Do you have to talk to your kids about sex? Of course not, but if you don't, experts say there are consequences.
“Research has shown that if parents don’t talk to their teen, the teenager is more likely to go with whatever the peer norm is,” says Dr. Maureen Lyon, co-author of My Teen Has Had Sex, Now What Do I Do? In other words, they will tend to act the same as their friends.
While most schools in the U.S. offer some sex education, it’s up to you to explain your values to your kids and why those values are important to you.
“We do know that teenagers who talk to their parents about sexual activity on average in the U.S. delay the onset of sexual activity,” Lyon says. “And when they do have sex for the very first time, they’re more likely to use a condom or some other type of birth control.”
Lyon says that teenagers are also more likely to engage in sexual behaviors when they drink alcohol and take recreational drugs, but you can reduce the likelihood of these behaviors if you pay close attention. “We do know that parental monitoring is very important. Not in a hovering, helicopter-parent style, but simply that you do know where your kids are – up through high school -- having a parent stay up until the kid gets home,” she says.
Statistics Show that Kids are At Risk
The facts show that many kids are engaging in risky sexual behavior. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing (2006-2010) indicates that 43 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 have had sexual intercourse at least once. In 2009, there were 39.1 births per 1,000 girls in that age group.
The Guttmacher Institute’s research shows that there are about 750,000 teen pregnancies in the U.S. every year, and 82 percent of them are unintended. Approximately nine million sexually transmitted infections are reported each year among teens and young adults, and the U.S. has higher rates of teen pregnancies and STDs than most other countries in the developed world.
The Guttmacher Institute has also found that 55 percent of teens look up sexual health information on the Internet, yet more than one-third of the websites studied contain inaccurate information.
Silence is Not Golden
Despite these statistics, many parents avoid talking about sex with their children entirely. Amber Madison, author of Talking Sex With Your Kids, says the kids she interviewed for her book frequently complained that their parents have ignored the subject. “As a result, when young people feel like they have questions they want to ask, they don’t feel comfortable asking because their parents have set this sort of boundary of silence, this unspoken rule that ‘we don’t talk about those things.’”
Melanie Votaw is a freelance writer and photographer in New York City and the author of 12 non-fiction books, including "52 Weeks of Passionate Sex."