Teens and Sex: How DO we vs How SHOULD we (Parents) perceive it?

Clever photography enhances the aesthetic appeal of sex and renders it downright irresistible. Music videos make it look like sex is what you do when you shake your booty. So the ideal teen, and we all prayed to our God for one, will be impervious to all of this. Our ideal teen will be outside playing ball with no thought of the opposite sex or the decadent possibilities of the birds and the bees. Our ideal teen loves the fresh air and will not be slouching on the living room couch having their imaginations titillated by highly suggestive sexual images. So the rest of the article is only for those who love their offspring but have become increasingly aware of the alarming disparity between that blossoming would-be adult and the ‘ideal’ teen that they thought they ordered.

A recent study has shown what we parents have long suspected: that exposure to sexuality on television is directly related to the initiation and incidence of sexual activities in teens. The Rand Corporation is not just any study either. There have been others that have explored the link between television and teens’ sexual activities but most have been discredited because of research disparities. The Rand Corporation has the blessing and funding of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. They studied the behavior of 1,792 teens across the country.Their results suggest that if we are to have any effect on our children’s attitudes towards sex it will need to be based less on oppression and repression and more on communication and the open acknowledgement of the temptations that face them.

Like so many of our concerns as parents, our thoughts on these matters are tinged with fear. We long to protect our teens from the pain of unwanted pregnancies and broken hearts. If we could have our way we would barricade them somewhere safe until they were old enough to take on the world and win. This is why pretending all this rampant sexuality is not really happening is such a temptation for parents. If we can’t actually barricade them, we can simply deny that the situation exists. So there we are standing in a giant parental circle, bottoms in the air and heads submerged, ostrich style, somehow thinking that what we can’t see won’t hurt us.

Meanwhile back on the sofa is our precious mass of hormones receiving an inadvertent deluge of sexual information with no framework of reference to tame it. This is far from ideal. In fact the Rand study suggests that our only real defense against this total onslaught is to casually watch at least some of the stuff with our teens and then, horror of horrors, actually wade into a significant level of discussion on matters of sex. This doesn’t come easy for most of us parents but it WILL make a difference. This is our chance to acknowledge that sex is indeed a natural urge and the source of much delight under the right circumstances. This is our chance to gently and sensitively explore the subject with our teen. We will win points if we find a way to nonchalantly declare that we do not stand against sex and all forms of fun associated with it. It is our one chance to qualify this with our thoughts on what is appropriate and when.

We can say we think that sex is not just an itch seeking a selective scratch but a profound human connection that has consequences both emotionally and practically. We can subtly reintroduce the element of reverence for all actions including the act of sex. Depending on how we contextualize our comments on sex, we stand some chance of making an impact. Beyond that there are the risks of first love, teenage impetuousness and simple human error. Our only defense for this is to be the kind of parent that a teen can come to about sex gone wrong, sex gone right and all the associated consequences. Let your teen know that you take sex seriously, that you are not afraid to talk about it and that you will be there for them NO MATTER WHAT. This is sometimes all that we can do and the good news is that it is often enough. Oh, and turn the television OFF. Not for all time, but for long periods, so that everyone in the household can detox their brains and souls and breathe air uncontaminated by images intent on selling us a life that, upon reflection, we may not want.

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