Full Show Notes
It might be every parent’s worst nightmare.
You finally get some down time, and you want to resume watching the highlights to last night’s game, or your favorite sitcom rerun. You pull up the web browser on the shared, family iPad, and you see it. Right there in the search history. Unmistakable.
The time has come, and there’s no way around it. You must now have “The Talk” with your kid. Tell all your friends to wish you luck.
Talking to teens about sex is one of the most common reasons parents come to us looking for help. But why is this conversation so awkward? Sex is supposed to be a positive thing! You should be free to talk about it with your kid, but the fears are common and understandable.
“What if I put an idea in their head and they begin experimenting on their own?”
“What if they ask questions about my sex life I don’t want to answer?”
“What if talking about it makes them too curious, and gets them in trouble?”
These are valid and important questions, and you are not alone if you are asking them. So to help get some quality answers and learn some best practices when talking to teens about sex, I spoke with the amazing, Dina Alexander.
Dina is the founder and CEO of Educate and Empower Kids (EEK), and she has been teaching in various capacities for over 20 years. She created programs like How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and 30 Days of Sex Talks to help parents have positive, informed conversations about sex and pornography with their kids.
The Dangers of Silence
Dina founded EEK after reading an article about teenage porn consumption. The numbers in the article seemed too overwhelming to be true. But sure enough, when she did her own research to verify what she saw, she came to the following realization:
“There is going to be no one left for my daughter to date who won’t have been highly influenced by, or addicted to, porn.”
The scope of the sex industry is hard to fathom, but the dangers it produces for teenagers cannot be ignored. Porn does not teach a positive view of sex. Dina says that parents will have their own beliefs about defining positive sex. However you define positive sex, though, it’s unlikely that porn is accurately representing your beliefs.
Porn teaches a dominant and submissive understanding of sex. As Dina puts it, porn shows teens extreme and unrealistic displays of sexual gymnastics. The problem is that teens don’t understand that what they’re seeing is unrealistic! They are not watching an intimate relationship when they watch porn!
Talking to teens about sex is even scarier when you consider how sensitive a developing teenage brain is to visual imagery. During the teen years, the rapid growth of neural pathways latch on to visual media like TV shows, movies, and pornographic images. Heavy porn consumption normalizes the neural pathways that says “porn is how sex happens.” And the risk of your teen falling into heavy porn consumption without guidance is sadly high.
Dina says that Pornhub’s statistics on total time spent watching porn on their site last year added up to about 500 CENTURIES!!!
This is why talking to teens about sex is something Dina is so fired up to teach to parents. Let’s hear what she has to say:
More Than Just One Talk
First off, Dina says that the idea of “The Talk” just doesn’t work. It’s unfair to assume that you can have one conversation with your kids and they will suddenly understand all your values behind sex. Instead, Dina wants parents to realize that talking to teens about sex means regularly taking the time to normalize the topic of sex in your conversations.
Dina’s programs suggest 30 days of talking to teens about sex in short segments. Depending on your values around sex and the context between you and your teen, you can go through these chats in any order. The idea is to normalize conversation about sex with your teen. If your teen can’t come to you with their questions about sex, then where else would they go for answers other than the phone in their pocket?
Sure, they’ll have a class about it at school, and maybe your church will hold a “purity retreat,” but teens will always have more questions. Dina believes that the home should be the safest place for their questions. If parents aren’t talking to teens about sex, then it’s fair to assume that teens are getting their questions answered elsewhere.
It’s About A Relationship
Odds are, your teenager is going to be exposed to pornography. Talking to teens about sex before this exposure gives you a chance to establish what healthy sex looks like. Having these talks can be scary, but Dina assures that there are a lot of preliminary talks you can have to set up the tougher topics.
In most cases, the first conversation you have with your kid is not going to be about porn. It might not even be about sex! Depending on what your values as parents are, the first conversation you have might be, “How do you know who the right person is?” Or, “What does a healthy relationship look like?”
Dina is quick to point out that talking to teens about sex is not all about the organs. You’ll get to that, but there are a lot of rules and boundaries you can discuss beforehand. Teens will learn all about STDs and unwanted pregnancies in sex-ed at school. At home, you can frame sex as a positive, healthy subject to talk about.
Dina says that nothing gets a teenager’s attention more than their parents being brave and talking about their mistakes. By showing vulnerability as you talk, you can have a lasting positive impact on your relationship. Sharing your past mistakes while talking to teens about sex gets the teens to think about what mistakes they might be making.
