Have you talked to your kids about sex yet? After giving us the strategies—and a handbook—for starting the conversation, Dr. Laura Berman's back to help the parents of teenagers still struggling with the sex talk.
The talk shouldn't only be about STD prevention and pregnancy, Dr. Berman says. It's also about empowerment—and Dr. Berman says the conversation needs to include pleasure and self-stimulation. "You don't want her to have sex right now. ... But you eventually want her to have a fulfilling, happy, loving, intimate sex life," she says. "When the time comes, she's that much more likely to make those healthy decisions since she feels good about who she is as a sexual person and not just give away that gift to anybody—the first time or any time."
According to an O, The Oprah Magazine and Seventeen magazine sex survey, 46 percent of 15- to 18-year-old girls who have had intercourse claim their mothers don't know. The study also says 78 percent of girls who have had intercourse have not used condoms—and 56 percent say they used no birth control at all.
After dating for three months, 14-year-olds Courtney and Pierce say they're thinking about taking their relationship to the next level. Both say it would be their first time. "I love her and she's so great, and I just want to have that experience with her," Pierce says.
"We've done pretty much everything besides sex," Courtney says. "We probably would be having sex if we had the opportunity to and we wouldn't get interrupted in the middle of it."
Pierce's mom, Lisa, says she noticed how her son was looking at Courtney and started to suspect something might happen soon. "From my gut, they were getting very, very close to having sex," she says.
Lisa says she began to wrestle with a question few parents want to face—should she buy her son condoms? "I went to the drugstore, and I stood in the condom aisle for about 30 minutes," she says. "Making that purchase was probably the hardest thing I ever did, because I didn't want him to think that I was giving him [approval]. Like, 'Go for it, son.'"
Courtney's mom, Beth, says she found out Courtney and Pierce were dating by accident. "I look outside, and there's Courtney, down the block, arm in arm, kissing this guy I had no idea about," she says. "I had no idea Courtney was even the least bit interested in boys."
After Courtney's grades started falling, Beth says she did everything she could to keep her in the house. When Lisa heard Beth had concerns about Pierce and Courtney dating, she called Beth. "[Lisa] said, 'I just want to open up this communication and let you know that we're on the same wavelength that you are,'" Beth says. "So I took a real deep breath. Courtney and I talked a little bit more, and I started once again giving her a lot more freedom to make choices."
Then, Beth says she found out Lisa bought condoms for Pierce. "I was floored," she says. "So then I thought, 'Maybe Lisa wasn't really being honest with me.'"
Lisa says she understands where Beth is coming from but feels torn. "If she took Courtney to a doctor and got a cervical cancer vaccination, got her a checkup, got her on birth control, I would pat her on the back," Lisa says. "I didn't really feel like I needed to run that particular aspect of the information through her, but I see in hindsight that I was wrong, that I probably should have called her."
Lisa says she is not encouraging Courtney and Pierce to have sex. "I am making sure I am not giving them the opportunity to be alone, so I gave Beth my commitment on that—that there is no den of iniquity happening in our house," Lisa says.
Dr. Berman says if you suspect that your children are thinking about having sex, you need to ask them several important questions. The first question Dr. Berman has for Pierce and Courtney is simple—why now?
"We've been dating for a little while, and we feel like we're ready," Pierce says. "We love each other, and we're not just doing it because we want to do it. ... We want it to be special."
"I think having sex, intercourse, is a really big step in your life. When you do it for the first time, it has to be with someone that you really care about," Courtney says. "I do really care about Pierce, and I think for me to do it with him for the first time would be really special."
Dr. Berman's next question is more direct—how long do Courtney and Pierce plan to stay together? "Hopefully a long time," Pierce says.
So how long is a long time? "Six months to a year," he says.
Dr. Berman then asks Courtney if she would still want her first time to be with Pierce. "Well, I think if he limited our relationship to only being six months, I don't think so," she says. "I thought a long time [was] not having an expiration date."
Many girls Courtney's age feel the same, Dr. Berman says. "When you feel this much love and this much connection, you are imagining forever," she says.
