Tag Archives: sex education

Talking puberty with tweens

I was talking with a friend the other day, and the subject of his 5th grade daughter’s impending Sex Ed class came up.  At his daughter’s school, the parents were invited to view the video their children prior to the official viewing.  And so my friend and his wife attended.  They learned that Sex Ed at this age actually has more to do with an adolescent’s changing body – helping the 5th graders become more familiar with their body parts, as well as the body parts of the opposite sex.  And my friend was able to sit back comfortably for the most part as the video played…well, almost.

“My daughter is never going to look at the world in the same way,” my friend said wistfully as he described a part of the movie that showed an animation of a penis becoming erect.

And it isn’t because he didn’t want her to learn these things.  Of course she needed to know about the human body, about the changes she was going to go through, and even the changes that boys were going through too.  But it mirrored the feelings of many parents as their child is suddenly let in on the fact that their body holds more secrets than they ever knew about – and so does the bodies of their friends and classmates.

In a matter of one video, my friend’s daughter was about to lose her sandbox innocence.

In 5th grade, Sex Ed is introduced in a class about the changes a tween is about to go through: hormones, sweat glands, body odor, menstruation, nighttime secretions, growth spurts, voice changes, and all of the other things that come along with puberty.  Sexual intercourse isn’t discussed yet in this class.  However, what they cover in this short class opens the door to at least a dozen more questions that aren’t answered – and are encouraged to be asked at home.  These questions might be about the different feelings going on inside, feeling abnormal because everything is growing at different rates, even questions that may lead up to the actual Sex Talk, and all that comes along with it.

The impending arrival of these conversations leaves many parents nervous about how and when to bring the topic of sex up.  No one wants their kid to be the only one still believing in the stork by the time they hit high school.  And let me assure you, thanks to their classmates, they won’t.  However, telling your child “Hey buddy, I’d like to talk about sex with you” can illicit an immediate shutdown from your teen who would rather go to the dentist for a root canal than talk about “the deed” with dear old mom and dad. 

So what to do?

There’s no right or wrong way to bring up the subject, as every family is different.  But it is important to pay attention to cues, jumping through when a door has opened up on the subject. 

Bring up their Sex Ed class at school.  This is the easiest time to talk about puberty and sex.  Ask them what they’ve learned.  Open the dialogue up for any questions they have.  Be as honest as you can with them.  If they ask something personal that you don’t feel comfortable answering, like about your own past or present sex life, don’t be afraid to tell them you’d rather keep that personal.  But whatever you do, don’t lie. 

Use the media (and you thought TV was just for zoning out).  Turns out that all you have to do is turn on the Boob Tube, and you’ve got an instant example for sex education.  And believe me, there’s plenty.  Scenarios in different sitcoms, stories on the news, even some commercials can induce a topic on sex education.  Pay attention, and use these examples whenever you can.  Take the opportunity to discuss what could have happened if the person on TV had made a different decision.  Point out instances and consequences that aren’t in line with what would have happened had it occurred in real life.  Discuss the cause and effect someone’s choice created for them. 

Have a safe place for deeper conversations.  For my family, it’s the car.  There’s no one to overhear, making each kid feel more comfortable to share or listen about things of a more personal nature.  And since we’re on the road a lot, I have 20 minutes or more of their undivided attention (read: they have nowhere to escape) as we chat about bigger topics.  Sex is one of those.  This is when I ask them what they already know, answering any questions or correcting anything that might be incorrect or slightly off-base.  And I do my best to make it a two-way conversation rather than a lecture that might get tuned out. 

Gather books, pamphlets, or other educational material on bodies and/or about sex.  However, don’t let the pamphlets or the books do all the talking (as I know many of your own parents did).  Let these merely be the conversation opener.  Sit down with your child after they’ve had the chance to read them (even if they choose not to) and talk about what’s covered in the material.  Of course, that also means you need to read whatever you are passing on to your child.  But then you can tell your kids “You know, I actually found this to be of interest” when referencing a certain section of the book.  And let me tell you, there are actually some really great books out there about growing bodies, many that are made to be interesting to the younger generation.  For my son, I got “The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU”, by Kelli Dunham and Steven Bjorkman.  For my daughter I got “Girl Stuff: A Survival Guide to Growing Up” by Margaret Blackstone and Elissa Haden Guest.  Both books covered not only the physical changes, but talked about hygiene, tips on day-to-day life and interests, as well as touching on emotions that are going on inside.  And while both kids groaned when I handed the books to them, I know for a fact that they have each opened them and at least thumbed through them.  And it helped to introduce a bit of conversation about their bodies.

