Sex Secrets: A Wake-up Call for Parents

Most of us learn when we're very young that sex is something secret that can't be discussed with our parents. Unfortunately, this attitude (that sex and secrecy go hand in hand) gets so ingrained in our youth that it continues throughout our lives. Later in life, the secrecy and deception involved in having an affair is partially related to this lifelong inability to talk honestly about sex.

Much more urgent than the eventual problems between husbands and wives (by virtue of so much secrecy) is the immediate problem of addressing the sexual issues facing our children today. So the first step in being responsible parents is to raise our awareness of what's happening and accepting responsibility for dealing with it.

To begin this process of increased awareness, I'm quoting from several sources:

1. A PBS "Frontline" Documentary that aired first on October 19, 1999 (and again on February 8, 2000) titled "The Lost Children of Rockdale County."

2. An article by Lucinda Franks in the February 2000 issue of TALK magazine titled "The Sex Lives of your Children."

3. Our article, "For Parents Only: Providing Sex Education for your Children."

1. The PBS "Frontline" Documentary reports on an extended investigation of sex among a large group of young people in Conyers, Georgia - which only came to light due to an outbreak of syphilis where more than 200 young people were exposed. It turned out that the outbreak focused around a group of girls described as "almost cherubic in some of their characteristics, and very young, some of them 13 years of age."

Frontline's cameras had been living among the teenagers of Conyers for months… "and had come to know a story of lonely kids desperate to belong - of a secret world of sex - with the gravest of consequences - of disconnection and regrets."

One of the "Lessons of Conyers" that this PBS documentary hopes to get across is:
"Conyers is not an aberration. It's a community that is representative of many communities. And this happens to be the community in which we decided to focus our lens. But it could've been any one of a number of communities."

2. The article in TALK magazine is must-reading for all parents. It describes a world that most parents don't know about (and perhaps don't WANT to know about - or to admit could exist). It talks about such things as "the drugs, kids drinking…till they vomited, the blow jobs on school grounds."

Here are some quotes by young people interviewed for the article:

  • "Darcy, 13 - Oral sex has just gotten too boring out here. Most of the popular kids have done sex…"
  • "James, 14 - They [girls] cheat on their boyfriends and all they want to do is be eaten out."
  • "Cathy, 13 - There was this girl who hooked up with six guys in the course of a two-hour bus ride to this girl's bar mitzvah. The extent to which my friends are able to bullshit their parents is just absolutely funny."
It's very disturbing to hear these statements (or to even think about these kinds of issues) - but ignoring this situation will be at our children's peril. A lesson from this article is:
"While many parents may be clueless about what is going on, others appear to know full well - but to deliberately avoid intervening."

3. Our article "For Parents Only: Providing Sex Education for your Children" addresses this common problem for most parents: our lack of ability/willingness to talk honestly with our kids about sex. Since most of us were raised by parents who couldn't talk about sex, it's understandable that when we become parents we don't feel comfortable talking to our own kids. But the price they pay for our silence (or our "ultimatums" without ongoing communication) is far too high. One of the first steps to addressing this situation is to face the reality of what's happening.

Here's an excerpt from For Parents Only that focuses on this first step:

"PROBLEM: Pretending You Don't Know What's Happening

"This is not to lay a guilt trip on parents. We do the best we can (and we have enough guilt without any additional burdens), but we need to look honestly at the consequences of our current way of dealing with sexual issues.

"As a parent, you may suspect (actually know on some level) that your teenager is probably sexually active, but you stop short of asking direct questions to find out for sure. Instead, you make vague statements about the dangers of being sexually active or you issue ultimatums about curfews, grounding, and other controls on your teen's whereabouts. Out of fear, you bring out a stern warning just as your teenager is going out the door. You toss off a statement about being careful, not staying out too late, or not falling in with a bad crowd. (These last-minute cautionary statements have almost no effect at all, unless it's to shut down further communication - which is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen.)

"Being a responsible parent involves talking to your teen on an ongoing basis. It's important to remember that you bear the burden of carrying the conversations with your teen. It's your responsibility to initiate dialogue; you can't expect or wait for them to take the initiative. If your teen does seek your counsel and guidance, great. But don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. It's up to you to start the dialogue - and to sustain it. This means being persistent and not giving up.

"It's important to keep open the lines of communication with your teenager. If you lecture your teenager instead of just talking with them, they're likely to tune you out and take in very little of what you have to say. In addition, they're likely to block you out of knowing what they're thinking and doing regarding most important issues in their lives, including sexual issues. The power you may feel you're exercising by "laying down the law" as to what your kids can and cannot do is an illusion. If you make sex into a battleground with a winner and a loser, you're sure to lose. You may not know at the time that you're losing, but you are. (And so are they.)"

(end of excerpt from "For Parents Only")

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