Vulnerability opens the door for your teens to ask you more questions. These might be tough questions, but you want your teen to trust you with their tough questions!
Teens and Their Questions
When your teen feels like they can talk more openly about sex with you, they might ask you a “test” question to see what kind of response you will give. For example, you might be asked:
“Hey, what if someone sends me a nude picture?”
Depending on your answer to that question, they might then feel safe to ask their real question:
“Hey, how do I get someone to delete a nude picture of me?”
You won’t always know when a question is a “test” question. This is why Dina encourages parents to always respond kindly with a followup question, and listen twice as much as they speak.
If you pounce on the “test” question, your teen might not trust you enough to ask the real question. However, if you were asked the “test” question above you can respond:
“Is that something you’re worried about?”
This extends respect and a desire to love and understand your child. By holding eye contact and patiently listening, you are maintaining a safe space for talking to teens about sex. They are empowered to be brave and ask you the real questions.
Lots More to Discuss
Talking to teens about sex will never be easy. It’s possible that with the growth of the sex industry and evolution of technology, that these talks will only get harder. This is no reason for parents to shirk away, though. In fact, it’s all the more reason for parents to speak up about their own values surrounding sex.
You might not have all the answers to your teen’s questions, but there are a lot of ways to be prepared for talking to teens about sex. In this interview alone, Dina and I talk about:
- Sex talks for parents with sexual trauma
- Lots more on pornography (and why parents haven’t talked about it)
- “Healthy Sexual Intimacy” & Dina’s thoughts on hookup sex
- Loving your kids no matter what
- Pulling back the curtain on the sex industry
- Sexual Abuse and Bullying
- Love, Independence, & Power – long term vs short term solutions
- A callback to Chris Voss’s magic words for connecting with your teens
Sex is complex, and often uncomfortable to talk about. Thankfully, Dina has all the tools for helping parents master talking to teens about sex. Plus, she has amazing grace with this topic. Definitely give this episode a listen!
Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen
1. If your teen is watching porn:
“Part of sexual intimacy is what you create on your own. It’s your own attitudes about sex that you have to develop. But I want them to be YOURS. Not just what you’ve copied from porn or an R-rated movie. I don’t want an industry teaching you what sex is. I want you to figure that out on your own with your partner.”-Dina Alexander
2. Tell your teen that porn is run by large corporations, it isn’t rebellious:(Members Only)
Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Show Your Teen They Can Talk to You:One thing teens often do is they “test” their parents will smaller things to see how you respond before they talk to you about the really important things on their mind. If you don’t respond openly and non-judgmentally to the tests, you’ll never hear about the bigger stuff your teen is pondering. As Dina told me during our interview, “They’re all big conversations, even the small ones.” Spend a minute thinking about all the topics your teen has mentioned in the last month that seemed silly, pointless, shallow, overly emotional, or otherwise a waste of time. On a piece of paper, write down as many of these topics as you can remember. Maybe your teen mentioned music or SnapChat or Instagram or a movie or TV show or rumor that’s going around at school. What are the most silly or pointless topics your teen has brought up recently? Circle the three topics that you are usually most dismissive of when you teen brings them up and go talk to your teen about those topics. Try to listen openly and without judgment and ask lots of probing follow-up questions. Do this at least once a week for the next month and it will cause your teen to start opening up about deeper issues too.
2. Initiate a Sex Talk Your Teen will Never Forget:(Members Only)
Complete Interview Transcript
Andy: Can you just tell us a little bit about your journey, and what was it that kind of led you here and prompted these books in this website?
Dina: So I am a mom of three kids, and my background from college is in pre-marriage and family therapy, and my master’s is in recreation therapy, which is a group therapy degree where you use games and initiatives to get people to talk about their feelings versus just sitting in a group and asking random questions. Right? So, this is about five years ago. I was just on Facebook. I was stay home mom at that time. I still I’m but now I work much more during the day when my kids are at school. But I was reading a article about teen porn use and it was so outrageous to me. I couldn’t believe it. So, I started doing some research and it really shocked me, and it scared me for my kids where I realized, “Okay. There’s going to be nobody left for my daughter.”
Dina: She was in the eighth grade at the time, and I thought there will be nobody left that she will date that will not be highly influenced or perhaps even addicted to porn. And that kind of lit a fire in me where I was like, “Okay. I got to talk to every parent I possibly can.” And so I started talking to friends and family, and first I thought… Because I couldn’t even get my friends to talk about sex, let alone pornography with their kids. And I thought, “Is this a Christian problem? What is going on?” And then I realized, “No. My atheist friends just as terrified.” Just as terrified of talking to their kids about sex and porn. And I had grown up in a very open home, very okay with talking about these things, very positive, always talking about sex. So, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand it.
