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February 14, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 106

Should I Give the Sex Talk if I Think I’m Already Too Late?

Episode 106

Parents should view sexual development as a facet of overall healthy development, but that’s not always easy to do. Dr. Lisa and Reena unpack the concept of “the sex talk” and Lisa explains that, instead of a single sit-down, conversations about physical intimacy should be short, start earlier than expected, and happen over time. Reena asks how parents can find openings to discuss sex when it can be such an awkward topic, and whether parents should really expect (or even want) for their kids to be open about their sex lives. Lisa describes how different cultures take different approaches to their kids’ emerging love lives, and what the Dutch get right about sex.

February 14, 2023 | 32 min

Transcript | Should I Give the Sex Talk if I Think I’m Already Too Late?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 106: Should I Give the Sex Talk if I Think I’m Already Too Late?

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
Lisa and I are so excited to have you join us for our live conversation this November. Figure. It’s a great time in the school year to get together in real time, but the live streaming event where we answer your parenting questions from your home, we’ve got limited spots available because we want to make this intimate and get to as many of your questions as possible. So to get your tickets, go to our show notes, or our Instagram profile at Lisa podcast. The event is November 6 8pm. Eastern. We’re so excited to speak with you. So head over to our show notes or Instagram handle to register. We’ll see you November 6.

This is ask Lisa a podcast to help people understand the psychology of parenting psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour, author of two New York Times Best Selling parenting books takes your questions. And I’m co host Reena Ninan and a journalist and mom of two. Some of what we talk about comes from raising children ourselves. Most of the time, I’ll be getting answers to your parenting questions. So send your questions to ask Lisa at Dr. Lisa damour.com. Episode 106. Should I give the sex talk if I think I’m already too late?

Well, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Lisa Damour
Happy Valentine’s Day, Reena.

Reena Ninan
It’s like a love hate relationship with this holiday. Right? But it can I tell you, it’s even more painful when you have a teen, especially if the kids around them have significant others and they don’t.

Lisa Damour
It’s true. I feel like Valentine’s day is like sweet for kids who do have relationships and extremely painful for kids who do not it just sort of puts in their face that they are single for the moment at least.

Reena Ninan
And can I say a moment of panic for parents who do have kids who are in relationships? Because what do you do if you haven’t really had that sex talk yet? And we got this literally so I thought it was perfect for us to talk about on Valentine’s Day. Dear Lisa, I have a question that I would love help on my 16 year old daughter just had her first boyfriend and break up after three months. I wasn’t ready for it when it started but got on board, because he seems so sweet. And now he just broke up with her. She was initially heartbroken but seems to be bouncing back. Well, I recently came across a text that made me realize they were physical. Before I had managed to have that conversation with her. How do I bring up the sex conversation after they’ve already fooled around? I don’t want her to know that I know. And I wonder if it’s unrealistic to expect her to tell me that I’m just shocked because she appears so sweet and innocent. And I’m having a very hard time integrating the fact that my teen has a sexual side to herself, which I realize okay, might sound absurd. It’s just hard to integrate. I would love any advice. Thank you so much. Can I just ask you off the top? For parents who think we’ve got this really sweet, innocent daughter? Does that happen often that they really have this other side that they hide from their parents? Um, I think let me reframe it back to you like, okay, sexual development is part of healthy development. And I think what I so love about this letter is this parent just saying like, it’s so weird to think of my kid in this way. It’s so hard to think of my kid as having a physical life. I don’t know if they had intercourse or not. But why don’t we assume for the sake of argument that they did.

Lisa Damour
I, I think that rather than working with what is a very kind of predominant and very American framing, and especially around girls, that like sex is naughty sex is wrong, right? We really want to accept like, this is part of healthy development. I think this parent is just being very straight up about the fact that like, wow, this is hard to kind of bring into my understanding of who my kid is.

Reena Ninan
Oh, that’s so interesting. Should the mom lead on that she actually knows that she’s had some something

Lisa Damour
We don’t know, this is interesting. And it gets to questions we’ve picked up in other podcasts about if you see something on your kids texts, is that something for you? No discussion between the two of you. And it’s not my sense from the letter that this parent has made it clear. Or that this girl understands that the mom may be looking at our texts. So I think it opens up a whole other can of worms to be like, Okay, two things. One is I was looking at your text and two while you were having sex. Whoa, those are two kind of big Whopper things if they come together. So my inclination, I mean, I think you know, this is about maintaining a good working relationship with his kid, right? We talk about that all the time. If the mother feels the need to look at the girl’s texts going forward, I think she should give the kid the heads up that she’s doing it. I don’t know what benefit comes with This point from saying, number one, I’ve been looking at your text without telling you. And number two, I didn’t realize you were having sex, I think it’s already happened. I don’t know that there’s benefit going forward.

