Among the many rites of passage in parenthood, few are more dreaded than “The Talk.” However, encouraging healthy conversations with your teenagers about sex from an early age is more important now than ever, with 65% of teens reporting that they have had sex by the age of 18. One of the most vital discussions to have regarding sex is the conversation about contraceptives and safe sex practices. Although you may dread broaching these subjects, remember that your teen is going to be learning from somewhere. Make every effort to let it be you so that you can facilitate fact-based, loving dialogue and create a safe space for your teen to ask questions and confide in you.
Identify Your Goals
Do you want to encourage abstinence? Do you think your teen needs to learn more about consent? Are you worried about STIs? As you broach conversations about safe sex and birth control with your teen, consider your primary objectives. Identifying the points you want to get across can help organize your thoughts and get you and your child on the same page. Remember, you are the one who is leading these conversations. Think carefully about the culture you want to create with your teen. Conversations that are fear-based will most likely not go as well as ones that are shaped around shared values and honest explanations.
Create a Culture of Healthy Dialogue
The conversation about birth control is not going to be a one time event. Questions and advice will arise naturally as your teen grows older. While your child is still young, you can work towards creating a trusting and open environment where every question is welcome. Be honest with your child about sex, answer questions directly, and don’t give it a shameful stigma. As you begin to discuss contraceptive options with your teenager, share your own experiences, including regrets you may have or advice you wish you would have received. You may be happy to hear that studies actually show that teens whose parents talk to them openly about sex are more likely to remain abstinent. Regardless, wouldn’t you rather your teen comes to you with his or her questions rather than finding answers from potentially dubious sources?
Consult with a Doctor
If you have a daughter, introduce her to a gynecologist who can assist her with the medical side of things. Her physician can help you talk to her about the different kinds of birth control options available. Even if your daughter is not yet sexually active, she will need to know this information eventually, and encouraging a trusting relationship between her and her doctor is a great place to begin. A doctor can also help educate your son or daughter about the risks of STIs and the necessity of condoms as a safe sex practice.
Listen More Than You Talk
Allow your child to share what is on his or her heart. Make it clear that you are there to listen with love. The less afraid they are of being judged or laughed at, the more willing they will be to open up to you. Welcome any question they may have, no matter how “awkward” or “out there” it is. Again, if you begin introducing these topics from a young age, your teen will be much more likely to voice questions, fears, and desires to you without you having to pry. Ask leading questions, and hear your child without feeling the need to give your opinion immediately. Don’t force conversations before he is ready. Demonstrate through your actions and words that you are on the same team as your child, that you are rooting for him and truly desire what is best for him. Listening is more difficult than talking, but practice it, and watch your relationship flourish, not just as you discuss safe sex but in every area.
Explain the Risks
Not every conversation you have about sex should focus on the negative aspects, but your teen does need to know the risks that come with being sexually active. Be frank about the possibility of pregnancy. Help them to know what their options are should they become pregnant or impregnate a partner. Make sure they understand their contraceptive options and know how to access them when they are ready. Furthermore, make sure they are aware of STIs and how to prevent them. Most importantly, make it clear that you will be there to help no matter the outcome.
Give Resources for Further Learning
If some of the nitty gritty details are just too awkward for you to discuss with your teen, or if you don’t have answers to all of her questions, help guide her to trustworthy resources where she can learn more. The internet is teeming with bad advice and false information. Recommend websites, books, or doctors that can educate about sex and birth control in situations when you cannot. Ensure that your teen always has a place to go with her questions and needs, even if it can’t be you.
The fact that you are reading this means that you are already trying to have meaningful conversations with your teen. You may not get every conversation right. In fact, you probably won’t. But the fact that you are trying is the most important fact of all. Season every conversation with love and understanding, and you will have done well.