Use your own experiences.  How did you feel when you suddenly needed to go shopping for a bra with your mom?  Were you embarrassed the first time you got an erection?  Was there a learning curve when it came to knowing how or when to change your pad during your period?  How did you go about disguising zits when they appeared overnight?  Did you ever feel like the most awkward kid at school?  If your child is able see you as the gangly, imperfect tween that you were, they’ll feel more comfortable sharing their own insecurities, fears, questions, or concerns about growing up.

And understand that, by no means, is the Sex Talk a one-time conversation.  Rather, it’s a series of conversations to keep having as they grow older and are in need of more information.  The info you share with them in 5th grade is going to be way different than the conversations about sex you have with them as a teenager.  You don’t have to tell them everything you know the first time you talk – that’s going to either make them tune out, or totally creep them out.  But do know that, if the dialogue is kept open right from the beginning, it will feel way more natural and easy to discuss by the time the harder conversations need to be brought up.

Is your child going through Sex Ed right now?  How’s it going – for them and for you?

P.S. I’ve been nominated in the 25 Best Blogs on Single Parenting over at Circle of Moms, and there is a week left to vote.  So far I’m in 12th place!  But I won’t stay there without continued votes.  Will you take a moment to visit the site and vote?  You can vote for more than one blog (and there are some other really great blogs there!), and you can vote every single day.  Thank you so much!


Free to Be – sex abstinence

On November 5th, an article I wrote about a conversation I had with my daughter regarding abstinence was published.  Since that day, I have received several letters in regards to that article.  The opinions ranged from outrage, believing that encouraging abstinence left kids without vital information – to elation over the topic of abstinence, believing that kids needed the encouragement to just say no.

Today’s article is being included in our Sex Series, written by Sue Bisbee, the Executive Director of Free to Be – a group that teaches about the choice of abstinence. 

Why postponing sex until marriage makes sense to our youth

by Sue Bisbee, Executive Director, Free to Be

On the wall in my office is a small poster a Free to Be youth volunteer peer educator created a few years ago. It says:  “Abstinence IS an option; NOT everyone is doing it; virginity is not deathly, STDs are! I have self respect; I am happy; I am Free to Be.”

When young people receive the facts, are given encouragement and taught relationship and refusal skills, many embrace the choice of living an abstinent life-style until marriage. This is reflected in a study just released by the Centers for Disease Control, showing a downward trend in teen sexual activity that began in the early 1990’s and has continued through 2008. In 2008, 53% of boys and 58% of girls ages 15-17 reported never having had sexual contact.[1] This confirms my experience over the past 20 years of working with youth. Abstinence education empowers many teens to postpone sex.

Beginning in the Clinton administration and continuing through the Bush years, funding gradually increased for a primary health prevention approach to teen sex, encouraging youth to avoid risk. Unlike the stereotype of abstinence education, most of the funded programs were one part of a comprehensive approach, and provided medically accurate information in a secular format.

When Free to Be goes into classrooms and other youth-serving sites, we find that teens are very open to the idea of postponing sex. In fact, many tell us that meeting other youth who have chosen to live an abstinent life-style is important to them. For some, this supports a decision they have already made. For others, it opens a dialogue about a healthy option they may not have thought about.

One of our male peer educators explains: “Our generation is constantly bombarded with messages from the media that sex is love, with few exceptions or consequences. You want it, do it. Free to Be provides peers with the opportunity to hear from the other side of the topic, that you don’t have to have sex to love someone, and it’s not cost-free. Free to Be does not force anything on anybody, merely presents statistics and personal experiences to prepare teens to make their own decisions.”