Reena Ninan
Got it. So you don’t think the mom should obviously don’t don’t say that you’ve seen the text, but the mom shouldn’t say, Listen, going forward, I’m gonna be checking your texts, like you just don’t think there’s,

Lisa Damour
Well, if she’s gonna go do it going forward, I think she needs to tell you. Of course, she might be like, okay, you know what my kids 16. And this is too much information. And I basically trust her. And so I’m gonna stop looking at her texts. That’s another route this mom could take.

Reena Ninan
Interesting. So what do you think? Is it ever too late to have that talk? And it’s like a weird point now, because, right, she’s kind of crossed something here, there’s no

Lisa Damour
horses out of the barn. So I think we want to unpack the term, the sex talk. Because the way this mom is framing it in the letter is like, Oh, I meant to sit down and discuss all of these things with her. And I thought I had more time. Here’s the reality, it does not work. Well, to have it as a single sit down at a timing of the parents choose, like this letter is evidence that it’s not going to work well, like it’s, you know, and what I would love instead, if we took the term sex talk, and we put in there, in our minds, instead of like the single sit down a series of touchpoint conversations over a long period of time, that grow with the child, and the details of which grow with the child. And there’s a lot of reasons to do this. One is, you don’t know when this is going to be relevant or important information for your kid. Another is kids can actually tolerate very long conversations with their parents about anything delicate usually. And certainly sex would be in that category. And so, you know, I think about it all the time, like on these delicate conversations, like we’re like a SWAT team we’re in, we’re out, we say what we got to say we leave the door open for more questions if they have them. But we don’t make them sit there and squirm just thinking, How do I get out of this? How do I get out of this? We do it quickly.

Reena Ninan
Okay, that’s interesting, because we in society often frame it as you have one talk. And that’s it, just that one talk, but you’re saying, first off, when should you even start sort of dropping little, planting little seeds? If I can use that? Metaphor? Metaphor? No,

Lisa Damour
it’s a good metaphor. And it’s kind of funny metaphor. I like it. Let’s go with it. Let’s go with it. You can start surprisingly early, one of the conversations that can come up with your three and four year old are questions about consent, and what’s allowed and what’s not. Okay. And so it may come up in terms of you saying, hey, you know, I see that you’re struggling with your overalls, can I help you get those overalls on? Right? So the parent, even in that moment, is giving a lesson about consent, like I’m about to put my hands on your body, I’m going to check to make sure that’s okay. We can then have, I will tell you, I have jokingly talked with my daughters about consent, when they are wrestling with each other or in each other’s faces. And they’re like, I’m like consent, consent, and they just like crack up and laugh and like, blow me off. But I think there’s even like, I have discovered light hearted moments in family life. If you have more than one kid where you can make comments around like she really consenting to that. Are you forcing that, since the start of a sex talk Vina, like that’s where we get the ball rolling on allowed and not allowed and okay, and not okay. And then often, and this comes up in other domains to kids will say stuff about their friends, or their classmates. And that’s an invitation to talk about romances. Have your kid started talking about like, couples in their class? Or who likes who is that up

Reena Ninan
or real? I haven’t heard anything yet on that. No, no.

Lisa Damour
Which gets to the issue that kids often do not want to have these conversations with their parents because I promise you Reena given the grades your kids are in? Yeah, there’s actually like there are a couple of

Reena Ninan
gosh, oh, okay. Yes. crushes for sure. For sure.

Lisa Damour
Well, and there may even be kissing or Yeah, you know,

Reena Ninan
so what happens? I’m just I’m in denial. I’m the mom in denial. Just like in this letter here.