Dina: So, I started researching more and more. I kind of got a handle on it, and I just reached out to various experts, just tons and tons of research trying to figure this out, and started putting together a board and an organization, and then started writing those books. Our first set of books were the 30 Days of Sex Talks. We have them for age three to seven, eight to 11, and 12 plus, because again parents have so many… They’re just not even sure what to say to what age group, and what’s okay and what’s not okay, and a lot of myths out there about, “I don’t want to create too much curiosity. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do…” [crosstalk 00:02:28] Nobody wants to screw it up.
Andy: You don’t want to say the wrong thing, and then you went out there on a limb and did all this, and actually made it worse.
Dina: It’s hilarious because every quote, unquote expert I talk to has a horror story about how they screwed something up with their kids. So, I kind of try to let parents know that we’re all going to screw up. There’s no perfect way to do this, but you need to open your mouth and start talking. You need to create that home, but an openness that your kids want to ask you questions, that they know they can ask you any question without you freaking out. And so that’s where we started, and have just continued on, and now we’ve written nine books, and we have tons of resources on the website et cetera, that are free. And, just always just trying to keep updated and helping parents however we can.
Andy: That’s so cool. And, it’s a great mission and it’s really specific. You had said your kids were how old when you started that?
Dina: My daughter was in eighth grade, an eighth grader, a fifth grader, and a third grader, I believe. And now they are 18, 15, and 12. And so, we kind of have been doing this as they’ve been growing up and it’s been awesome. Creating this organization, doing this work, doing the research has just made me a way better mom. You know that I have the relationship I want with my kids. I don’t come at things from a place of fear because I have spent the time working and creating what I want, so that I know when they launch out of my house they’re going to be okay.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. They got it. And, I think that’s what strikes me about these books because I get this from parents. I had this mom who was like, “How do I get my son to stop going over to the girlfriend’s house because I know the parents aren’t supervising them well over there?” And I was like, “Well ma’am, why do you think it is that your son is in situations right now that you can’t trust him to be in? That to me suggests you haven’t prepared him enough. He’s right now finding himself in places that he’s not prepared for, or you don’t trust him to be in. So, we got to start educating him fast.”
Dina: Yeah. Or what can you create in your home that he wants to bring his girlfriend to your home versus why… What is he trying to… Why is he trying to get out as often as possible?
Andy: And so… Okay. One thing that strikes me just right off the bat from this book is that it’s 30 Days of Sex Talks. And so, I thought the sex talk was a thing that you just kind of did once and got it out of the way.
Dina: Heck no. No way. So, that’s kind of how we were raised, right? Our parents patted themselves on the back, they gave you this one talk. There was perhaps Elisa talking to a lot of parents all over the country. There was usually some special dose of shame added in that they thought they were doing a good job. They wanted to let you know it was shameful if you did it at this time, and not married, and all this stuff, and we’ve learned better. You know that one, we’re not going to wait for our kids to ask the questions because that’s what I was taught when my mom… My kids were very little. It was, “Oh, wait until they ask you.” And then… And we don’t teach that anymore. Now that we’re handing our kids phones, and devices, when they’re three and four years old-
Andy: You got to be proactive. Yeah, yeah.
Dina: You have to start first because it’s about helping your kids know that you’re a source, and that it’s okay to talk to mom and dad about these things. So, one we believe in starting first and it’s… And lot of times people see the cover and they freak out and they’re like, “You expect me to do 30 Days of Sex Talks?” But again, what we’ve done is we’ve just broken them up into these tiny discussions. And, most parents will flip through it and see that they’ve already done three or four of these, whichever they are. And then they go, “Oh, okay. I’ve done this.” And then they see it. Because we want parents to open that book, look at the lesson for maybe five minutes and then give it.
Dina: This should not be a big deal. This should not be… We’re not creating an event with ice cream and balloons when we have a sex talk. That it’s just really not a big deal, but it may be something you do in the car as you’re driving to dance class, or soccer practice, or that you’re just doing it over the dinner table. That it’s just a few minutes here and there. That it’s a chat. It’s not the talk. It’s several chats that you’re going to have about sex because we want our kids to be able to recreate that event. Right? So, we don’t want to create this event that they can’t replicate. Right? “Oh, I’m only allowed to talk about sex at this event or…”
Andy: In this circumstance. Yeah, yeah. Right.
