Learning on Their Own?
"She knows it all," you think. "She's heard it before."
When it comes to talking to kids about sex, parents simply can't provide too many resources. And since teens today are famously Web-savvy, sharing these sexual health Web sites with them is a nonthreatening way to let them safely explore sex stats and articles on their own.
But why should teens read about sex topics by themselves? "With the media portraying sexuality more and more, with teens at younger ages having sex, and with all of the sexual 'trends' being explored, teens need viable information," says Susan Falcone, National Board Certified teacher and Family Studies department chair at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore, Maryland.
Falcone says that the "garden of misinformation" (i.e., "I heard that that...") is still the only source for many teens.
"I've been teaching sex education for 37 years and I have seen only a modicum of progress in their knowledge, while their experiences have widened well beyond their parents'. They are still embarrassed to talk about sex with their parents and parents are still embarrassed to approach the topic with their teens," Falcone says. "More and more, schools are being restricted as to what is deemed 'appropriate' to discuss in sex education classes."
Many of the following sites are sex-positive -- they don't promote abstinence as the only option for teens, but rather discuss how to make responsible choices regarding sex. Visiting these sites in order to approve their content before sharing them with your child is highly recommended.
Web site: http://teenwire.com
The teen outreach site of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Teen Wire offers diagrams, Q&As, and articles about sex, pregnancy, relationships, and what happens to teen bodies. The voice of the site is that of a wise teen friend, making teenwire.com especially approachable for the middle- and high-school set.
What Parents Like: Reproductive health professionals answer girls' questions in live chat rooms during scheduled appearances.
What Teens Like: An interactive, easy-to-understand animated movie about the menstrual cycle with links to articles on what to do about missed periods, surviving menstrual discomfort, and more.
I Wanna Know
Web site: http://www.iwannaknow.org/
This site is the teen division of the American Social Health Association, a nongovernmental-funded group that works across the country to distribute information about sexually transmitted diseases. Bulleted information give teens a quick look at specific sexual health considerations and STDs.
What Parents Like: A listing of questions to ask tattoo artists or body piercers to ensure an STD-free experience.
What Teens Like: A specific area concerning emotional changes during puberty -- an infrequently discussed topic!
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Web site: http://www.teenpregnancy.org/
Sex has consequences -- that's the message of this nonprofit organization. The group aims to "improve the well-being of children, youth, and families by reducing teen pregnancy" by using in- and after-school programs to delay teens' first sexual experiences. The site has separate areas for parents, professionals, and even religious leaders, covering a wide base of adults who influence tweens and teens. Plus, a specific teen section is updated regularly to reflect sex topics on popular television shows and in popular culture.
What Parents Like: Searchable city and county birth data helps parents see what role teen pregnancy plays in their communities.
What Teens Like: Downloadable audio and video clips of TV shows, public service announcements, and mini movies with safe-sex and abstinence-related topics.
Web site: http://www.4girls.gov/
Written in accessible language for teen readers, this overall girls' health site is sponsored by the National Women's Health Information Center of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. Teens can safely click around the "Body" and "Relationships" sections to read about their physical development, first periods, first sexual relationships, and STDs. Other areas of the site delve into teen-pertinent topics such as body image, physical and learning disabilities, sports and fitness, depression, drugs and alcohol, and nutrition.
What Parents Like: A specific area that discusses how parents can broach the topic of puberty and sex with their teens.
What Teens Like: The "Free Stuff!" area lets girls download girl-positive Instant Messenger icons, computer desktop wallpaper, and calendars.
It's Your Sex Life
Web site: http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/
This site is an offshoot of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating the public about major healthcare issues that face our country. It's Your Sex Life calls itself "Your Guide to Safe & Responsible Sex," and offers teens articles and fact sheets on pregnancy and contraception, HIV and STDs, and communicating effectively with their sex partners.
What Parents Like: An interactive quiz that informs teens about recognizing STDs and taking their effects seriously.
What Teens Like: A specific area focused on talking with partners about sex -- including different real-life (not corny textbook) scenarios and how teens could react to them.
Talking with Other Teens
Web site: http://www.scarleteen.com
A sounding board for young adults embracing their sexuality, Scarleteen contains articles on menstruation, self exams, contraception, relationships (gay and straight) and anatomy. Calling itself "Sex Education for the Real World," Scarleteen invites teens to "Ask a Sexpert" their most embarrassing questions or talk on chat boards about topics such as "Sexual Ethics and Politics" and "Body & Soul." The language on this site is frank and casual, which many teens may find they can relate to.
