Talking about Sex, Love, and Safety

Marilyn Monroe, the American actress and sex symbol of the 1950s, said, “Sex is a part of nature. I go along with nature.” It was scandalous then, and speaking about sex is still difficult terrain for many people.

A reader recently asked for our thoughts on how to advise young people about sex. The New Year is as good a time as any other to talk about sex – how it relates to life, love, luck, and liberty, and to pain, panic, power, and other potential problems.

For those hoping we’ll disclose the information and tools you need to talk about sex with your loved ones, it’s necessary to splash a little cold water. This week’s column is full of cautionary notes, and here’s the first one. It’s impossible to treat any topic well in the 600 words allocated each week.

If we have any sage advice, it’s that readers do their homework. To get a decent understanding of any topic, especially complex health ones, you need to read a lot, consult widely, and think about how the issues relate to your family history and context. We hope our brief commentaries spark such efforts and thinking.

Regarding the challenge of talking with youth about sex, we’d offer three starting points. One, it’s a good idea to acknowledge that, for all its joys, sex has risks, complications, and consequences. So, if you are not ready to discuss diseases, relationships, and financials, you are probably not ready to talk about sex! Go back to start.

Two, face-to-face discussions can be a turn-off to youth, as can traditional mores. “Mother knows best” could be adjusted to “More experienced people who know you well might be worth listening to.” But even that done, kids will always reject authority, so pointing them to good resources they can access on their own might be a good option. Maybe waiting for a ring is outdated, but there is something to be said for a little forethought and deliberation.

Three, safety is paramount.  It might be boring, but like a good insurance policy, analysis of risks and paying a premium to prepare for the worst-case scenario is a worthwhile investment. It’s an awful fact that its not uncommon for young people to experience sexual assault either personally or in their friend group. Make sure they know where to turn for help.

Birth control needs to be explained and easily accessible. Safe sex includes using condoms to protect from sexually transmitted diseases.

Talking about sex is part art, part connect the dots. Either way, for many people, it is hard to open a discussion.

The downside of not discussing sex with the young people you love is relinquishing the territory to less honourable sources. The images and messages they will encounter online are probably not your idea of healthy sex education.

But take heart, there are other topics that, apparently, are harder to discuss. Studies have found that parents of teens find it more difficult to talk about weight with their child than talking about sex. That’s something to think about!

Keep these things in mind. One, there are resources to help. Two, everyone likely has a few questions they’d like to surface. Three, everyone has biases too, and if they can be acknowledged, the discussions might be easier.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer always gave her advice straight and to the point. “When it comes to sex, the most important six inches are the ones between the ears.” Tell that to the kids. The joke is easy to remember and there’s truth in the humour.

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