Dina: Yeah. Or these parents they’ll send their kids to… Something I heard about as I’ve gone around is they’ll send their kids on a purity weekend. Right? With the pastor. That the pastor teaches… So, they’ve abdicated their responsibility as a parent, and give it to the pastor to teach this lesson to their kids which to me is crazy. Because to me the home is the best place to talk about this stuff. Right?
Andy: And wouldn’t you want to know what your kid is being taught and have some say in the curriculum there?
Dina: Exactly. Why wouldn’t you want to be in charge of that? You know that… Again, this is something that is positive. We want our kids to think of sex in a good positive way. So, I need to lead that discussion. I don’t want it. I’m like, “Yeah, they’re going to get sex ed in school which is fine, but I also want them to know… I want them to have heard it from me first.” So again, we make it… We just try to break it into these small conversations that you can have, and that’s your kids can just come back to you when they feel comfortable or when they want to ask another… Add another layer onto the discussion.
Andy: I love that habitual approach. And, I think one of the big lessons to teach kids is just the power of everyday habits. It’s that lesson that you have to learn in childhood. It’s just the things that you do consistently and repeatedly, are so, so important in shaping the person that you will become. And, I think you kind of make a good argument in this book about pornography, that that’s kind of really one of the dangers of pornography, especially for teenagers, is that it’s so easy to kind of slip into that, a habitual use of it. And, I thought it was interesting in there that you mentioned getting parents to talk about pornography, but you couldn’t even get her to talk about sex. So, I want… That made me curious. So does that mean that sex is the gateway and that you talk about sex before you talk about pornography, or sex is just easier to kind of discuss so parents tend to start with that or what.
Dina: To me, it’s more natural to start with talking about sex because I want them to have a positive picture of what healthy sexuality is. The subtitle of our books, 30 Days of Sex Talks, Empowering Your Child with Knowledge of Sexual Intimacy. Because we want it to be intimacy focused. At school, they’re going to get STDs, don’t get pregnant. They’re going to get that kind of basic biology.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. Right.
Dina: That is to me step one of 20 when it comes to sex. I want my kids to have a very positive view of sex, and that it’s about intimacy, that it’s about building a relationship, but there are steps to go before you hit sex. That it’s not something that… I would hope you knew that. I’m not a believer in hookup sex. So, that’s a whole nother discussion if that’s how as a parent, you want to take it with your kids. To me, it is about building a relationship. And so that’s the ideal. But for some parents that’s not where they can start. They’ve walked in on their kid and watching porn. They’ve looked up the history and they’ve seen that their kid has been looking at porn for six months or a year. So, they might start with a porn talk. And that’s okay too. You’re going to meet your kid where they’re at. And just… We’re trying to meet parents where they’re at.
Dina: We have some parents that they’ve had sexual abuse in their life, or they have a negative view of sex, or they are terrified because of the shame that was taught through to them. So again, that’s what’s nice about the books is that you’re going to look at these, and you’re going to just look through. They don’t have to start at less than one. They’re going to flip through and say, “I’m comfortable starting on lesson eight or less than 12. So, I’m going to start there.” Or, “To me this is the most important.” In our 12 plus book, we have a great lesson on consent. And that’s a huge topic. And so, a lot of parents I think feel called and driven to have that conversation. That they want their boys and their girls to understand consent. So, they can start there. So, that to me is-
Andy: Sure. Right.
Dina: … the ideal.
Andy: Jump right in. Okay. So I wonder then after doing this and putting these all down, and coming up with all the different topics, if there are any of them that really stick out to you as being ones that are maybe neglected, or that are specifically ones that are consistently not done well by parents, or are a little trickier or something.
Dina: That’s a great question. When it comes to pornography again, parents want to just say, “Don’t do it. Don’t look at it.” And they just… They start… They might just leave it there. But I am a big believer in helping our kids understand why. When it comes to pornography, there’s a reason why it’s considered adult. Right? I don’t like porn at all. I’m hoping my kids stay away from porn as much as possible. Okay. I know my two older kids they’ve seen porn, they see it at lunch, they see it in the classroom. They’ve seen it plenty. Right? But I kind of try to again create that discussion of we don’t want this to be a habit, because to me it’s not a great coping mechanism, right? This is not how I want my sons or my daughters to view themselves or the opposite sex.
