Perhaps you’re not sure if you really need to have “the talk” with your girl. After all, she may already be receiving formal sex education through her school. This does help, but it’s only part of the equation. Encouraging open and honest conversations about sex and her sexuality can give you peace of mind that she will be fully informed before she becomes sexually active.
Research by US sexual health body The Guttmacher Institute found that teens who receive early sex education often delay sexual activity and are more likely to use contraceptives when they do become sexually active (Lindberg & Maddow-Zimet, 2012). Further academic research from the Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention shows that girls with lower self-esteem are three times more likely to engage in sexual intercourse (Spencer et al, 2002), underlining the importance of nurturing her confidence during the often turbulent teen years.
Living in today’s technological age, arming your daughter with accurate and ample information is imperative. A 2013 report commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England, titled "Basically… porn is everywhere," examined the impact pornography has on young people and reported, "there is growing evidence that indicates that young people are unhappy with the sex education they are receiving and that they increasingly use pornography, expecting it to educate and give information regarding sexual practices and norms."
Parenting and sexual health expert Amy Lang explains: "The reality is most children will see internet pornography before they start middle school (around age 12). The long-term problem with children and teens viewing porn is they are incorporating what they are learning into their developing brains and their developing sense of their own sexuality. This can lead to self-esteem problems because kids think porn stars have real, normal bodies and are having real, normal sex."
A comprehensive review of existing research illustrates a link between teens’ exposure to pornography and their sexual beliefs. Pornography can reinforce stereotypical roles of men (in charge) and women (submissive), increase the sexual objectification of females, create unrealistic expectations of sexual behavior and lead to body insecurity in women (Owens et al, 2012).
The easy accessibility of porn (intentional or accidental) normalizes atypical depictions of sex and women's bodies, which means it's important that you raise the issue of porn and explain how it distorts what sex is really like.
Some parents choose to open a dialogue about sex with their children at a very young age, reducing the pressure of raising the issue when kids are older. But if you have held off having "the talk," know that you are one of many parents. You may not have received much sex education when you were growing up, leaving you lacking a model to follow. Or, you might feel awkward or embarrassed broaching the topic with your rapidly growing "baby girl." Don’t stress. You can start the discussion in various ways
Amy Lang suggests the following: "One of the best ways to start a conversation with a teen about sex is actually to ask them about somebody else's sex life. You can say, 'Hey, do you know anyone who is sexually active?' and see what they say. You want your kids to know that you're interested but you’re not super-pushy – especially if you have not been talking to them about sexuality for years."
While it might frighten you to imagine your daughter being sexually active, remember that it's completely normal for her to be curious about sexuality. Ask her if she has any questions. If you don't know the answer, be honest and tell her you'll find out. But don’t end the conversation there. Use it as a starting point for deeper discussion.
Teachable moments about sex and sexuality happen all the time in music videos, TV series, movies and advertisements. Launch a conversation based on something you're watching together. And instead of stating your opinion outright, ask open-ended questions and give her the lead. For example, if a teenage character in a TV series is considering having sex for the first time, ask your daughter what sort of advice she would give the character. Or, open up a conversation about what differences she notices in how men and women are portrayed sexually in music videos and what feelings it evokes. Be sure your version of “the talk” is not a one-off but rather one conversation of many.
Author: Sharon Haywood, health/body image activist and writer
Although the internet is rife with misinformation and harmful stereotypes, there are several sites that contain accurate and helpful sex education resources to help you talk about sex with your daughter. If you want further information, review the following websites with your daughter, or pass them along to her to read on her own:
Useful information from elsewhere on the web
Birds + Bees + Kids
Planned Parenthood — talking to kids about sex and sexuality
NHS Choices — talking to you teenager about sex
Article date: 27 June 2013
Review date: 27 June 2014
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