Why, then, have Free to Be and other abstinence programs around the country become a target for exclusion from our schools? The Obama administration has eliminated the federal funding stream for abstinence education, and the ACLU has launched an aggressive campaign to keep Free to Be out of our local schools. By spreading misinformation and using scare tactics, the opponents of abstinence education have convinced many that abstinence education doesn’t work, and even that it is harmful!

Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual health education, politics trumps truth. Several years ago I went to Washington, D.C. with a group of youth from Free to Be to speak with legislators about the importance of including an abstinence approach in our schools. After a presentation to one senator, his aide pulled me aside. He told me that this was the first time he had heard from proponents of abstinence education, and that “every single day” someone came into his office to inform him that abstinence education “doesn’t work.” Although research is clear on the effectiveness of abstinence education,[2] opponents of abstinence education choose to disregard it.

Abstinence education affirms the positives of sex, shares the “freedoms” of living an abstinent life-style, and encourages teens to wait for the healthiest context for sexual activity. One young woman, after a Free to Be presentation, wrote this response:  “Before today, I didn’t know about abstinence. Now that I do, I not only respect it, but I am going to choose renewed abstinence.”

A long-time abstinence educator, Amy Scheuring, author and adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh said it well, “I believe in young people. Most think that they are just a bundle of raging hormones. But they are capable of making wise healthy choices. They care about their future.”

Omitting abstinence education from our public schools is a mistake we can not afford to make. In order for these positive trends in sexual activity to continue, our youth must hear all their options and be encouraged to make choices that will provide the best outcomes for their future health and well-being.

Free to Be is a non-profit youth leadership organization that uses a peer-to-peer approach to inform and role-model healthy decisions. www.free-to-be.net  

[1] Chandra, Anjani PhD et al.; “Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth.” National Health Statistics Reports: Centers for Disease Control. Number 36, March 2011.

[2] Jermott, J. B., Jemmott L. S., Fong G. T. (2010). “Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months.” Archives of Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine. 2010; 164(2):152-159.

Using porn to discuss “the birds and bees”

Bringing up “the talk” is always is always a fun experience, isn’t it?  I mean, you get to talk about body changes, hormonal changes, and then, of course, THE DEED itself.  If your child is anything like mine, they were running for the hills before you even got to the good part.  And being the diligent parent you are, you probably said things like “it’s natural”, “there’s nothing wrong with sex”, or even started it with “when two people love each other very much….”

But Jack Buckner, a dad in Texas, apparently didn’t have the discussion tools to properly teach his kids about the birds and the bees.  So he did what many parents do, he used visual aids.  But instead of books that describe things in an educational sense or one of those awkward 60’s movies that uses cartoon images to innocently explain where babies come from, he used what he felt best described the act of two people expressing their love.


Albeit, Buckner was drunk at 3am when he sat his 8 and 9 year old daughter down to study the act of intercourse, forcing them to watch the video even when they tried to turn away.  However, it’s hard to believe any parent would actually think this was a good idea.  Needless to say, when the mother of the kids (his ex-wife) found out about this 3am impromptu sex education course, she contacted the authorities and had him arrested.  But in the state of Texas it’s not illegal for children to view porn if a parent is in the room.  Somehow, this seems to bring up a whole slew of other problems that Texas might want to address and change….  With the case in jeopardy of being dismissed, the lawyer slapped a new charge on the Texan Dad of the Year that might have a significant impact on how any parent teaches their child about sex – child endangerment for showing a video to children that might “put them in imminent danger of mental impairment”.

Think about that when having the sex talk with your child.  If your child is uncomfortable about their mother or father describing anatomy or intercourse, it might cause them mental impairment.  And if the parent decides an actual educational video is best for teaching the birds and the bees, hold the phone.  That could be a punishable offense.  Sure, it’s not porn, but it definitely falls under the category of child endangerment if this charge goes through.  Same goes for allowing them to see a movie that gives them nightmares, reading them a story that makes them cry, or allowing anything to happen to them that might give them an extreme emotion that changes their way of seeing the world.

I don’t see any instance of using porn as an educational tool a worthy argument for a parent to make.  And this dad has some serious lessons to learn about what is and isn’t appropriate for a child to be around.  And yes, I do believe that he deserves some serious repercussions and lessons in parenting for his severe lack of common sense.  But if this is the argument that is used against him, then we’re all screwed.

