Thanks to my profession, I am fortunate to be present at many births. There is nothing more magical than that moment when a mother first lays eyes on her child. She holds her carefully, wraps her up and promises to protect her.
It’s hard to imagine at that moment that there will be a day when a mother’s arms can no longer protect her daughter. However, even though a child grows beyond a mother’s physical reach, that does not mean a mother’s protection is no longer needed. In fact, during a child’s pre-teen and teen years, a mother’s guidance is more important than ever. Especially when it comes to sex.
That’s why it’s so important to start that conversation early and continue that conversation often. Is this an uncomfortable conversation to have? Sure. But the stakes have never been higher.
Consider this: A 2009 Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey of Maine high-schoolers revealed that a full quarter of ninth-graders have had sex. By the time they reach 11th grade, over half of them have had sex. And by the time they are seniors, two-thirds have had sex (and 20 percent have had sexual intercourse with four or more partners). Lastly, of the sexually active seniors, nearly half did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse.
Once you get past the shock of those facts, you can move on to facing them and equipping your daughter with the information she needs. As a mother, you have a choice. You can say nothing and let your daughter learn everything about sex and sexuality from the media and their peers. Or, you can have honest, open conversations with your daughter about sex and, through those talks, instill some of your own values about sexuality.
The fact is, your daughter will get her information from somewhere and if you don’t provide it, the media will. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in a 2010 study, “Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media,” that the average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year, yet only 165 of these references deal with birth control, self-control, abstinence, or the risk of pregnancy or STDs. As mothers, we need to counter the media depictions of loose sexuality with our values, reality, up-to-date info, and most importantly, our support.
Here are some suggestions of ways to talk to your daughter depending on her age:
Age 9-10:?This is the age when she will begin getting information from school about sex. Use that to launch your conversation. Share the basic facts and be sure to ask her if she has any questions. Listen to questions with an open mind and answer them the best you can without judgment.
Age 11:?This the age when girls get the HPV vaccine – a great way to begin discussing sexually transmitted infections – and long- and short-term consequences of them. This is also a good time to talk about the differences in sexuality – that people can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgendered. Your ability to discuss this in an open and accepting way will help greatly if your daughter is a lesbian and comes to you for support. It will also help in terms of helping your daughter treat others – including friends – who have a different sexuality than hers with the same level of respect.
Age 13-17:?Your daughter will be heading into high school. By now she should know your values and know she can come to you with any questions. Throughout high school, make sure that pathway of communication is always open and be opportunistic when talking about sex. When celebrities get pregnant, when shows or movies have sexual activity or when friends at school are sexually active, begin conversations with your daughter about her thoughts about these events.
If your daughter has a boyfriend or girlfriend, be sure to be there for her, answer her questions, and always offer your support, love and guidance. While giving good, honest information about preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, don’t forget to discuss the positives of sex. If you only talk about the drawbacks without acknowledging the pleasures, your daughter will most likely tune you out.
Giving your daughter this comprehensive information has not been proven to lead to sexual activity. Instead, it decreases the chance of teenage pregnancy and STDs, and increases the chance your daughter will feel comfortable coming to you when she needs advice.
In the end, always make sure to be open and honest with your daughter and listen to her without judgment or fear. Talking about sex is often not easy. However, if you do not take the opportunity to have an ongoing conversation with your daughter (or son, for that matter), you are leaving the opportunity to influence your daughter’s behavior to the media and their peers.