Talking honestly with teenagers about sex

imageSex education for teens is a topic that’s sure to spur fervent discussion. In the UK, a sex ed pamphlet released by the National Health Service is no exception, causing quite a stir among parents and health care professionals.

Titled, “Pleasure,” the pamphlet is targeted at teenagers and emphasizes the idea of an enjoyable sex life. It offers such advice as, “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?” The pamphlet’s authors hope “Pleasure” will encourage teenagers to have sex when they are in a caring relationship and most likely to enjoy the experience. Others, however, find the advice distasteful and unnecessary, and fear that it will increase sexual activity among teenagers.

Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston, suggests a more thoughtful and balanced approach to discussing sex with young people.

“In the process of talking about unintended pregnancies, STDs and condoms, parents can forget to talk about love and relationships,” says Schuster. “They can also accidentally convey that sex is unpleasant or dirty or scary, and forget to share that sex involves pleasure. Your kids will get that from their friends anyway, but they should also hear a balanced view from you.”

Schuster advocates honesty in order to open up the lines of dialogue between parents and teenagers. “Trying to discourage your kids from having sex by focusing on all the negatives without acknowledging the positives undermines your credibility,” he says. (Read Schuster’s tips on how to have “the talk” with your teenagers.)

What do you think about the pamphlet and Schuster’s take on it? What are the potential benefits and pitfalls in talking frankly with teens about sex? Have you had “the talk” with your teen? What do you think they learned from it – and what did you learn?

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