The Talk Single Moms Need to Have; Talking to Your Kids About Sex

By Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D.

Let’s look at the headlines.

“17 girls in Gloucester, MA form a pregnancy pact.”

“One in four teen age girls in America have a sexually transmitted disease.”

“The American Psychological Association links the early sexualization of girls to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem.”

As single moms, we are flooded with terrifying information. Is it true? How does this affect my child? And what, exactly should I be doing?

We can put aside our confusion and embarrassment and decide that right now, TODAY we single moms will start talking to our sons and daughters about sex. We will think past the much too limited birds and the bee’s conversation. We will stop trying to terrify kids with horrifying information about sexually transmitted diseases and develop a comprehensive way of discussing every aspect of human sexuality.  We need to get serious about sex education for teenagers.

And while we’re at it we will infuse these ongoing conversations with the meaning and value we give to sexual expression. Some of the different aspects of sexuality we need to start talking about include:

1. The biology of sexual reproduction presented in a context of love and responsibility. (If your child is eight or older and they have not asked, initiate the conversation.)

2. The power of sexual desire and how that power is at the root of all this sexy stuff they’re hearing so much about.

3. The self-discipline it takes to be in control of one’s desires and how each of us can develop the muscle of self-discipline.

4. The values we hold with regard to the expression of sexuality. How do responsible, ethical people express the power of their sexuality? When is it OK to be sexy, when is it not OK; how much is too much and how do you decide?

5.The relationship of sexual expression to intimacy, love and respect. Is sex just something you do because if feels good or is there meaning and value to sexual expression, greater than physical pleasure?

6.Is there a spiritual aspect of sexuality? Do religious guidelines play a role in how we want our son or daughter to understand sexuality? If so, have we made sense out of those guidelines? Do your kids know how you expect them to live with those guidelines in a world that does not promote self-restraint?

In my private practice I see how much sexuality has been removed from intimacy. Eleven year olds put sexually provocative pictures of themselves online, unaware of the power their playing with. They’re “just having fun”.

On a recent radio call-in show a middle-aged man stated that he thought men his age need protection from “young girls who go online, trying to entice us.” I told him I believed it was our children who need protection; from a culture that has convinced them the best way to have power and prestige is to work their sexy. We are that protection. The best protection any child has is a parent who will help them make sense out of the world and give them guidelines and on-going supervision that will keep them safe until they have all their brain cells working properly.

With the onset of puberty the frontal lobe part of the brain is undergoing a profound reorganization. Correctly understanding emotions, planning ahead, being able to foresee the consequences of their actions are all cognitive functions that adults perform with a fully formed frontal lobe. Teens, although absolutely sage like one minute, are still developing this critically important part of their brain and will often think and act like some vital part of common sense is missing.

Why would a high school girl form a pact with other girls to get pregnant?

How have one out of four teen girls allowed themselves to contract a sexually transmitted disease?

Why do our eight, nine and ten year olds want to look sexy?

These are very different scenarios, with very different causes. What they have in common is that they involve misunderstanding the power and responsibility that comes from expressing ones sexuality. More importantly, far fewer young people need experience the pain and life long consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior if the adults in their lives would begin an ongoing dialogue about sex, sexuality and responsible behavior.

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