Sunday, 25 February 2024


Talking to teenagers about sex has to be the most potentially embarrassing challenge of parenting — for both parents and kids. As a result, there is very little conversation about it in many families, even though teenagers are sexually active at younger and younger ages.

Experts who talk to teenagers about what they call “sexual decision-making” recommend that parents do the same.

In workshops that focus on social-emotional wellness and decision-making, therapists with the Freedom Institute meet with many high school students to discuss issues that include substance use and sexual activity. They report that students regularly express uneasiness about some of the things they’ve engaged in, and ask for guidance about how to decline sexual activity they don’t want or don’t feel ready for.

Regrets over hookups
“If you ask a group of eleventh graders, or even tenth graders, ‘How many of you can think of a situation where you felt regret, when it came to using alcohol?’ probably all of them raise their hands,” reports Tessa Kleeman, a Freedom Institute therapist. “And then if you ask, ‘How many of those situations involved a hookup?’ All the hands go right back up.”

Kleeman explains that the regrets she hears range from doing something sexually that they felt uncomfortable about the next day to losing a friend because they crossed a boundary that they didn’t know how to handle. “They already know that there are emotional consequences to sharing physically without trust that’s been built, without communication.”

One important thing for adults to stress to students, she adds, is that just because something happens once, it doesn’t mean that every time you’re with that person the same thing has to happen again.

Why do girls find it hard to say no?
Girls are especially at risk of sexual activity they may regret because they worry about hurting someone’s feelings if they say no. “Girls are under just as much pressure to achieve and perform as boys are, but they still also are expected to be nice and kind,” notes Kathryn Crosby, a licensed clinical social worker. “The need to be nice, not to hurt anyone’s feelings, can be very problematic in navigating sexual situations. We call it ‘the tyranny of nice and kind.’”

Girls express the concern that if they decline sexual activity, or say they want to stop before a sexual encounter goes any further, it would be rude. And boys often reinforce the notion, Kleeman adds, “that it would be rude if a girl started something and didn’t finish it.” She recommends that parents challenge that idea.