Opinion

Teens and sex: The secret's out | Amy Johnson

ABC Family has a new hit show: "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."

Viewer statistics put its ranking near the top, especially with female viewers ages 12-34 and 18-49.

Teens tell me there are things about the show that are not realistic. However, for parents and caregivers who are wondering where to start or continue conversations with preteens and teens about sexuality topics, this show is rich with discussion starters.

Consider a conversation between two female characters, Adrian and Grace, in one recent episode.

The two characters were shown chatting about one girl’s failed attempt to have oral sex with her boyfriend. Whatever your personal thoughts are about teens having sex, please read on. There are some great discussion ideas for parents.

Grace wonders aloud if she’s just “bad at it” (oral sex). Adrian tells her that no one is “not good” at sex. The questions she asks are: “Did it make you feel good or not?” “Is it right for you or wrong for you?” “Are you glad you did or wish you hadn’t?”

Grace states emphatically, “Well, it was wrong for me, it didn’t make either of us feel good, and I wish we hadn’t!”

Consider what might have been different if Grace had a trusted adult to help her ask these questions before this experience. Considering consequences ahead of time is one skill that can influence teen behavior. Talk to teens about why it’s important to wait to engage in any sexually related behavior until one is mature enough and has a partner whom one trusts and with whom one can communicate openly. This communication needs to include what you are comfortable with and what you aren’t, in order to avoid misunderstandings and stick to your boundaries.

If you can’t communicate those ideas and boundaries, then you are not ready to be engaging in the behavior. If your partner doesn’t listen or respect your boundaries, then you need a different partner. Feeling like one has to engage in any sexual behavior to keep a relationship is too high a price to pay.

The question “Did it make you feel good or not?” encompasses more than feeling good physically. Thinking about how one may feel emotionally, socially and spiritually after engaging in a behavior is important to discuss with teens. While we adults who care for them have preferences about what we want for our teens, they are developmentally at an age where they are making more of their own decisions. Having an adult who helps them ask good questions is more helpful than one who says “just don’t do it.”

This dovetails into “Is it right for you or wrong for you?” and “Are you glad you did or wish you hadn’t?” Teens who think ahead about what they want to do and don’t want to do are more likely to keep their boundaries and stick to their goals. It’s important for them to think about this prior to acting so they can discern where their own boundaries are — not what is cool, or what they think everyone else is doing, but what is right for them personally. This is another reason to have repeated conversations with your children about specific scenarios, rather than only giving them general edicts. They may know you don’t want them to have sex, but have they thought through specific scenarios where they might be invited, tempted or even coerced to go further than they are comfortable?

Finally, make sure you to talk to boys as well as girls about these issues. According to the statistics, girls are the ones watching this show. While there are exceptions, many boys are not watching this type of show, and often don’t have the benefit of a philosophical chat with a good friend about their sexuality. Remind them that while sexual activity is a part of sexuality, it is not the whole thing. Sexuality is also about our self-worth, responsibility, sexual health and respect for others. Staying safe physically, emotionally and spiritually, as well as being responsible and respectful, are paramount for healthy relationships at any age.

That’s a secret worth sharing.

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