BY JANINE SHERMAN
A study that appeared (2/1/10) in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that indicates that discussing abstinence in a non-judgmental way had the best outcome in delaying the onset of sexual activity. As supported by the research, these ideas can be carried over when discussing sex with your teen daughter.
A patient reported to me that one afternoon while making dinner, her 16-year-old daughter sat down at the table and confessed that she thought that she was ready to have sex with her boyfriend of 5 months. She swore that they had not had sex yet but felt like they were ready to take it to the next level. If you were this mom, what would you do or say?
First of all, if you are too overwhelmed to have this conversation, “calmly” ask to talk to her at another time . . . and specify the time. Don’t just say “later,” say “I need some time to think, how about after dinner we can go for a walk and talk.”
Gather your thoughts, and then pat yourself on the back because you have obviously done something right, since she feels comfortable talking to you. Having a relationship where she obviously feels that she can come to you is a real gift for both of you. As a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, I often see adolescent patients after they have had sex, and the mother just happens to find out.
Secondly, admit to yourself that we are all sexual beings. And no matter how much you do not want to think of your child in this manner, you can’t get rid of the hormones that are circulating in her body. This admission does NOT mean you are saying it is okay for your 16-year-old daughter to have sex, but you are admitting she does have normal feeling, and now you need to teach her what that means. Just as we teach our children to eat healthy, we need to teach our children how to make healthy sexual decisions.
DON’TS AND DO’S
• Don’t say “you are too young to have sex, and I want you to abstain till marriage,” even if that is how you feel.
• Do admit that she is feeling like she is ready to have sex, and those feelings are normal, then . . .
• Do ask her why she wants to have sex. Does she think it will make the relationship stronger? Is she curious? Is she being pressured by her boyfriend or peers to have sex? I was recently told by a 15 year old patient “all my friends are having sex and it just isn’t a big deal”.
• Don’t say “if you get pregnant or get an infection you are on your own.”
• Do ask her if she understands the long term effects of having sex:
What would she do if she were to get pregnant? Abortion, adoption, or raising a child at the age of 16 or 17? Regardless of the choice that is made; her life if forever changed.
Infection? Is she ready to accept the risk of a sexually transmitted infection? Remind her that 1 in 4 sexually active teens gets a sexually transmitted infection. Some, such as herpes, never go away.
Psychological? Does she really understand the potential emotional impact of her actions? Girls become more emotionally attached after sex than boys. The frontal part of the brain, which is responsible for understanding consequences, is generally not developed enough before the age of 18 to truly understand the emotional consequences of sexual activity.
Effect on her relationship? How will she feel when the relationship ends? Are she and her boyfriend wanting to have sex for the same reasons?
• Don’t forbid her to have sex, ground her, or restrict her from seeing her boyfriend.
• Do tell her that in your opinion she is too young to have a sexual relationship. But, in the end, you want her to be safe and healthy:.
Tell her you want her to go see a health care provider to learn how to be safe. This may include being tested for sexually transmitted diseases and learning about birth control.
Remind her she should insist that her boyfriend also go to a health care provider to be tested as well.
Remind her if her boyfriend is really pressuring her and she doesn’t really feel ready, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship. At 16, it is time to focus on herself and her passions and becoming the woman she is going to become.
Tell her that you love her and that you are glad she came to you! When all is said and done, you cannot lock her in her room to keep her from having sex, and so it comes down to her choice. However, most girls who go to their mom in a situation like this wants to hear what you have to say. Therefore, if you talk she is probably listening; if you scream and yell, she will probably tune you out.
Adapted from Start Talking: A Girls Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever, Mary Jo Rapini & Janine Sherman, www.starttalkingbook.com.