoms, STDs and pregnancy can occur.

Have you talked about the future? Two teenagers in the same relationship might have very different ideas of what the future holds. She might think “forever” while he thinks “until graduation,” and this lack of communication can lead to regret. Encourage your teen to think about what the future expectations are, and what sex really means. Ask her how she would feel if she and her boyfriend were to break up soon — would her decision to have sex with him still feel OK? This conversation goes for boys as well — ask him to think about what sex means to his girlfriend and if he understands her expectations.

Are you having sex for you or someone else? Many times teenagers have sex before they are ready. They often do so because they wrongly believe that “everyone is doing it.” Discuss the myth behind this and how many high schoolers lie or exaggerate their sexual activity to impress other kids. You also should discuss pressure within their relationship. Talk to your teenager about how they should never be pressured to have sex or to go further than they desire. Their partner might threaten to break up if they refuse to have sex, or threaten that there are many other people who would be happy to have sex with him or her. Prepare them for this and help them understand that anyone who tries to make them have sex before they are ready does not have their best interests at heart.

Remind your teen that this discussion isn’t permission. You can couch your beliefs and values about teenage sexuality into all of these conversations. Make clear that all of this is not necessarily you telling your teen that it’s OK to have sex. If your teen is resistant, just ask them to hear you out and consider the questions you are asking. Try talking when you are stuck in traffic or some such time when they have no choice but to listen. Just talk calmly without judgment, ask questions (and make room for theirs) and share the worst-case scenario with statistics to back you up.

If you have any questions about how to have these talks with your teens, please write in and share them, and I’ll try to answer them in a future column. Good sex education isn’t just one talk, but a conversation for life.

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