This Is How I Wish My Parents Talked to Me About Sex
By the time I turned 18, I still never got the "sex talk" from my parents. I entered the world equipped with only the knowledge mass media, pop culture, and my high school freshman sex-ed class could give me. At the time I thought I dodged an awkward bullet, but a few years later, I realized I missed out on a lot of helpful information. And it's become the norm for a lot of teens to only know how TV shows or movies depict relationships or sex and never have anyone actually knowledgeable and relatable to talk to about our real experiences.
During my first week of college, I witnessed a ton of uncomfortable situations through my frightened 17-year-old eyes. Most of us freshmen were trying to fit in with our 20-year-old peers, but we had no idea what we were doing when it came to navigating relationships, sexual or otherwise. Most of those twenty-somethings didn't even know much more than we did. Even though we were considered independent and exploring relationships in the young adult world, my experience in college didn't feel too far off from high school. The young and uneducated were learning about sex and relationships in the most hurtful ways possible, from the simultaneously young & uneducated.
While my experience seems to be the norm for most teens, it doesn't have to be. And you as parents can make all the difference in having a genuine conversation about sex with your teen. This is how I wish my parents talked to me about sex.
Understand the Internet Changes Everything
I know you were a teen once too, but there are new beasts in teens' lives that are more vicious than the average adult can understand without first-hand experience.
Our world is interconnected in an extraordinary way. In this Catfish era, entire relationships can be conducted via text message or DM and can become virtually sexual even before the first real-life meet up. It's different now than when you were my age, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Monitoring phones only makes us better at hiding our activity. And attempting to "disconnect" us from the world or taking our cell phone away only makes us better at using friends' phones during school.
Considering that this interconnectedness is inevitable, embrace it and try to encourage our knowledge and mastery of emotional intelligence on these platforms in addition to in real life. Teaching us how to navigate both worlds now will make us balanced and ready for the emotional and sexual relationships of the real world to come.
Keep the Conversation Real
The "sex talk" conversation can be over before it even starts if it doesn't feel authentic. As important as it is to come to me as a concerned parent, come to me as a real person, too. A real person who was my age once, who had these same feelings and extreme transformations happening all at one time, and who understands that the world that I live in is a wild ride. There's an organic way to be on my level outside of just lecturing me by saying "I was your age once." Connect with me, tell me your own personal stories, share with me your experiences. Allow me to relate to you triumph and your trial, let me reflect and identify even if it's in silence. Don't force me to open up because at times, when you're a teen and there's so much you're not supposed to do or know, revelation is in absorption.
Please, Don't Condemn Me
Teens feel bad enough, weird enough, and alone enough that we don't need our parents' judgment to accentuate those emotions. On top of the wide range of changes we go through, the last thing we need is our parents telling us there's something wrong with us too. Telling us we shouldn't be having sexual feelings at such a "young age" doesn't stop us from having them. Accept me for where I am and understand that may be different from where you were at my age and that's okay. As teens, we're growing into our own young adult selves, and we can only do that successfully when we have some sort of support.
Prepare For Awkward Moments
Within these conversations, don't make us feel like we have to say what you want to hear. Be open enough to hear some things you aren't ready for. Also, be tactful enough to understand that there may only be one chance to have this conversation the right way. Create a safe space, an understanding space, and most of all, an accepting space. Accept us for where we are in our experience, and we'll accept you trying to guide us. It may be awkward and it will feel weird, but it will make a world of a difference. You can make the world of a difference.
Alexia Lewis is a 21-year-old student at Hampton University majoring in Political Science. Alexia is a passionate change-maker and hopes to continue to fight for the greater good as a socio-political global game-changer. Through writing, speaking, and hard work, she’s determined to make a difference.
Read more Teen Talk columns here.