Lisa Damour
It’s very common right to just be like they’re a little kids. They’re so sweet like that. So that’s exactly off in the future. It’s often not nearly as far away as we think it is. So what I would say is as parents what we’re looking for our choice opportunities to talk about romance over time talking about physical romance over time, the physical side of sexuality. And keep it quick and keep It matching where the kid is at the moment. Now a parent might be saying, I never have an opening, like my kid never brings it up. I feel weird bringing it up, because I feel like they’re just gonna go running for the hills. Yeah. And if that’s the case, I think that it’s a really smart idea for parents to say something to their kids, like, you know, it maybe by sixth grade. Yeah, fifth or sixth grade is definitely when this topic is on the playground for sure. I think it’s a great idea for parents to say, Listen, you may start to hear about sex, you may start to hear about, you know, all things sexual. I’m going to make a promise to you. I am here to answer any questions you have and give you good information. And my promise to you is that whatever question you ask me, I will answer that question. And I will stop, I will not continue to give you any more information, unless you want it. Because sometimes I have seen when parents like really want to have those sex talk with their kid. And then the kid like cracks the door open a little bit. The current parent comes barging forward with all of this extra information because like, I did not want all that information. And then the door closes and locks and the kids like I am never going to ask another question. It’s over. Okay, that’s one way to do it.

Reena Ninan
Lisa, do you think it’s unrealistic of this mom to expect her daughter to be open and to share her sex life?

Lisa Damour
I think it probably is. What do you think, Reena?

Reena Ninan
I just when you have parents who are you know, from India, and you just never ever engaged in sex until you’re married? Period? I think that there’s a whole you just don’t know, you don’t want to talk to your parents about that, do you?

Lisa Damour
I think I’m in the US. It’s not something we tend to have deep family conversations between parents and their kids about what’s happening in their sex lives. That’s a boundary that we keep in place. I will say in Scandinavia, it’s a very different around that I…

Reena Ninan
Yeah, I almost want us to have somebody from Scandinavia to talk about sex, because we are are we doing it wrong in America?

Lisa Damour
Well, by the numbers in terms of bad outcomes, the answer is yes. And by bad outcomes, I mean, unwanted pregnancies STIs. among adolescents, we are doing the wrong and let’s unpack that from it. But I will tell you, the general view from Europe is that Americans have a lot of hang ups around sex that we don’t talk about it comfortably that we make it weirder than it has to be. I think our view going back would be like you guys are like super, you know, liberal around things that we seem to find that much more buttoned up attitude to be appropriate. But what I’ll tell you is that the American stance that is pretty common, and especially around adolescence, and especially around adolescent girls, that like sex is naughty or bad or you know, should be delayed as long as absolutely possible. What it does is it makes our kids less likely to take good care of themselves in the context of sexual interactions to use birth control to make sure that they’re not going to transmit or, you know, receive an STI or STD. Whereas in countries, largely, you know, the Dutch are especially good at this in countries where sex is seen as part of normal and healthy development and kids or adolescents are given, you know, permission to have desire, have an interest take, you know, want to have physical intimacy. What comes with that is much more comfort, talking about, you know, keeping oneself safe in the context of sex, you know, whether or not there’s going to be birth control who’s going to bring it and there was an incredible study done, where American women and Scandinavian women I think were surveyed about their attitudes right. on birth control, and the Scandinavian was college women’s college women, Scandinavian college women were like, yeah, no, you, you know, you keep condom just in case something fun comes up. Whereas the American, the quote from the study that was so compelling was an American female college student saying, if you take a condom to a party, it means you’re a slot. And, and so, yeah, we’re doing it wrong from the standpoint of health outcomes for young people. And so, on the one hand, I’m not saying so everybody goes, start interviewing your children about their sex lives, right? Like, that’s not what I’m recommending. But what I have recommending is if we really try to go with this model, that of course, our kids are going to have desire. And of course, our kids are going to want to be physically intimate. And we want to create conditions where we normalize that and then make as part of that, taking really good care of oneself. And one part one’s partners through that process.

Reena Ninan
Does it work? Do you find I mean, I know that you’re not with teenagers, right? Before they’re having intimate relations. But does it work? Get into the minds of teens that carry a condom, like, this is how you practice? Like, do you find that having this conversation over and over again, actually sinks in?

Lisa Damour
Well, we do have research showing that kids care what we say, and they care what we think. And so, you know, back to the question of like, if your kid’s not bringing it up, right, so one is to say, I’ll answer your questions. You know, don’t feel like you’re gonna regret having asked me, I think another conversation on another day, right? We’re thinking SWAT team you’re in, you’re out, you don’t do this over and over again on the same day, is to say, hey, you know, you’re not bringing up questions. And that’s okay, we’re always ready for them if you have them. But here’s a couple things that we want you to know, or that I, as your parent want you to know. Number one, when it comes to your love life, you know, it’s really important that you focus on what you want, and what you want to have happen. First, second, focus on what your partner wants. Third, focus on what you both want together. Fourth, you know, make sure whatever you want together, you’re doing it in a safe way, you know, you we I am very happy to answer questions about birth control, you know, where you can access condoms if you need it. You can say all that in a conversation. So you make it clear, like we expect desire, we respect your desire, we want you to take really good care of yourself. Now, another conversation can be about values installation around other things. And you can say to your kids, so, you know, like Reena, you describe your family had a very clear sense of what the values were around when intercourse happened, right, that those were communicated to you? Were they ever set out right? Or were they just understood?