Sex series: The sexually healthy adolescent

On November 5th, an article I wrote about a conversation I had with my daughter regarding abstinence was published.  Since that day, I have received so many letters in regards to that article.  The opinions ranged from outrage, believing that encouraging abstinence left kids without vital information – to elation over the topic of abstinence, believing that kids needed the encouragement to just say no.

For the next several weeks, I will be revisiting this topic sporadically, allowing for voices other than mine to speak their piece.  Today’s post is by Remi Newman, a sexuality educator here in Santa Rosa who offers some vital information on having “the talk” with your child, right from the very beginning.

Sex Matters: Raising a sexually healthy adolescent
Guest post by Remi Newman

From the moment they are born, our children are learning about their bodies, learning how to love and who to trust. In other words, they are learning about a fundamental component of their personality- their sexuality. And we, their parents, whether we realize it or not, are their primary teachers.

Being a parent can be overwhelming enough, never mind taking on the responsibility of becoming your child’s primary sexuality educator. Many parents feel they didn’t receive much sexuality education as kids and don’t even know where to begin. Sexuality is a highly charged and sensitive subject that can be hard to talk about with anyone, especially our own children. Meanwhile, we live in a society with conflicting messages about sexuality. Our society’s veneer of chastity discourages us from having open and intelligent discussions about sexuality. At the same time, we are bombarded with misinformation and the exploitation of sexuality primarily as a marketing tool.

It’s not surprising that when it comes to sex and our children, fear often steps in. Rather than seeing themselves as sexuality educators for their kids, parents instead see themselves as gatekeepers of sexuality information, not wanting them to know too much too soon. In no other area of life do we see a value in withholding education from our kids. Parents may worry that the information itself is inherently damaging or that it will encourage sexual activity. Yet, studies have shown that teens who learn about sex and sexuality from their parents are more likely to postpone first sexual intercourse and more likely to use protection when they do have their first sexual intercourse. The only thing you may be withholding from your child is the chance to learn correct information and the opportunity for you to share your personal values about sex and sexuality.

 A parent who says they will wait for their child or teen to ask them about sex, before broaching the subject, may be in for a never ending wait. So instead of waiting to have “the talk” with your child, no matter what age, look for teachable moments. For example, a teachable moment for a toddler could be seeing a pregnant woman and telling your child that that woman has a baby in her belly or teaching them the correct names for their genitals when you’re washing them in the bathtub. A teachable moment for a pre-teen may be seeing something on the news about HIV. This is an opportunity to ask what they know about how HIV is transmitted.

If a parent takes advantage of these moments throughout their child’s youth, by the time that child is experiencing puberty and the stakes often get higher, having a conversation about sexual abstinence, sexual intercourse, contraception, condoms—whatever direction you choose to take it in—doesn’t have to be painfully awkward for parent and teen.

 Aside from using teachable moments as you raise your children, listen (if at all possible without judgment) to their thoughts and opinions on sexuality. Give them honest thoughtful answers if they come to you with questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question let them know you will help them find the answer. Giving dishonest answers or withholding information will only come back to hurt you later on. Your child will eventually learn the real facts of life and will also have learned that you, their parent, are not a reliable source of information on sexuality. Share your personal values around sex and sexuality with your children. All of these things can help make you an “askable parent” – a parent that an adolescent actually feels comfortable talking to about sex and sexuality.

Recommended books:

Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask), Justin Richardson, M.D. and Mark A. Schuster, M.D., PhD

From Diapers to Dating, A parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy children, Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H.

Beyond the Big Talk: A parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy teens, Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H.

Sex and Sensibility, The thinking parent’s guide to talking sense about sex, Deborah Roffman

 Remi Newman, M.A. received her master’s degree in sexuality education from New York University and has over 10 years of experience developing and facilitating sexuality education workshops. She is the proud mother of her 4 year old son, Leo, who, so far, knows all the correct names for his body parts. She has created “Having ‘the talk’ before they can talk”, a bilingual sexuality education parenting workshop for new and expectant parents. For more info email reminew@yahoo.com