End the shame about sexuality

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

A friend introduced me the other day (“She teaches sex ed to teens, and is a life coach”), and the person said, “What do I tell my 7-year-old about Jamie Lynn Spears?”

This confirmed my suspicion that the topic is on a lot of people’s minds. Wonderful, well-meaning parents of tweens who idolize Ms. Spears for her role on her TV show, and who have put off having “the talk” with their children, are now faced with what to do and say. Here are some suggestions.

• Talk to your kids about sex. From the time they are born, be as matter-of-fact about their genitalia as you are about their eyes and ears and noses. Give them the right names. Practice saying the words penis, vagina, vulva and testicles if they make you uncomfortable. Make an agreement with yourself and your spouse that any embarrassment and shame about sexuality ends with this generation.

• Use resources on this topic. There’s a resource page on my Web site at with numerous and frequently updated resources for parents, including talking to your children about sexuality. If you don’t like the ones there, find others that fit your family and your values.

• Get knowledgeable about issues youth are currently dealing with regarding sexuality. Regardless of your personal opinion about sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation and labiaplasty, your children have to deal with these issues. They will know people their age who are gay (the stats are 1 in 10, so figure on average two or three people in each of their classes). They’ll also know people their age who get pregnant or get someone pregnant, who have sexually transmitted diseases, and who come to them for advice. Research shows teens want to talk to their parents. Know what you’re talking about. Be available.

• By the way, labiaplasty refers to corrective surgery on labia, usually to reduce their size. Though there are some medical reasons for this, there is a growing trend in women under 30 to have this procedure done for cosmetic reasons. For a refreshingly real resource for teen girls, check out “Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers” by Nancy Amanda Redd, a former beauty queen who got tired of unrealistic expectations and airbrushing. None of the pictures in her book are touched up.

• Use this story as a gift given to you to begin, continue or deepen discussions with your child around sexuality that are appropriate to their age and knowledge. Silently thank Jamie Lynn Spears for sharing her situation with all of us. Whether it spurs you to talk to your young child about “the birds and the bees” or your teen about your values, decision-making and safe sex, it’s an important conversation.

New stories about sexuality happen all the time. Open your eyes, take a breath and talk to your kids about sex. Think about all that’s at stake. It’s worth any uncomfortable feelings.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She also facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth. E-mail:

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