Reena Ninan
It was fully understood, and they were immigrant parents. We went to church every Sunday, and I still do enjoy doing that. But you know, I think that it is one of those things where Oh, my God, no, I mean, I think if you were to talk to my parents things, you know, they’ve evolved since then. But but that the truth is, there are I don’t know, I just feel like growing up in the 80s. And 90s is very different than, you know, today. And I will also want to be respectful to there are some families who really do encourage their kids not to engage in sexual activity. But for those who, you know, yeah, we’re happy to…

Lisa Damour
They can, but you know, even if you don’t put the line in marriage, right, there may be families that put the line at marriage, and that is certainly you know, values, we need to respect how families talk and think about it in their own homes is entirely their business. But there are other lines parents could articulate. And so you could say, you know, here’s our view, as a family, we think that intercourse is something that happens in the context of and then you can do fill in the blank, right marriage, you know, in a loving relationship. Having known the person for a long time, being at least college aged, I mean, like, I don’t like people can insert their view here. Now, the teenager may like be like, Yeah, whatever, roll their eyes get me outta here, right. I mean, it’s very unlikely that the teenager is going to be like, I have been wondering so much about when you thought intercourse was appropriate. I’m so glad you brought it up. But that’s okay. Because rolling the eyes, you know, Reena, I could take that as like, I heard you let the kid out. But those things will shape and inform decisions kids make. So if your family has a strong sense of values about that, be very clear what your values are. And at the same time, and it’s interesting to watch this theme come up around drinking around, you know, intercourse, say, but whenever you do, make this choice for yourself. What we care about is that you’re doing what you want and you’re doing it safely.

Reena Ninan
That’s great to hear. You’re doing what you want, but you’re doing it safely. So how do you integrate as the mom it clearly in this email is struggling with it. In your mind that your kid is now sexually active. That’s that’s whoa, whoa.

Lisa Damour
It’s really funny. I had two stories Reena just to normalize how hard this is. One was in my own house. So my husband is wonderful, very thorough, thoughtful, very introverted, and not someone who likes to talk about sex in any public forum of any kind. And luckily, I am much more comfortable talking about it because of my job. And I remember, one time when our daughters were younger, I was sort of teasing him about this, like you, we both know who’s gonna end up doing the sex talks? And he’s like, absolutely. And I said to him, What would you do if one of our girls asked you a question about sex. And he said, without skipping a beat, he said, Oh, I would fake a stroke.

Like he and so really speaks to how a lot of parents maybe have a lot of dads with daughters may feel like I would just fake a stroke, like, I would just try to get out of that conversation as fast as possible. And then when I remember when I was in my training, there was a senior psychologist at the clinic where I was doing my training. And, you know, it’s very interesting to be in a psychological training clinic, because like, everyone’s a psychologist, so we’re all thinking in very kind of, you know, psychological frameworks all the time, while we’re all living our lives alongside each other, and having big things happen, like marriages, and babies, and all of that. And I remember the senior psychologists daughter was coming home from college with her boyfriend. And the senior psychologist was talking about having this kid, this boy come home with his daughter. And so I remember seeing him the next day after the daughter had come home from college with the boy. And I was like, So do you like him? And the senior psychologist said, I like him, and I want to kill him.

Reena Ninan
It’s so good.

Lisa Damour
So, which is to say, It’s okay, if it’s a little hard to integrate that view of your kid, because that’s not the view of our kid that we have or that we share. And the only thing I would say, to try to like just normalize it even further. mean it. You know how like, we all have different sides of ourselves that we exercise in different places. So like, my younger daughter does not like to watch when I’m on television. Why? She says it doesn’t look like you doesn’t sound like you. It’s not the mom. I know. And it’s actually not sound like, I’m in a professional setting. Yeah, we all have different sides that we don’t we don’t share every last one of them with the people in our families. Yeah.

