One of the most difficult things for many moms is talking to their daughters about sex. But in today's times, it's foolish to think that most teens are practicing abstinence. In fact, many studies show that nearly 70% of high school seniors are having sex.
With the realities of teen (and pre-teen) pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, it's important to keep the lines of communication open with your daughters from an early age.
Notable psychotherapist, and The Learning Channel's Mary Jo Rapini, M.Ed, LPC (of TLC's new series Big Medicine) and OB/GYN nurse practitioner Janine J. Sherman, MSN WHNP-BC, offer fantastic tips for mothers and daughters in their new book START TALKING: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever (Bayou Publishing: September, 2008).
In this book, they have assembled more than 113 questions that girls (and their mothers) often ask—or should be asking. The topics range from periods and sex to self-esteem and dating. It's a must-have book that can provide guidance for any mother and daughter.
We had the opportunity to talk to the notable authors and got scoop on many of the questions surrounding the difficulties of talking to your children about sex and intimacy.
When to start talking
For many mothers, they don't know when is too soon (and when is too late) to first start talking about sex.
"Moms should let the conversation come up naturally, for instance if they see someone who is pregnant and asks how that happened explain in very simple terms," says Janine Sherman. "For example, when I was pregnant with my youngest child, my oldest child asked me how the baby would get out. She was five at the time and I very casually answered that it comes out though a special birth canal. She thought about it for a minute and said okay. That was the end of the conversation for a brief time but it set the tone."
The key is definitely to start the conversation in context. There's no need to have an official sit down meeting with your elementary school age daughter. That can present a very uncomfortable situation for the child, and she may close down rather than open up.
"Moms should begin talking to their daughters from birth about sexuality in a normal manner using experiences at the zoo or wherever to allow the child to ask questions," says Mary Jo Rapini. "When her daughter's body starts changing that is an opportunity for mom to become more aware and make more of an effort to talk to her daughter about relationships and sex."
Explaining what sex should be
Instead of just trying to scare your daughter away from sex with threats of pregnancy and STDs, mom should stress other reasons why it's important to wait before having sex.
"You want to teach your daughter what sex should be," says Sherman. "First it should be reserved for a committed long term relationship, when it is time to take the relationship to the next level. This requires a young woman to be mature enough to be in a mature relationship which is unlikely before the age of 18. Second of all, teach your daughter that that sex does not mean love, and young girls often have difficulty differentiating love and sex."
Mary Jo Rapini offers some additional insight and specific reasons you can give your daughter on why it's best to wait:
1. Relationships are so important and relationships require insight and emotional understanding. If you add sex to this it is overwhelming for any child under 18 years old to make wise choices.
2. The brain isn't fully developed until the age of 21. It is difficult to make wise choices about sex if the part of your brain that helps you understand consequences and cause and effect isn't developed.
3. Feeling hormones is normal, but the behavior you engage in because of this can change the whole course of your life.
4. There are many ways of expressing affection that don't include sex. Mom should help daughter with this. (On Mary Jo Rapini's website, she offers a list of 100 things to do besides sex. )
Getting her to open up
Many tweens and teens tune their parents out on a variety of topics. This is relatively normal, particularly if the child is uncomfortable talking about sex and its ramifications. So how can you get your daughter to open and up and talk?
"First don't make it formal, allow things to happen naturally," explains Sherman. "For instance, when a song comes on with provocative lyrics ask her about it. If the news brings up teen pregnancy talk about it. Use opportunities."
Rapini agrees about using opportunities. She also suggests letter writing as an alternative if your daughter is uncomfortable talking about the subject.
"If your daughter doesn't feel comfortable talking about sex try engaging her in an activity," says Rapini. "While you are having fun bring in other topics. Listen to her...get her views. Don't ever demand she talk about sex. Suggest letter writing (many girls are more comfortable with this format), talk about her views on celebrities and choices they make, ask her who she feels closest too. Talk about how that relationship started. The most important thing is to engage her in topics that interest her."
Talking about birth control
Many parents who are against sex education in schools believe that talking about birth control options gives children the green light to have sex.
"Talking to tweens in regards to birth control should always include educating her. Tell her the truth of options. Never assume that talking about birth control will cause promiscuity. It is actually just the opposite," says Rapini.
When talking to your daughter, stress the importance of their health and their future. But be sure your daughter understands that if she decides to have sex, she can come to you with questions or concerns, even though you don't necessarily agree with her decision.
More related articles:Time to have the sex talk with your teenThe sex-starved marriage: When your libidos don't match A 30-day sex challenge for the distressed married couple