It has often seemed unfair to me that nature dictated that hormones rage in the teen years when teens are not yet ready for adult responsibilities. But it is a fact of life that sexual urges start well before our teens are emotionally ready for sexual activity. And talking to teens about sex can be a tough assignment for a father.
What Teens Need to Know About Sex and Responsibility. Whether or not a father feels that abstinence is best for teens (as opposed to protected sex), there are some important health messages that need to be communicated to our teens.
- Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease. No safe sex practice is unconditionally guaranteed to protect from unwanted pregnancy or STD's. Some contraceptive measures can significantly reduce the risk, but none can prevent these consequences.
- Abstinence means not having vaginal, oral or anal sex. Our teens are aware of various forms of sexual activity, and they need to know that participating in any of these forms of sexual activity puts them at risk. There is a risk of getting an STD by having vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- The use of alcohol and drugs gets in the way of good decisions. There is a reason why we discourage alcohol and drug use among teens-it impairs judgment and opens doors to activities that would be closed if a person is unimpaired. Help your teens learn to avoid any substance or activity that puts them at risk.
- Sex has a powerful emotional basis--it is not all about disease and pregnancy. We often discuss the health and pregnancy risks of teen sex, but we need to help them understand that sex is an emotional issue as well. Even if unwanted pregnancy and STD's could be totally eliminated through safe sex practices, the emotions associated with sex are hard for teens to handle. Early sexual activity in an immature and uncommitted relationship can bring with it serious depression, isolation and other consequences.
Discourage Early Frequent Steady Dating. Even though hormones rage, we have to help our teens develop healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Experts in the area of teen pregnancy recommend that we discourage single frequent dating before age 16, and discourage steady dating even at 16. Help your teens focus on group activities and double dating. Consider some family rules like not dating the same person twice in a row until 17 or 18. Statistics are pretty clear--teens who have steady boyfriends or girlfriends at early teen ages have a much higher risk of a teen pregnancy.
Teens and Pornography. With the explosion of internet pornography, even with filtering and social stigma, teens often find themselves exploring pornography. Clearly, this was an issue before the internet, but pornography is much more accessible now than ever before. Let your teens know that pornography is not a healthy way to explore their sexuality-that it tends to take sex out of its proper context as part of a relationship and isolate it as a biological urge. Putting sex in this unhealthy context harms normal healthy relationships with others. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure your teens avoid pornography in any form.