Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Daughters and Dads/Sons and Moms?

When parents talk to their kids about sex, most match gender to gender – moms talk to daughters, and dads talk to sons.

That’s why a new study out of New York University has gotten a lot of attention recently because it suggested that young girls could actually benefit from talking about sex with their father.

Previous studies have concluded that girls who have open communication with their fathers — about everything — tend to have intercourse later in life and also have fewer sexual partners, both of which can be very good for sexual and mental health. But do they actually have to talk about sex to have this effect?

While young women are still mostly influenced and informed on this subject by their mothers, Katherine Hutchinson, associate professor at the NYU College of Nursing, wanted to figure out whether fathers had a role to play. As part of a larger study examining family influences on adolescent sexual risk, she asked a representative sample of 250 or so women aged 19 to 21 what kind of impact their fathers had on their sex education.

The answer was: very little. And, surprisingly, a lot of the women, most of whom were sexually active, wished their fathers had told them more. Specifically, they wanted to hear stuff only guys would know, about how to communicate with men and what the carnal landscape looked like from a male's vantage point.

"They felt that if they could have been more comfortable talking with their fathers about issues around sex, they might have been more comfortable talking to boyfriends or potential sexual partners about them," says Hutchinson, whose study was published in the Journal of Family Issues. "And they wanted to know how to negotiate intimacy issues with men."

So does this mean dads should be the ones sitting down and explaining where we all come from? "I'm not a big proponent of The Talk, whether it's from a mother or a father," says Hutchinson. "It takes away from the normalcy of sexuality." She advocates instead for ongoing communication with kids about their bodies, sexual development and sexual issues, so that the subject is not so fraught. But she feels dads could weigh in on how to politely tell a guy you don't want to have sex with him, or that you're not ready for sex with anyone right now, or that you want him to wear a condom.

I couldn’t agree more with Hutchinson. I think when sex is treated with normalcy and without shame, embarrassment or judgment within a family, kids will have far fewer hangups when they become sexually active adults. They will also be armed with facts and not euphemisms that can lead to an unexpected pregnancy, STD or even AIDs. It will also bolster their self-esteem when they are taught about their amazing bodies.

A sex-positive attitude, expressed by BOTH parents consistently while children grow, will go a long way to encourage their children development is healthy and happy. Issues of sexual orientation when accepted and discussed within a loving family dynamic will help homosexual, bisexual and transgendered teens cope with the societal road ahead.

This study did not address whether it would be equally beneficial for moms to talk to their sons about sex, but I bet you’d get the same encouraging results.

One note of warning to dads: Probably best not to bring the subject up while the guy or girl your daughter likes is in the room! Awkward.

Here’s some helpful advice when talking to kids about sex:
— Be open and honest. Don’t just repeat phrases, or slogans but be frank and truthful.
— Let your child consistently know how you feel about sex and relationships so they will be comfortable to talk about their feelings, and ask questions when they have them.
— Do your homework. Be sure you are sexually well-versed so that you’ll be able to offer great advice and real information throughout the developmental stages of your child.
— Talk consistently about the responsibility and consequences of being sexually active as your children grow.
— Be very careful to take time and understand your own views. If you are homophobic, admit it to yourself, and try to work through it as soon a possible. Try everything possible not put your sexual baggage on your kids.

— The Curator

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