That's why Dr. Berman says this is an important talk for teens in serious relationships to have. "Before you have sex, have a really clear conversation about what's going to happen the next day. What's going to happen a week from now? What's going to happen a month from now?"
Dr. Berman also wants to make sure Courtney and Pierce have thought through the emotional changes that come with sex. "The first time, it comes with intense emotions, intense feelings—especially afterward," she says.
Questions Dr. Berman says they need to consider are:
What does this mean for who I am as a person?
What does this mean for my body?
What does this mean for my relationship with this person?
What happens next?
If they do have sex, have Courtney and Pierce discussed their expectations for how frequently it would happen? "It's not really up to me," Pierce says. "It's her decision how often she wants to continue doing it, so I don't really have a choice."
Good answer, Dr. Berman says. "She's got to consent. That's good," she says. "That's part of the conversation as well."
Lisa put condoms in Pierce's drawer, but have Courtney and Pierce talked about using them? Pierce says he knows how to put one on...but hasn't actually practiced. "I don't see how it's that hard to figure it out," he says.
Sometimes it can be, Dr. Berman says. "A large percentage of people put them on backward, don't leave air on the tip and then it breaks," she says. "The number one reason that condoms break is because they are not put on correctly."
Dr. Berman says that if you're thinking about buying your child condoms, don't just leave them in his room. "Talk to them about how condoms work. Talk to them about correct use of condoms," she says. "Show them on a banana how to roll one on correctly."
Birth control is a two-way street, and Dr. Berman asks Courtney and Pierce if they're prepared with two forms of birth control. "No," Courtney says.
"Because condoms break, you must have a second form of birth control," Dr. Berman says.
Dr. Berman's next question is a big one—have Courtney and Pierce discussed what they will do if she gets pregnant? Pierce says he would leave the decision up to her, but Courtney says she can't even think about it. "I'm scared to even think about that because of how big of an impact it would be on my life," she says.
In fact, one-third of girls in the United States are pregnant by the age of 20—which is why Dr. Berman says it's a possibility Courtney needs to face. "You have to go down that path and think about it. That's one of the homework assignments before you have sex," she says. "It doesn't sound like that piece of the puzzle has been solved yet."
Do Pierce and Courtney understand sexually transmitted diseases? Courtney says they've had presentations in school about them. "Quite a few times, from sixth grade till now," Pierce says.
Dr. Berman says that's good news. "For the past eight years at least, most schools—if they do have sex education—it's abstinence-only education," she says. "They teach you about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, but they don't necessarily teach you about prevention."
Dr. Berman's final question is one of the most important questions any teen couple must face—are you absolutely sure that neither of you have been with anyone else sexually? "Meaning orally, any other way," Dr. Berman says. "If you have, then you would both need to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases before you had sex."
Both Courtney and Pierce say they are absolutely sure they would be each other's first—and Dr. Berman says she's pleased that Courtney, Pierce and their mothers have had such an open dialogue. "[Parents saying], 'Don't do it' doesn't work. It's just like putting your head in the sand," Dr. Berman says. "It's important for you guys to be having these conversations with them, ideally from a much earlier age."
Having considered all Dr. Berman's questions, are Courtney and Pierce still ready to have sex?
"Yeah, I think I'm still ready," Pierce says.
But Courtney isn't so sure. "I'm slowly getting talked out of it," she says.
Dr. Berman says she hopes Courtney and Pierce will wait and says there are other ways to express their feelings for each other. "There is a lot more that you can do to feel close sexually and to get that sexual gratification together that you want that doesn't put you at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," she says.
What should parents know about having this conversation with their own children? "This is the kind of conversation [where you need to be] calm, listening a lot, asking questions, hear opinions and giving them your thoughts and feelings," Dr. Berman says.
Whether you have boys at home or girls, Dr. Berman says the information you give needs to be the same. "Boys are under a tremendous amount of pressure as well," Dr. Berman says. "I think we really have to pay attention to that, too, and give them both the same information—the same lack of permission or permission—as the case may be and the same resources."