Reena Ninan
Oh, that’s that’s such a great. That’s, that’s such a great anecdote. I want to ask you, though, when you’re dealing with a situation like this, where you might not have had the sex talk, where do you think this mom should go from here? Like, she clearly it sounds to me, like wants to approach this topic. It’s clearly uncomfortable. We all agree. But if you’ve never really done it, and they’re sexually active, what’s your advice at that point?

Lisa Damour
So I think this mom may have an opening, you know, if discussion about this boy comes out, which I imagine at some level, it will or a discussion about another, you know, romantic partner comes up. I think the mom may have an opening to say, you know, this might be too little too late. But there’s some things I’ve been wanting to say to you about how we think about physical intimacy in this family, what our values are, what our beliefs are. And then she could lay it out, she could say the piece around like, it’s got to be centered around your desire, it’s got to be centered around safety. You know, here’s how we think the timing is is you know, but I think again, the timing question, she may now have new information and not want to make this girl feels ashamed. Right. So she may set the timing question aside. So I don’t think the door is closed to having conversations about sex. And I do think all parents should, if they can not fake a stroke through this, all parents should offer to their kids. We are very glad to be sources of information. Because we know a lot of kids are getting their information about sex from porn, right? Kids are curious about sex. And so I mean, you know, I have memories of being very curious about sex and looking up penis in the dictionary, right? Like, yeah, differences are really boring definition.

Reena Ninan
Encyclopedia Britannica.

Lisa Damour
Exactly, exactly. So now gives typing penis and like, oh, wow, what comes across? So you’re competing with porn as the other sex educator in this you want to put yourself out there as like, we are happy to provide you good information about how this actually operates and answer your questions. So I think that can still happen. I think, you know, the mom being clear like how much she wants her daughter’s desire to sit at the center of this can still happen. But I I think there’s just some taking it under advisement that this mom needs to do like her kids a sexual kid because her kids are healthy growing human being. And it’s a big adjustment for all of us.

Reena Ninan
I also love what you I think maybe in season one had said, you know, these tough conversations that you don’t want to have, are sometimes great to have in the car, I think we have this big thing like the sex talk, you take them out to lunch, and then you and it’s like, awful. And what you are saying one of the big takeaways from this podcast is have these conversations early and often not one. Start with consent over just simple as zipping up a jacket that you know, getting that ingrained. But I love what you have told us in the past that sometimes not having to make eye contact in a car and you get in and out quickly.

Lisa Damour
Yeah. And I’ll say it again, often, if you really have to have a conversation started two to three minutes from when you’re home. All the kid is thinking I promise you as soon as you like. So I want to talk with you about our values about intercourse, the kid is thinking, How do I get out of this? Like, they can hardly hear what you’re saying? Because they’re like, get me out, get me out. So if they’re like, Okay, I can throw myself from the car in two minutes, your chances of them being able to take in and listen to what you’re offering are going up. That’s great.

Reena Ninan
Well, thank you, Lisa. So what do you have for us for parenting to go?

Lisa Damour
I’ve been thinking Reena about the themes that recur in our podcast, and I just love the way in which all the various questions we have coming from so many different directions sort of bring us to these various recurrent topics and principles. And the principle that I think rises to the surface in this conversation is the idea of maintaining an ongoing working relationship with your adolescent, that that is the main aim, right? For all good things flow from that your kids safety flows from that your enjoyment of your teenager flows from that, like everything we want hinges on having a good working relationship with your kid. And so I think so much what I want to offer parents is not like, I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t say to your kid, right? Like, the variables are millions. What we can say is walk up to it with the question of, if I approach it this way, what will the impact be on my ongoing working relationship with my kid? If I approach it that way? What will the impact be? And use that as a guiding force? And so we can think about that in terms of this mom and the next conversation she has that way of thinking that the relationship is the core should be helpful.

Reena Ninan
That puts so much into perspective. And you got me to rethink that that will this damage our relationship which you say is an instrumental part of your thinking and how you approach our conversations often?

Lisa Damour
Absolutely.

Reena Ninan
I cannot tell you I am so excited about our episode. Next week, we’re going to be talking about your incredible book that’ll officially be out next week. If you haven’t preorder you know, I’ve been saying it because I believe this fully you’re gonna pop this buckets. So good, Lisa. It’s called the emotional lives of teenagers and we’re going to talk about it extra. I cannot wait. What Happy Valentine’s Day you gotta give us a lot to talk about sex. Happy

Lisa Damour
Valentine’s Day Reena.

Reena Ninan
I’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
See you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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