Ep 182: Tips for Tackling “The Talk”

Andrea Brand, author of Stop Sweating & Start Talking, shine slight on why sex talks are so essential, and what we can do to make them less awkward. 

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Full show notes

For centuries, parents all over the world have been plagued by the sex talk. How could we possibly cover all the intricacies and complications of fornication with our teens? And even if we’re able to sit teens down for “the talk”, they aren’t exactly excited to get into an awkward discussion about the birds and the bees. As soon as you start talking about body parts, teens run the other way or cover their ears.…and you’re left wondering if the two of you will ever be able to talk to about sex!

As difficult as it is to have these discussions, they are essential to teens' physical and mental health. Kids are going to be interested in sex regardless, and if they dont learn about it from you, they’ll turn to the internet. And while the web can have some educational info, it also houses plenty of dark and disturbing content that can lead kids to develop harmful ideas about consent and sexual violence. If we want to help kids form a healthy relationship to their sexuality, we’ve got to step in sooner rather than later…. and have that dreaded sex talk.

To get some much-needed advice on navigating “the talk” , we’re sitting down with Andrea Brand, author of Stop Sweating & Start Talking: How to Make Sex Chats with Your Kids Easier Than You Think. Andrea has decades of experience working in public health and as a research consultant, and now has a career as a sex educator! Today, she’s giving us some innovative tips for making “the talk” less painful and more effective!

In our interview, we’re getting into why it’s so essential to have these talks…and why it’s so dang hard! Plus, Andrea tells us how we can form community groups for teens to learn about sexuality, and what we can do to ensure a sex talk goes smoothly.

Why Sex Chats Are So Stigmatized

If things were ideal, kids would get a decent sexual education at school–but that’s not what’s happening, says Andrea. Although federal U.S. guidelines suggest that schools have sex education programs, only thirty states actually require sex ed to be taught–and only fifteen states require these classes to be medically accurate! And even the schools who do pay attention to medical facts often have a curriculum that’s out of date, with no regard for current research, Andrea explains. 

`So we can’t rely on schools to give our kids comprehensive info about sexuality…where are they going to get the education they need? Andrea explains that if we don’t want these lessons to come from random internet searches, they’ll have to come from parents. By surveying parents from all over, Andrea found that most want to have these talks, but are too embarrassed! Andrea explains that a lot of this is generational–if our parents were too uncomfortable talking to us about sex, we often feel uneasy about discussing it with our own kids.

In the episode, Andrea and I talk about how we can break this generational cycle. If we can work up the confidence to have these conversations, it can be a great way to share values with our kids. Sex talks include discussions about consent, relationships, and self esteem–all of which are important to talk about even independent of intercourse! Andrea encourages parents to consider their own values, and how they can pass these on to kids who are still forming ideas about what sexual relationships look like.

Having one-on-one conversations can be incredibly valuable, but talking in groups can be helpful as well! In the episode, Andrea and I explain how you can get your teen involved in a community sex education group.

The Power of Peer Support

Andrea believes that talking to others in the same age group can be a transformative way for teens to learn about sex! This kind of community, formed around sex and body discussions, isn’t particularly common–but Andrea says it can be remarkably powerful. These kinds of groups can be part of a wider organization, like the regional “OWL” program of the Unitarian Universalist church. They can also be found online or, as Andrea recommends, you can form your own!

Now, starting a group for teens to discuss sexuality doesn’t sound easy. But after forming one herself, Andrea believes anyone can do it! She explains that with an informal setting and some basic resources, these groups can be formed without too much of a challenge. If you want to find success, Andrea suggests being deliberate about who is in the group–hers contains teens who already knew one another, none of whom are her own children! 

Although the group began was formed to discuss sex, it soon grew beyond that. Andrea explains that the group expanded to talk about the many challenges of adolescent life–from school and overbearing parents, to body image and worries about the future. By participating as though she was just another member of the group, Andrea was able to forge trust among everyone involved, and create a safe space to discuss anything and everything.

Whether it’s one-on-one or in a group, a lot can happen over the course of the conversation about the birds and the bees. Andrea provides some pointers for handling the tricky discussion.

Tips for Tackling “The Talk”

To really provide proper sex education to kids, Andrea recommends having many talks over the course of your kid’s life. Instead of one long conversation, short, casual discussions can feel a lot more accessible to a teen. The earlier you can start, the better, says Andrea. She recommends starting as soon as kids develop basic language skills–although it’s never too late! The conversation could come from anywhere, whether it’s a scene in a TV show or a lyric in a song on the radio.

One way to ensure that teens are up to maintaining this dialogue is by not being too reactive, says Andrea. If you freak out or make a teen feel ashamed of their questions, they aren’t likely to come to you again for advice. If a teen says something that triggers you, Andrea recommends taking some time away from the conversation so that you don’t lose your cool. As long as you circle back to the topic eventually, it’s better to pause and process than explode and violate teens’ trust.

Andrea suggests letting kids know upfront when a topic is challenging for you. By being open and vulnerable, you’re allowing them to do the same, she explains. Kids might have opinions about sex that are different from yours, but Andrea believes that disagreement can be a good thing. If you can have open communication despite differing viewpoints, you can broaden each other’s perspectives while teaching kids that it’s ok to respectfully disagree with someone.

In the Episode….

It was so enlightening to speak with Andrea today about how we can handle the perils of the sex talk. In our interview, we also discuss:
  • How to set a tone of respect during sex talks
  • Why we should be concerned about porn
  • How to discuss tricky topics that aren’t sexual
  • Why it’s important to talk to kids about sexual pleasure
Thanks for tuning in this week! If you enjoyed the episode, you can find more of Andrea’s work on her website, arbcoaching.com, or on her instagram, @arbcoach. Don’t forget to subscribe and share and we’ll see you next week!

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Ep 182: Tips for Tackling “The Talk”
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