Ready or Not
by Karen PlattOur child has asked us what age it is okay to have sex. How do we answer that question?
The “what age is it okay to have sex?” question is one parents hear from children and I hear from parents all the time. Unfortunately, there is no magical number I can recite—a definitive age when your child will wake up and find he is ready for a sexual relationship. The more relevant question is, when do you think it should be? At 17? 19? 23? 32?
To put it simply, while there is a legal of age of consent (in B.C. it is now 16), there is no specific age when we are all “ready” to have sex. Sexual decisions are based upon many factors and hopefully, since the heat of the moment may inspire spontaneous action, the choices will be grounded in your child’s values and beliefs. The idea is to ensure, to the best of your ability, that passion blooms upon rich soil (hey, it is spring after all).
So what do you think? Maybe you hope your daughter will wait until she’s in love? Or married? Perhaps you think sexual intimacy is okay if they’ve dated for six months? Maybe you are trying to reconcile the teachings of your faith or culture with the practical reality of your child’s world.
When you talk with your child (and not just about sex), it’s not just okay, but important to share your values; kids need and want to know what their parents believe. Ultimately, you are giving them a foundation to build their own values system upon, whether they adopt your beliefs wholeheartedly or reject them out of hand. Most likely, it will be somewhere in the middle.
It doesn’t matter what you believe, if you aren’t certain or that your beliefs change over time, rather that you think about things that are important to you in making decisions about sex and life. What do you want your kids to hear from you on the subject? What do you mean by “sex?” Are you only referring to intercourse? Where do other sexual behaviours fall on your time and values line?
As parents, we might want to consider these bigger questions, the ones that suddenly have us wondering why we ever worried about naming body parts. Overnight, saying “penis” out loud doesn’t seem so difficult—at least relative to discussing sexual decision-making.
Sexual pressures come from everywhere. Cultural, religious and ethnic influences may tell kids to wait. Peers, media, pop culture may scream the opposite. The good news—there are lots of “teachable moments” out there. Use them to open discussions. Ask your kids what they think and why. Listen.
Remember, your kids will get information whether you give it to them or not. The question is how important you think it is that they have both the facts and the perspective of your values to assist their decisions.
In Everything you NEVER wanted your kids to know about SEX
, authors Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster respond to a father who asks “how can I teach my daughter to have a healthy attitude toward sex, but prevent her from having any?”
“…don’t try to prevent her. Just teach her. From the moment she enters your life, try to teach your daughter about her body, about pleasure and responsibility, about love, and about risk, and all the ways people like you and she think about sex. Teach her how to think for herself and make her own decisions and when she does, respect those decisions. They may not be yours… But she gets to decide. All you can do is tell her how you feel, and after years of trying to help her grow into her own woman, realize you are accomplishing your goal—even though… the accomplishment sometimes smarts.”
Are you ready?
• Am I doing this because I want to?
• Does sex fit in with my/our beliefs?
• Do I know this person well enough?
• Do I feel comfortable enough with this person to do this, and to do it sober?
• Can I talk to my partner about sex?
• Do I know enough about sex (both pleasure and consequences)?
• Do I know how to have sex safely?
• Do we both want to do this?
• Do I think I’ll regret this later?
)Karen Platt is a writer and sexual health educator. Send questions to email@example.com.