Having the Sex Talk with Your Kids
Dr. Berman says kids today know a lot more about sex than we think they do. In fact, Dr. Berman says children are being forced to make sexual decisions by middle school, from receiving sexually explicit text messages—also called "sexting"—to feeling pressured to perform acts like oral sex.
See what sexual pressures junior high school students are now facing.
What you need to do as a parent, Dr. Berman says, is arm them with knowledge that will guide them well into adulthood. "You want to start these conversations early with your kids—before they find themselves in the circumstances where they're having to make those healthy sexual decisions."
"What is so fascinating to me is 90 percent of the mothers, our readers, thought that they had had the conversation with their daughters about sex," says Gayle King, O magazine's editor-at-large. "When you talk to the daughters, you'll find out, well, no, you didn't really quite have the conversation."
Although some mothers shy away from the conversation because they don't want to seem like they're condoning sex, Gayle says you have to arm your daughters with as much information as you can. "Knowledge is power," she says.
Use Dr. Berman's guide to help start the conversation with kids of any age.
Dr. Berman says making them feel good about themselves is key. "Feeling good about their bodies. Feeling good about their genitals. Feeling good about their sexual function. Feeling empowered about who they are as people and as sexual beings. And then that makes the path so much easier when they're in their teen years."
When it comes to teenagers, Dr. Berman urges all parents to stay calm when approached for information. Overreacting, she says, could make your child hesitant to come to you in the future. "Listen—don't just lecture them," Dr. Berman says. "[Encourage them] to ask questions about the words and the terms and the things they're hearing about at school, to ask questions about what they're seeing in the media."
Amy says she's scared of saying the wrong thing. "Something that's going to scare her or confuse her," she says. "I don't ever want to let my daughter down. That's my biggest thing. I don't ever want her to ever think she can't talk to me."
Dr. Berman says Amy is putting too much pressure on herself. "What's happened now is that Jordan's been asking you and asking you, and there's this whole [air] of secrecy around it," she says. "The secrecy can be more damaging than just telling it like it is."
Dr. Berman says it's important to talk to kids about getting to know their own bodies—and that many kids have been exploring themselves since they were babies. "It's about soothing," Dr. Berman says. "It's not about sexual arousal and the sexual connotations that we put on it. It's just about normalizing it for them and setting the seeds that this is normal."
Download diagrams to use with your kids.
After some more coaching, Amy says she's ready to face Jordan. "I'm going to be sitting nearby, ready to hold your hand and jump in and help you," Dr. Berman says.
Ever since then, Jordan says her mom has been promising to have the talk. "It's been eight months," she says. "I get kind of frustrated. And I hope I learn about adult stuff that I need to learn. Because if I don't know when I'm older, it's going to be embarrassing."
After many frustrating months and a little help from Dr. Berman, Jordan finally gets the chance to ask her mom anything she wants.
Watch Amy's talk with Jordan
Dr. Berman says many kids will ask how the baby gets in the uterus, then how a man's seed gets into a woman. "It's sort of usually a more processed, kind of piece-by-piece conversation in an ideal world," she says.
Download Dr. Berman's handbook on how to talk to kids of any age about sex.
Jordan says she's glad she got to talk to her mom—and has more questions. "We were on the way home, and I asked her, 'Do old people still have sex?'" she says. "And she said it depends on the couple."
This is why Dr. Berman says it's important to have a big talk with your child when she hits high school about masturbation and orgasms. "This is something that's normal and natural, and if you're talking to a girl from a young age about this, it's a natural thing," she says.
Teaching your daughters to take control of their own pleasure can help them avoid unhealthy sexual experiences. "You're teaching them about their own body and pleasuring themselves and taking the reins of their own sexuality so that they don't ever have to depend on any other teenage boy to do it for them," Dr. Berman says.
Still nervous? Dr. Berman says you may need to become more familiar with your own body. "Learn all of this stuff yourself," she says. "When you are comfortable, that's when you can really raise a sexually empowered daughter."
Dr. Berman recommends a small vibrator. "I'm talking about something external for the clitoris," she says. "I'm not talking about things that go internally at all—[just] things that they can explore externally to arouse them."
"The reason I suggest a vibrator is because so many women and girls and adult women have a hard time reaching orgasm through self-stimulation alone," she says. "This is just a way to normalize it and normalize sexual exploration."
"You need to start early, letting them know you're open to conversations, answering their questions without judgment," Dr. Berman says. "Tell them that information does not mean permission."
What do you think about Dr. Berman's advice for talking to your kids about sex?
Download Dr. Berman's sex ed handbook
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