What Parents Like: "Am I Ready for Sex?" checklist.
What Teens Like: A very fresh, honest approach to what's happening to their bodies during puberty, and very candid posting boards where they can connect with other teens.
Web site: http://www.lovematters.com
The online home of the newspaper of the same name, Love Matters is a faith-based organization with the mission to "educate, inspire, and encourage youth to save sex for marriage and choose life rather than abortion." Visitors can read celebrity accounts of saving sex for marriage and their views on abortion, plus order pro-life and chastity-related books, videos, and other merchandise.
What Parents Like: A conservative look at modern topics such as coed dorm rooms, pornography, and the decline of "courtship" in America.
What Teens Like: Dr. Laura's "Is It Love?" test, which encourages them to consider their partners' aspirations for and motives behind the relationship.
True Love Waits is an affiliated nationwide school initiative that encourages teens and college students to take a pledge of abstinence before marriage.
Web site: http://www.sexetc.org/
Sex, Etc. is a major collection of articles by and for teens on topics ranging from deciding whether to have sex to teen parenting to body image to abortion. (The Web site and accompanying print newsletter are the products of the National Teen-to-Teen Sexuality Education Project, which was developed by the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.) Polls, chat boards, and a sex glossary make this a candid place for teens to talk with other teens about sex and sexuality issues.
What Parents Like: Consistent monitoring by the Network for Family Life Education, and periodic studies regarding the success of Sex, Etc.
What Teens Like: Interested teens -- especially those with strong opinions on sexuality -- are invited to apply for staff writer positions for this digital magazine.
Coalition for Positive Sexuality
Web site: http://www.positive.org
This is the teen-focused Web site of the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a nonprofit organization that encourages teens to demand honest sex education from their parents and educators. The group's "Just Say Yes" campaign encourages teens to look at sex as a positive experience when done responsibly. It also offers fact sheets on topics such as "What's Safe Sex," "What's Birth Control," and "What If I'm Gay?"
What Parents Like: The "Just Say Yes" campaign translated in Spanish.
What Teens Like: A very inclusive approach to discussing sexuality. Much of the site discusses respecting different attitudes toward straight, gay, and bisexual teens and adults.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth Resources
Web site: http://www.outproud.org/
The Web home for the National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth, OutProud is a nonprofit group dedicated to giving resources, info, advocacy, and support to GLBT teens, in order to help them "become happy, successful, confident and vital gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults." An extensive Q&A section addresses common concerns: "How do I know if I'm gay?" "I'm in 9th grade and think I'm a lesbian. Is it the right time to label myself?" OutProud also links to news articles regarding gay issues, so that teens are informed about what is currently affecting the GLBT community.
What Parents Like: A comprehensive listing of books for families of teens who are gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender.
What Teens Like: A "local support" finder that connects teens with other GLBT teens; visitors enter their area code to find queer foundations, community centers, and social groups.
Web site: http://www.youthresource.com
A peer-to-peer advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning tweens and teens, YouthResource is committed to providing young visitors facts about the GLBTQ community and the health issues affecting those in it. The site has an extensive network of Peer Educators -- youth ages 13-24 from across the country -- who answer individual and frequently asked questions by visitors.
What Parents Like: An advocacy section where visitors can sign petitions for federal program funding, read about GLBTQ-related internships, and read about local and national events.
What Teens Like: Specific communities tailored to members' interests or backgrounds -- Youth of Color, Deaf Queer Youth, questioning youth -- where members can speak out about GLBTQ issues.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Web site: http://www.pflag.org
Over 30 years ago, one mother joined her son at a gay rights parade in New York City. Soon, she organized a support group for the families of other parade-attendees in a local church basement, and today PFLAG is over 250,000 members strong. The Web site is a comprehensive resource for individuals looking to come out and seek the support of their families; it includes a local chapter finder, coming-out stories, and a local and national initiative listing.
What Parents Like: A weekly e-mail newsletter that delivers up-to-the-minute happenings across the country that specifically affect GLBTQ individuals.
What Teens Like: A thorough frequently asked questions area that gives honest advice to queries like: "Is there something wrong with being gay?" "Can gay people have families?" "Why do people come out?"