JACKSON, MISS– Teen pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases. They’re lifelong consequences of unprotected sex, but professionals say those circumstances may not arise if parents start early -and often- talking about sex with their children.
Whether you choose abstinence or safe-sex when approaching the talk, professionals say it’s best that the information comes from you.
Dr. Clarence Lovelady worked for the NotNow Abstinence Only program, which encouraged kids to avoid the responsibilities of pregnancy and trials of diseases by saving sex for marriage.
“We showed them how much it cost to raise a baby,” says Lovelady, “and we told them how sexually transmitted diseases could affect the body.”
Josh McClawry works with Mississippi First, an organization that supports the abstinence-plus approach, which encourages teens to practice safe sex if they do choose to have intercourse before marriage.
“Use condoms, contraceptives,” McClawry warns.
As different as these messages are, both Lovelady and McClawry agree, these conversations should start at home.
“I had the best parents in the world, the absolute best,” says Lovelady, “but they didn’t talk to me about sex. I was believing everything I heard from older boys. Myths that were wrong.”
Myths that are still found among teens today, such as a woman cannot get pregnant if she’s having sex for the first time.
“Teens report having more accurate information when that talk came from their parents,” says McClawry.
Both Lovelady and McClawry say that when the talk comes from the parents, it makes for a greater impact on their adulthood.
“Teens say they have less partners when they’re comfortable talking with their parents about sex,” says McClawry. With the accurate information coming from trusted sources at home, teens feel more comfortable making those decisions.
“There was a student I had that felt pressured by a girl at school to have sex,” says Lovelady, “he felt so comfortable because his parents spoke with him so naturally about the issue of sex, that when he felt pressured, he told his mom and asked for advice on how to deny it.”
So when should you start talking?
“Use life experiences to start the conversation as soon as you see an interest,” says McClawry, “like if your child sees a pregnant woman, or a show where people start dating on TV.” McClawry says the curiosity in kids is an opportunity to start the discussion.
“We encouraged parents to have those talks before the child hits puberty and experiences those interests,” says Lovelady, “some start as early as five, some start later.”
“The conversation won’t be the same for any child,” says McClawry, “but there is a need for that conversation.”
School districts are required to have a sex education program that teaches either abstinence only or abstinence-plus, which encourages the use of contraceptives.