Terri Apter, PhD, a University of Cambridge researcher and leading authority on mothers and teen girls, offers a four-point plan to improve your next conversation. (To find out if you and your daughter are effectively communicating about sex, take The Sex Talk Test she designed for Oprah.com.)
1. Make sure you go beyond biology.

Straight talk about the physical and biological facts of sex is important, but good conversations include the deeply personal context in which sex occurs. A mother can offer a far broader conversation than those normally included in school or other formal venues. Try talking about:

Relationships: By talking about the importance of sex in a relationship, you can strengthen her resistance to other reasons for having sex (such as curiosity and peer pressure).

Respect: Emphasizing respect for herself and others supports her efforts to reflect on the meaning and consequences (emotional and physical) of sexual activity.

Desire and pleasure: You may be surprised by this, but encouraging your daughter to reflect on the importance of her own desire actually decreases her risk of unwanted pregnancy. Girls who have a mother's encouragement to value the pleasure of sex are likely to be more prepared for and in control of their sexual experiences. Positive messages about sex seem to be more effective in supporting a teen's control over sexual activity than do the "just say no" messages.

2. Assure your daughter that some confusion is normal.

The subconscious depths of sexual desire and its emotional resonance make understanding hard to come by. So:

  • Remind your daughter that gauging her own needs and wishes takes time.

  • Work with her to unravel mixed social messages. Talk about ads and soaps and magazine articles to raise awareness about implicit messages. For example, many prominent social messages are packed with contradiction:

    • Sex is an accepted part of life, but it exposes one to the unimaginable complications of pregnancy and the dangers of disease. Girls are encouraged to feel powerful but are also warned that they can be easily overpowered and are targets of rapists.

    • They are expected to be sexual and look "ravishing," yet they are advised to say no to sex.

    • They watch sexual ecstasies on camera but are assured it is "no big thing."



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