Teens and their parents need a different reference point regarding teen sex.
When it comes to sex and relationships, teen-agers may act like they know it all. In spite of that veneer of self-assurance, teens want their parents' guidance.
Below are 10 teen sex tips each for parents and teen-agers, based on information reported in "Sex Smart: 501 Reasons to Hold Off on Sex."
Tips for parents
1. Teens say they would most like to turn to their parents for answers about sex, love and relationships. If you're unsure of what to tell your teens or how to express your thoughts, gain self-assurance by reading books about teens and sexuality that reflect the sexual attitudes and morals you want to communicate to your children.
2. Talk with your pre-teens and teens as often as possible about your beliefs and values concerning sex. Take a strong stand. Speak with authority without scolding or lecturing. If you're not sure how to start talking, let the discussion be triggered by a TV show, song on the radio, or by a friend's or relative's dilemma in a relationship.
Parents should be firm, clear, truthful and caring when discussing their values. But unless parents live up to these values in their own personal lives, kids won't take them seriously.
3. Be an askable parent. This means respecting your child's opinion -- no put downs -- and letting your child or teen know you are pleased they have come to you with a question. Give age-appropriate answers. Don't worry if you don't have all the answers.
4. Help your teen understand that sex
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doesn't equal love, and love doesn't equal sex. Let your teen know that sex is great -- but only when you're old enough. Tell him or her that on confidential surveys, the majority of teens who have had sex say they wish they hadn't.
5. Don't miss an opportunity to pat your teen on the back for a job well done at home or at school or in outside activities and hobbies. Be enthusiastic about your teen's abilities. Talk with your kids about their goals. Be respectful and supportive of their aspirations, but direct them toward realistic goals. Teens are more apt to avoid risky behaviors when they have plans and dreams for their futures.
6. Don't assume that sexual activity is inevitable for teens. Help your teen-ager understand that his or her sex drive is controllable. Stress that allowing oneself to be "swept away" in a passionate moment leads to unprotected sex, pregnancy, disease and regret. Taking control of sexual urges is one way to take control of your life.
7. Assume that your teen wants to say "no" to sexual pressure. Many teens say they especially want to know how to say "no" without hurting their partner's feelings. Help your teens practice aloud different ways of saying "no" and explaining their point of view. Warn them to avoid risky or dangerous situations that can lead to temptation or coercion, such as being at a partner's house when parents are away, going to unchaperoned parties, driving to a secluded place, drinking and drug use.
8. Get to know your kids' friends and their parents. Make their friends welcome in your home and, without intruding, take part in their conversations from time to time. This will put you in touch with their attitudes, help you judge their characters and enable you to spot potential problems or pressures your teen is facing. It will also allow you to share your values and attitudes with your teen and her or his friends. Make sure that your teen-agers and their friends are supervised during after-school hours when you can't be there.
9. Religion has a powerful impact on teen's lives. Studies confirm that youths with religious beliefs are at less risk for sex, drugs and other questionable behaviors. Teens themselves rank religion as the second greatest positive influence in their lives (parents are No. 1). Fifty-five percent of teens attend church.
10. While making clear your expectations that your teen will postpone sex, make sure that your child also knows that you will love her or him and be supportive even if they make a mistake. Tell them no matter what happens, they can still come to you and look to you for help and guidance.
Tips for teens
1. A look at some teen magazines and other media might make you think that teen sex is the most normal thing. Teens you know may rave about their sexual experiences. But don't be fooled. In private confidential surveys, the majority of teens who have had sex admit they wish they hadn't. They say they were unprepared for the stress and other negative consequences.
2. Not everyone is "doing it." It's OK to say "no." If your personal values and moral principles tell you that abstinence -- not having sex -- is the right thing to do, you are showing maturity and smarts by following your own moral code and choosing to abstain from sex.
3. Keep your sexual integrity. That means acting with honesty, sincerity and living by a set of moral principles when it comes to sex. But to have real sexual integrity, you need to be informed about sex and have accurate information. Your parents are your best source of information about sex and relationships. They may also suggest books to help you understand the effects sex can have on teen relationships. Make sure you're educated about reproductive anatomy and the consequences of sexual intercourse.
4. Happiness or despair, your emotions are more intense now than perhaps at any other time in your future. You've got enough to deal with without adding the pressures and pain of a sexual relationship. There will be plenty of time for sex later. For now, concentrate on the other positive things in your life and enjoy your freedom.
5. Practicing "safer sex" (using condoms and birth control) definitely reduces the risk of pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But "safer sex" is not 100 percent safe. Condoms can break, leak or be misused. Birth control pills may be forgotten by busy teens. Think about whether you are ready to handle an unplanned pregnancy or parent a child. Are you ready to pay hundreds of dollars a month in child support for 18 years? How would you feel about yourself if you got an STD? Unless you're ready to face these real possibilities, abstinence is the smartest choice.
6. Sex is not the way to deepen a relationship. Teens say that sex causes lots of problems and insecurities which can lead to a break-up. If you want your relationship to grow and last longer, get closer to your partner by talking, sharing your dreams and feelings, and enjoying a variety of activities together. Don't let sex mess things up. Saying "yes" to sex may be the first step in saying "good-bye" to the relationship.
7. When you fall in love, remember that as strongly as you feel about your boyfriend or girlfriend, this is probably not the love of your life. The average person has seven or eight romances and break-ups before marriage. You need to ask yourself ahead of time whether you think making love is truly special or something to do with just about any partner you like a lot.
8. When sex partners break up and, as often happens, one lover rejects the other, the pain can be intense. It can take a long time for the wound to heal. Feeling that your lover no longer wants you around may make you doubt your value. By keeping sex out of your teen-age relationships, you're doing yourself an all-important favor, protecting your sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Without these it's much harder to form a relationship later on with a strong, confident adult mate. If you're beaten-down and unsure of yourself, will a spirited, dynamic man or woman find you attractive?
9. If you hold off on sex, you'll find that each new love relationship can be a healthy step in your search for a lifetime partner. When the relationship breaks up, even though one or both of you may be very sad, each of you will have a clearer idea of what you're looking for in the next partner in your search for the one relationship that will last.
10. Think a lot about the goals you hope to reach. You have an exciting life ahead of you. The harder you work in school and plan for a career, the more successful you are likely to be at whatever you do. Keep all your options open. Don't let the consequences of teen sex get in the way of achieving your dreams.
-- This is part one of an eight-part series of columns on teen-age sexuality by Susan Pogany, author of "Sex Smart: 501 Reasons to Hold Off on Sex," available in local bookstores.