Sex education for parents turns 'the talk' into open communication
(KUTV) Sex Education is tricky, there are a lot of opinions on how and when to teach the topic -- if at all.
In Utah, current law allows schools to teach abstinence-only education, the bare minimum of information. That means no talk of how to prevent pregnancy aside from not having sex.
Parents in Utah and many other states, push to have "the talk" on their own terms, at home. This allows for teaching children according to family values and within religious context.
The only problem with the sex education plan at home, is simple. It rarely happens.
Parents in most cases are well intentioned, but the conversation isn't easy and their parents likely skipped it too. What's one more generation that doesn't get the nitty gritty on the birds and he bees?
Sex education seems daunting and uncomfortable at best. Salt-N-Pepa may have been on to something in their hit "Let's talk about sex." The lyrics suggest "all the good things and the bad things" and of course "you and me." The song if you listen, was an effort at a conversation most parents avoid like the plague.
Ask your adult friends about how and what they learned about sex as teens and the answers will vary. Most are similar.
"I don't think any of my siblings had the sex talk as far as I know."
Loralee Nicolay and her husband David have three beautiful children -- no thanks to their parents. Both grew up in Utah and didn't get a lot of info from their parents. Loralee has never heard a single word on the topic from her parents. Instead she made teenage trips the library where she would look at books on the subject.
She was careful not to check them out so they wouldn't show up on her card -- just in case her parents were to catch a glimpse of her record. Her husband had the luxury of a home library. He had "a medical encyclopedia sitting around" and his mom "was real quick to break that out and show us diagrams."
The Nicolays want to do it differently with their own kids and that's why they signed up for a sex education class for parents.
"Sex is never about sex right?"
David asks the rhetorical question after two hours of talking about how parents can teach their own children. "There is all the shame; maybe it's not intentional but people are weird about it and I don't want my kid to have that."
The class attended by the Nicolays and dozens of other couples with small children- was taught by sisters- "the sex sisters" as they're called. Alisha Worthington and Kristin Hodson are moms, and therapists--- who by demand have authored a book about sex. "Real Itimacy: A couples Guide to Healthy Genuine Sexuality" was authored for adults. In November they taught their first class on how parents can talk to their kids after they realized there was a demand for it.
The sisters broached the topic as broad ranging - including body image, self esteem, love, infatuation, experimentation, fun and families.
"It doesn't have to be scary, it doesn't have to be heavy." The sisters told their adult students the so called sex talk should start "as early as possible, the sooner the better." In fact, they say the stereotypical sex talk "should never happen."
"My goal is that when these parents have their kids the older and these kids are asking when did you have the talk? They will say I don't know what you're talking about. Kristin Hodson practices what she preaches with her young children at home. Her book shelf is full of your average every day story books and others like "Where Willy Went" following the adventures of a sperm named Willy.
The conversation about sex according to the sisters should start as babies using proper terms for body parts & how they work- with the conversation progressing as your child grows.
"I think often we view sex education through a very narrow lens of what I don't want my child to do as opposed to what is everything out there and let's talk about all of it." Alisha Worthington is a mom of teens and has had a ton of practice talking to her children about how their bodies work and the feelings that go along with it. She says you have to be willing to talk about "anything."
"My teenage daughter came home and asked mom what is a dildo? I was a little shocked, what are you hearing at school?" In that moment of hesitation, Worthington's daughter said "if you don't want to tell me that's ok and I will go look it up."
Parents don't have the luxury of a generation before- where movies, books and the Sears catalogue offered up the only bits of information about sex.
"Tthe playing field has absolutely changed. The kids have access to information immediately and if you don't think they are going to look it up or find a way to access it- you are wrong."
The sisters grew up in a house where there was "no such thing as bad question" and they say talking about sex can be normal. They teach parents that it is a skill like anything else -- practice makes perfect.
"Talking to your kids about sex can be normal, it can be part of your conversation and it doesn't have to be compartmentalized" says Worthington.
That means having age appropriate books about bodies, development and even sex out in the open along with books like Doctor Seuss on up to Jane Eyre.
Kristin Hodson tells parents "You can't say sex is dirty and then you get married and you love it. It is not a light switch." Healthy adults start with healthy kids. Both women know this to be true after- counseling married couples - with serious issues that can be traced back to the fact- no one talked to them about sex aside from "don't do it."
Hodson says it (sex) "has been dirty for so long they don't know how to make it something that is healthy and wonderful."
Making it healthy- the sisters -believe you need to talk openly about sex as a part of a healthy mind and body- including protection for when your kids choose to have sex. Parents they say need to talk about condoms and birth control, even if you think talking about it- will make your kids more interested.
"Research shows just the opposite, the more information they have, the less likely they are to go out and make riskier choices" says Hodson.
15 year old daughter- Addy Worthington- Hodson's daughter grew up in a house where sex talk is anything but taboo. She's happy to talk about what she knows about sex. "I think most parents are worried that if they tell too much that maybe they will go out and have sex or experiment and I don't think that is the case."
"In fact -Addy- believes having an open dialogue helps her make educated decisions unlike many of her peers in high school where she wants you to know "yes, they are having sex."
"I feel like parents withhold information, crucial information" says the teen who listens to friends talk about their frustrations. She feels like she has a more mature attitude of sex than her friends who joke about it at school in an effort to seek information from others. " I feel like because I have this information I don't have to go out and experiment and try it or be rebellious."
The "sex sisters" suggest practicing words you may not like to say "like penis or vagina" in front of your mirror. "Sometimes practicing those words and getting the confidence of faking it until you make it."
"I want my kids, girls and boys to have a full kind of healthy understanding and experience with that" says David Nicolay, father of 3. He is proof parents want to talk; they just need to learn how.
"If you are going to have kids, some will know everything and are five steps ahead of you and others who don't want to talk about it," Hodson said to her class of parents. "You'll have both kinds in the same family, and either way, you've got to talk."
"The more we practice the more we get better at it and before we know it we don't even remember being awkward."
Hodson says she has grown more comfortable herself over the years; it hasn't always been that way. Kids she says will be forgiving of missteps in the conversation -- more so than not having it all.
The sisters have created a website with information for parents with kids of all ages. They know there is no one good way to teach or talk to your kids, but they say information is power.
Go to SexMadeSimple.com or visit the sisters at the Healing Group.
The sisters' book real intimacy has a website.
To contact the siters visit TheHealingGroup.com.