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Initiating Conversations When Children Do Not Ask Questions

Some sexual topics never get discussed, at least not at the proper time, unless parents are willing to take the initiative. This includes certain aspects of sexual maturation that a child may not consider until he or she experiences them. These include menstruation, first ejaculation, and nocturnal orgasms. Experience with first menstruation or ejaculation can come as quite a shock to the unprepared, as revealed in the following anecdotes:

“My mother never told me about menstruation so when I first got it I thought I was dieing and began crying hysterically at school”. (Authors’ files)

“I remember the first time I ejaculated during masturbation. At first I couldn’t believe it when something shot out of my penis. The only thing I could figure is that I had whipped up my urine. However, considering earlier lectures from my mother about the evils of “playing with yourself,” I was afraid that God was punishing me for my sinful behavior.” (Authors’ files)

It is important that young people are aware of the physiological changes before they actually happen. Children’s natural curiosity about sex might cause them to discuss these topics with friends, who are usually not the most reliable sources of information. It is certainly better for parents to provide a more accurate description of these natural events.

Most young people prefer that their parents be the primary source of sex information and that their mothers and fathers share equally in this responsibility (Hutchinson & Cooney, 1998; Kreinin et al., 2001; Somers & Surmann, 2004). Research indicates that fewer than 20% of parents engage in meaningful dialogue about sex with their children (Davtyan, 2000; Howard & McCabe, 1990). This is unfortunate, because children and teenagers can benefit greatly from candid discussions with their parents about sex.

To the extent that parents do take an active role in the sex education of their children, mothers are far more likely than fathers to fulfill this function (Ackard & Neumarek-Sztainer, 2001; Hutchinson & Cooney, 1998). Unfortunately, most American parents do not provide adequate sex education to their children (Kreinin et al., 2001; Meschke et al., 2000). Research has revealed that even where there is close and open communication between parents and children, sex often is not discussed (Fisher, 1987). Several studies have shown that friends are the principal source of information about sex for young people in the United States (Kreinin et al., 2001; Starr, 1997). Thus the gap created by lack of information in the home is likely to be filled with incorrect information from peers and other sources (Whitaker & Miller, 2000). This can have serious consequences; for example, an adolescent may hear from friends that a girl will not get pregnant if she has sex on her period. Peers may also encourage traditional gender-role behavior, and they often put pressure on each other to become sexually active. Thus the challenge for parents is whether they want to become actively involved in their children’s sex education, minimizing some of the pitfalls faced by children and adolescents who turn to their peers for sex (mis)information.

Parents may hesitate to discuss sex with their children for fear that this would encourage early sexual experimentation. However, there is no clear evidence that sex education in the home contributes to either irresponsible sexual activity or an increased likelihood of adolescent sexual behavior. Moreover, adolescent children who openly, positively, and frequently communicate with their parents about sex are more likely to have fewer sexual partners and later and less frequent sexual activity than teenagers who do not talk to their parents about sex (Jaccard et al., 2000; Meschke et al., 2000; K. Miller et al., 1999). Furthermore, positive parent-adolescent communication about sex has been linked to decrease risk of contracting STDs, more effective and consistent use of birth control, and decrease incidence of teenage pregnancies (Halpern-Felsher et al., 2004; Lehr et al., 2005; Stone & Ingham, 2002).

Information taken from: Our Sexuality, Tenth Edition. Robert Crooks & Karla Baur. Thomson Wadsworth Publishing, 2008. Not yet published version.

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