Posted on December 5, 2011


The mental image of your own teenage child having sex is a pretty gruesome one, almost paedophilic. It’s really hard not to see them as much too young, innocent and in need of our protection. Sex seems dirty, a spoiling of something pure.

But things look very different from a teenager’s perspective. Adolescence is all about becoming a sexual being; sprouting breasts, developing a menstrual cycle and competent sperm so that they can reproduce the species. Just NOT YET is every loving parents cry.

 They develop crushes, spend whole weeks of their life imagining what it must feel like, and those who go to single sex schools hunt in packs through the town in search of packs of the opposite sex, at the school gate, Starbucks after school, parks in the summer so that they can catch a glimpse of what’s in store – usually either a disappointment or unobtainable.

 Sex for a teenager is as inevitable as day follows night. There are only two important things to remember:

  • 1)  Kids don’t get a complete sex education all in one go. Who on earth could given that intercourse seems extraordinary (he puts what where??) and the idea of sperm + egg = baby hard to believe. It’s complicated. And that’s just the biological bit. There are layers of understanding and every time a young person reads about it or the subject is discussed, another piece to the jigsaw fits. Sometimes they pick up wrong information from their peers. I remember wandering around school for the best part of a year believing that you could only get pregnant if you had sex while you were having a period. Luckily someone older put me right
  • 2) When it comes to the emotional side of forming a relationship life gets even more tortured and scary. Finding a boy to like and getting them to like you, dating etiquette, the agony of unrequited love, how to make a relationship work – we’re all at sea on that score. But at least we have some grown up experience under our belt to guide us. All a sixteen year old has is the slush and guff of romcoms or the unrealistic, misogynistic sex of pornography to guide them and make them feel inadequate.

What scares parents is the prospect of teenagers doing too much too young. The research evidence points to a very different story. Teenagers tend to only progress from one ‘base’ to the next as they feel comfortable with it. Young people are unlikely to leap from zero experience straight into full unprotected sex before they have fooled around a little bit first. Unless of course they are using sex, instead of food, drink or drugs to fill a void within (as I did). The attachment research on this is interesting but more on both of that in another posting, for there isn’t the space here.

The only way we can help our kids to be safer sexually is by addressing points one and two above. Spare me the prudish moralising. We need to make sure our kids are fully armed with the right knowledge, jumbo sized packets of condoms, for STI’s are a very real threat now – AIDS can be lethal. We need to raise our daughters to be confident and assertive enough to say no or to ask for what they want sexually. We need to tell young people that the sex they inevitably see in pornography is not real sex and that it can be highly damaging to relationship. And we need to talk much more openly about the intricacies of intimacy, how difficult it can be to get things right either emotionally or sexually in a relationship and that it takes practice.

 Sex is yet another rite of passage to adulthood for a teenager, like passing their driving test. That’s just one of the reasons why it means so much to them. It is up to us as parents to prepare them so that might be a happier experience and not just to wag our fingers and say ‘Don’t.’


Tagged: ,
Posted in: sex