Talking about sex with our children in a post-Roe world

For several years, I have made it my mission to educate families about puberty in order to empower their children as they enter adolescence. On The Puberty Podcast, my co-host, Dr. Cara Natterson, and I talk to thousands of adults every week about the roller coaster of tween and teen education, a spiraling journey filled with conversations over more complex to have with children as they grow.

In the puberty workshops that we also run, we teach children about ovulation and menstruation, outlining the story of an egg’s journey from an ovary each month through the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. We explain that most often the egg does not turn into a baby and a person menstruates, but sometimes a baby grows inside a womb. However, we always say to children, “You never have to have a baby if you don’t want to.”

In a post-Roe v. Wade, I’m not sure we can make that claim yet.

Today, in a 5-4 decision over Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — authored by Samuel Alito — the Supreme Court effectively struck down Roe, which had guaranteed abortion rights since 1973. This despite more than two-thirds of Americans supporting Roe v. Wade.

A big part of my generation has taken for granted our right to contraception, abortion and the morning after pill. Generations before us didn’t have such luxury, and now, generations after us don’t either. When I was in college one night the condom broke. Without much fanfare, my partner and I headed to the campus health center to take the morning after pill. A campus health nurse explained the side effects of the pill to me, gave me my dosage, and sent us away. The hardest part of the experience was the few early morning hours I spent throwing up as hormones flooded my body to prevent pregnancy.

We knew the morning after pill was an option because many of us growing up in the 1990s were lucky enough to have good sex education classes, where we were taught how to practice safer sex , which was partly to avoid pregnancy, but was a lot to avoid contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The science in treating HIV+ was lagging behind what it is today and the possibility of AIDS was central to our sex education lessons, before pregnancy, because pregnancy was reversible but not AIDS.

In this generation, that priority in sex ed classes will change again (if teens even get sex ed, which in many states is not a given) – not only because people can now live their life as HIV-positive, but also because in many states people will likely lose our legal rights to a surgical abortion.

My whole perspective on birth control and abortion is turned upside down, so it’s time to think about how we teach children about these issues in the new reality. Sure, those of us who live in liberal states can take comfort in knowing that abortion will remain legal in our state, but what does it look like in a country with a patchwork of reproductive rights? What conversations are increasingly important in this changing landscape? What are parents supposed to tell their kids about sex in a post-Roe world?

Here are some basic principles to remember:

1. Open lines of communication are essential.

Having conversations with our children early and often about how their bodies work, how their bodies change, and how to keep their bodies safe has never been more important. By building the muscle to talk about these issues now, as children grow into teens and young adults who will have sex, they understand that their trusted adults can provide them with reliable information and are available to answer difficult questions and confusing.

2. Teach them about sex, as it will keep them safer.

Study after study tells us that teens who receive sex education are After likely to engage in safer sex; abstinence sex education alone does not lead to less sex just leads to less sure sex. It is a parent’s responsibility to understand what type of sex education is taught at your teen’s school, as there is a good chance that there will be homeschooling to be done on prevention of sex. pregnancy, consent and contraception. It’s a job you can’t delegate to someone else.

3. Where they go to college, but not this way.

I used to say I didn’t care where my kids went to college as long as they were happy, but that’s not the case anymore. I don’t care what the name of the college is, but I care what state this college is in. It is my job, in partnership with my children, to understand reproductive rights where their school is located and what services are available through their campus health center. I benefited from going to school where many reproductive resources were available and I want the same for my children.

4. Gently open the door.

As hard as it is to imagine your baby having sex, at some point it will happen. (Fun fact, studies show vaginal sex is happening later these days.) If you suspect your child is engaging in some sort of sexual activity, get ahead in a non-intrusive way. and without judgement. Less: Do you have sex? If you are, I will kill you. After: I don’t know where you are in your relationship, but there are some things I want to cover so I know you’re staying healthy and safe. This way, if your child needs help, they can come to you. The ability to speak to a trusted adult is more important than ever if abortion becomes illegal in many places across the country.

While the best practices for talking to kids about sex won’t change much in a post-Roe world – keep the lines of communication open, get ahead of the problem, don’t just delegate to schools – there will be new logistical and legal considerations will come into play. Teens and young adults need help navigating this new reality and we are their best guides through the maze. Our job is to keep our children healthy and safe, and the best way to do that is to make sure they know they can come to us for help.

Vanessa Kroll Bennett is the co-host of The puberty podcast; the founder of dynamo girl, a company that uses sports and puberty education to empower children; and the author of Uncertain Parenting Newsletter, reflections on the education of adolescents. You can follow her on Instagram @vanessakrollbennett.



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