It's not an easy conversation. And it's not an easy thing to admit. But you might want to consider that your teen son or daughter could be experimenting with sex. And if you have older teens heading off to college, particularly if they will be living away from home for the first time, this is a really important time to have one of "those" conversations.
We had this particular conversation with our oldest guy a few years ago. While we told him we certainly weren't encouraging him, we made it clear we'd rather he were educated and safe, and that we (mostly his dad) were available to talk any time. We even bought him condoms. Shudder.
It's quite possible your college-bound kid knows more than you think (or even more than you), but just in case, here are a few simple tips from Dr. Robin Milhausen, a sexuality researcher and professor at the University of Guelph, on how to start this seemingly difficult conversation and keep it going, to ensure that your children are healthy and safe as they embark on this new chapter in their lives.
1. Have realistic expectations. It may come as a surprise, but about two-thirds of 18-19 year-olds in Canada have had intercourse and many young people will have sexual experiences during their college and university years.* Hearing from a parent that taking care of their sexual and reproductive health is important can have a powerful and positive motivating effect.
2. Don’t gender your sex education. Boys and girls, and men and women, need the same information! They all need to know how to prevent pregnancy and STIs, talk about sex with their partners and say no when they mean no, and yes when they mean yes.
3. Look for opportunities to discuss sexual and reproductive health. Some parents are uncomfortable talking with their kids about sex and don’t know where or how to start. One way is to refer to something you have seen on TV or read: “There’s a blog I read that was talking about sexual health issues for college students, and I want to talk about that with you.”
4. Use the resources at your disposal, and share them! There are a lot of great resources online (and some terrible ones!) To make sure you are up to date, educate yourself at sexandu.ca (a website developed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada) and weknowsex.ca (a website developed by the makers of Trojan™ condoms and the Sex Information Education Council of Canada), which provides information on relationships, sexual health, pregnancy and STI prevention.
If your kids know you are available to listen and provide support, without judgment, they will be more likely to come to you when they need you. Know that even if they don’t take you up on the offer, they are glad you made it and will likely appreciate that you were ready and willing to help and listen.
*Rotermann, M. (2012). Sexual behaviour and condom use of 15 to 24-year-olds in 2003 and 2009/2010. Health Reports, 23, (1), 1-5.