Talking to Teens About Sex
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."
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."
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.'"
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."
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.
Get all Dr. Berman's questions for a teen who's thinking about having sex.
"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."
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?"
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?
Good answer, Dr. Berman says. "She's got to consent. That's good," she says. "That's part of the conversation as well."
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."
"Because condoms break, you must have a second form of birth control," Dr. Berman 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."
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."
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."
"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.
Get all the questions you should ask a teen who may become sexually active.
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."
Download Dr. Berman's handbook for talking to your kids about sex at every age
Learn more about helping your children make healthy sexual decisions