Sex Tips for Teens, or Sexual Mores for the 21st Century

 

from knowabouthealth.com

What is the best way to talk to teens about sexuality?  Surprisingly, I have found that young people respond positively to the concept of a meaningful and sustainable sexuality. Just like kids want to protect their ecosystems, they also want to protect their bodies.  Between high school and the first post-college years many young people seem caught in a vortex of hip cynicism. Yet, in the secret safety of a psychologist’s office these same young adults express a longing for the more traditional relationships they don’t know how to have. By popular request here is a condensed version of the types of comments that have been helpful to teens and their parents. Thoughts I share with straight or gay teens:

1) Do not have any sexual contact with someone whose name you don’t know, or with whom you have never shared a conversation, class or activity or with whom you have not or would not share a meal. Do not hook-up with strangers even if you think you know who they are based on their friends.

2) Stay away from alcohol and drugs until you are ready to handle them responsibly (usually 17 – 18 years old).

3)   If you do partake, do not engage in sexual behavior while intoxicated. Your body will be too disinhibited to know what you really want to do about physical feelings you don’t yet understand. You will do things that you wish you hadn’t and there is no way to take back what you lose.

4)    Do not engage in “sexting”, take pictures of your naked body with your cell phone, send or say anything over the internet that you will not want to see the next morning or that you don’t want many other people to see. And note: Oral sex is still sexuality and those oral sex parties, or blow jobs under the bar mitzvah table or on the bus (and subsequent acting out photos) never really work out very well for anyone.

5)   Stay away from unsupervised parties. Make friends and actually do things together: see movies, plays, theater; take walks, hikes and go camping; manage your hormones by staying busy, engaging in intense physical or creative activity; participate in community service; take on the political world with social action projects. If you are a teen, you are the country’s future. Make yourselves worthy of a great democracy.

6)   If and only if you have special feelings about someone, ask them out on a date in a place that is public – movies or restaurants are ideal. Get to know each other by talking to one another.

7)   If your increased intimacy leads to feelings, let sexuality emerge as an expression of a special bond. Your body is a temple. Share it with someone who makes your heart soar. When sexuality is an expression of the bonding and attachment between two people, it can be safe, beautiful and very spiritual. When you trust the person with whom you are exploring your feelings, the two of you can learn to own your sexuality in a manner that empowers both of you.

8)   There are some great books and web sites that can provide you with facts, and  teen savvy straight talk , sobering realities, and solid advice.

9)   There is nothing wrong with casual sex between consenting adults, but if you are a teenager you probably aren’t mature or experienced enough to handle the complexity of these relationships. Trust me. I have witnessed many tears about these relationships gone wrong in my office. There is nothing wrong with demanding that your first experiences with sexuality be beautiful, consensual and meaningful.

10) Most importantly, sexuality is a weird, unpredictable and random experience. Mistakes have happened to everyone.  When they do, find someone you trust and talk, talk, talk about it and learn something. Remember, understanding your sexuality is a process and generally not one without its bumps and that is okay, normal and healthy – as long as you are willing to grow from them.

Thoughts I share with Parents:

Your late middle and high school child is undergoing an extremely complex growth spurt on all fronts: physical, hormonal, neurological, emotional and social.  It is important to talk openly with your kids while remaining who you are in the world.  If you can openly discuss condoms, do so. If you can’t, make use of literature.  The most important thing you can do is to communicate the idea that an ideal sexuality is attached to relationships and that it can be a sacred experience between two people who have feelings about each other.  It doesn’t need to lead to marriage but there is nothing wrong with falling in love.

Most parents of teens were teenagers during the sixties and seventies.  They often have their own crazed and uncomfortable stories to tell about sexuality in the seventies.  Yet most parents don’t realize that yesterday’s casual sexuality would be considered very intimate by today’s standards. Don’t be afraid to be hypocritical.  Your teenage kids don’t need to make your same mistakes all over again.

Also, by the time the kids have become teenagers, many parents no longer feel a strong connection between love and sexuality. They may feel a bit worn, and a little tired of the whole thing, and perfectly happy to settle into middle-aged sexual complacency.  Or they may be struggling with the complexity of adult sexuality as single people. One really great thing you can do for your teen-aged kids is to recover the romance in your partnership, or to enter loving and respectful partnerships.  If teens sense integration between relationships and sexuality in  parental relationships, they will naturally look to merge sexual desire with people they actually care about and like.

My perspective on teen sexuality is not particularly consistent with the mores of popular culture.  It has arisen from a respect for the dreams of teens and a commitment to protecting their right to innocence and to freedom from having their sexuality dictated by the latest ratings-driven celebrity behaviors. I have never met a teenager who didn’t want to fall in love or who didn’t secretly wish to slow things down.  I talk to them the way I do because most teens are very happy to take this part of life one step at a time under the protective embrace of friends and partners who genuinely care, not to mention parents who can skillfully guide while allowing their kids the right amount of exploratory privacy.

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3 Responses to “Sex Tips for Teens, or Sexual Mores for the 21st Century”

  1. Carey Caccavo Wheaton Says:

    This is beautiful.. thank you!
    And., there’s a typo in the last sentence that might be misconstrued (not mention parents… I think you meant not to mention parents)… thought you’d want to know.

  2. Paula Gadigian Says:

    I loved reading this, very helpful and insightful thoughts on youthful sexuality.
    I did notice a typo also that could be misconstrued. Under “Thoughts I share
    with parents” “an ideal sexuality is attached to relationships and is attached
    to relationships and can be a ‘scared’ experience between two people who have
    feelings for one another.” I love your ideas, so clearly stated, but it’s shared or
    maybe even sacred…right? So glad I read this, for my daughter’s sake.

  3. Susan Bodnar Says:

    Thank you. I am so glad that you found it helpful. As to the typo, you are right. I meant sacred. Yet, scared is also a good word to use in conjunction with teen sexuality. Most kids are scared even though they don’t feel comfortable acknowledging that feeling. Popular culture doesn’t make space for teenage vulnerability. In addition, parents are also scared for their kids, hoping that they can have the best introduction possible into this new part of life but often aware that the path toward a mature sexuality is a bumpy one.

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