There has been a surge in what might be considered taboo conversations taking place in my office these days. It seems teenagers have more questions about sex than ever. I welcome these conversations, and I hope my willingness to discuss absolutely anything is evident to my clients (especially those who have been working with me for a while). I realize though that I can’t just hope for teenagers to know that no topic is off-limits here—sometimes I have to ask questions they aren’t expecting but sense are on their hearts and minds.
I knew I wanted to work with adolescents from the start of my graduate studies, and I wrote my Masters’ thesis on the subject of adolescent sexual risk-taking. I think it is important for me to be transparent about my stance regarding teenagers and sexuality, and although I was tempted to include an academic citation from my thesis here; I decided to spare you the research (you’re welcome) and stick to my own clinical beliefs.
1) I do not support shaming adolescents into fear regarding their natural sexual development;
and I do not support the idea that abstinence is the only healthy choice.
2) I do support open conversations about reducing health risks at the onset of sexual activity.
3) I do support honoring and respecting a teenagers’ journey through gender and sexual identity, and I do think listening is needed more than judgment.
4) I do not think it is easy (as a therapist or for parents) to both participate in non-judgmental conversations about these topics AND to be clear that choices about sexuality and gender sometimes have a devastating emotional, physical, familial, and social impact.
These beliefs have been my guide during these recent conversations about sexuality. My clients are my guides too. Different families present with different concerns, and I believe one of my strengths as a therapist is to meet people where they are and to not push them into seeing things my way. I want each client to be the expert in the room, and I think that is an important part of how I work. Let’s be honest though—teenagers are struggling with expertise in the area of sexual development so sometimes I meet them where they are and give them some facts too.
What, you may be wondering, are teenagers asking me about? Several are confused about HB2 (aren’t we all). Many are asking questions about oral sex and risks of sexually transmitted diseases. Quite a few have questions about pornography—like how to refuse to accept pornography into their sexual lives when their peers say “it is just what all the guys do”. One client wants to know what it means if he feels more like a girl than a boy, but doesn’t really want to change his gender. Another client wants to know what might happen if she tells her boyfriend she doesn’t want to have intercourse yet. A female client cried as she explained that her boyfriend had cringed when she tried to hug him and then said he was asexual—which she couldn’t begin to understand. Another client wants to stop looking at pornography, but he doesn’t know how.
I’m writing this blog post because I think we all can do a better job talking openly about these topics—and really the place to start this is at home, or in the car, or on a walk AND NOT just hope that the health class at school is covering everything. Even though teenagers certainly know a lot more about sex than my generation did at that age, when they are talking with each other their information comes with plenty of distortion. Peers aren’t always the best sources for advice during adolescence, so make sure your teenager has a handful of adults available for these heartfelt conversations. Therapists and parents shouldn’t be the only option—maybe remind your teenager of all the adults in their life who are available for chatting: the priest at church, the rabbi at temple, the guidance counselor at school, your best friend, or maybe their aunt or uncle.
One thing is clear: don’t leave your teen with just their peers as their advisors about sex. Would you let your teen’s best friend teach her to drive? I didn’t think so!
For questions about this blog post or more information about Newcastle Family Therapy feel free to call 704.650.9425 or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.