Dina: And, I let them know that to me about pornography is so much about domination and submission. That that is not a healthy relationship. So, I let them know that pornography is not a real representation of sex. That the gymnastics that are often performed are not what they’re going to have with real sex. And, it’s trying to do who kung fu moves in a street fight. Right? It’s not going to work out for you. Right? And so, there’s that piece. And then also letting them know that what it does to the teenager brain is very different than what it’s going to do to the adult brain. Right? Our brains don’t finish developing until 22, 23. And the same way, a shot of whiskey is going to be very different for a 40 year old than it is for a 12 year old. Right? Those developing brains are so susceptible. They are so easily influenced. They’re so easily shaped by substances, and by behaviors, and again, by the image. Right?
Dina: Think of all the images that impacted us as kids, cartoons, television, whatever. I know all the television shows I watched as a kid, right? They’re ingrained in my brain more than the television I’ve watched in the last five years as a 41 year old. Right? There are so… Our brains… [crosstalk 00:13:40] Yeah. Our brains are so malleable at that time especially, that if they get into that habit, that porn is okay and that it’s total… That that’s… That those are recreating those neuropathways that lead them back to thinking… One that they’re going to normalize it. Right? That this is okay. That, “Oh, yeah. Everybody is having group sex.” And, that it’s okay to… Some of these deviant things that are portrayed in porn as normal, are going to be like, “Oh, yeah. That’s normal.”
Dina: Again, some of the things that are… Again, that parents don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to porn. Right? They think they know, but they really don’t know. To me, it freaks me out when I think about that every future lawyer, doctor, policemen, government representative, is growing up watching porn right now thinking that it’s okay, that you’re supposed to find your mom hot. No. No boys. We’re not supposed to find our moms hot. Okay? You should not be looking for opportunities to get it on with your stepsister and your stepmother. Okay? But they’re being portrayed there. Right? That’s not okay. Or like that how-
Andy: Right. Right.
Dina: The mother-son genre of porn has just risen in the ranks like crazy in the last couple of years. That was not a thing.
Dina: That was not a thing 10 years ago. There’s been disgusting daddy-daughter type themes for 20 years, more [crosstalk 00:15:06] than 20 years. Right? Which is still disgusting. Right? But now that we’re… Now, we have this other genre coming up here that is… Again, that I have to have that conversation with my kids? It’s ridiculous. But that is the world we’re in. Right? So to me, it’s about for parents getting brave and talking about things that their parents had never dreamed of talking about, that they have… We need to get comfortable with that. So, that is where a lot of parents are going to be freaked out. But again, I’m not saying start there. You’re not going to start with a discussion right there about mother-son porn. Right? You can start 20 steps back with whatever you’re comfortable with, especially with little kids, talking with them perhaps about the safety issues, right? Keeping our body safe, what should we do when we… If there is a predator in the neighborhood or in the family. Letting our kids create that safety.
Dina: And then again, building upon that, talking about the basic mechanics of sex, talking about intimacy, talking about the positive aspects, right? So many parents are afraid to talk about the positive aspects. I’m like, “Do you really think that because your child knows about orgasms, that they’re immediately going to go out and try to have sex tomorrow?” Probably not. But again, we don’t want to talk about that. That’s an awesome part of sex. Why wouldn’t we talk about how amazing and awesome sex is?
Andy: Right. Because it’s like we don’t want to feel like we’re promoting it or… Yeah. It’s hard to walk that line [crosstalk 00:16:33] between…
Dina: But again… Then that’s where you are going to share your own personal values as a parent. You’re going to talk about all these amazing things, but then you’re going to talk about when the right time is, or what that right person looks like. Who is that right person for you? How will we know it’s the right person? Is it by the way they treat us? These are great discussions that are fun to have with your kids about a healthy relationship, about what a healthy relationship looks like. Then again, people think of it as just like, “Oh, I have to talk about penis and vagina.” And it’s like, “No.” You can… You’re going to get to that. That’s just one part of this huge puzzle. You’re also going to talk about all the amazing fun parts that lead up to that. And so again, helping your kids know what are the rules and boundaries we’re going to create now, so that I know I’m having sex at the right time with the right person.
Andy: Okay. So, I think that’s kind of the end of our time here. I think we covered a lot of really cool things, really practical stuff that I think is just a lot of fuel for parents, because a lot of it just comes down to like, “What do I say? And what are the things that I need to even talk about with regard to this stuff?” And so, it’s really cool that you’ve kind of put it all together in this format. And, I like the idea of being to go through this book and check out all the 30 different talks, and see which ones you might’ve kind of already done and see which ones you definitely haven’t done, and use it and put together a roadmap for yourself and your teenager. So the question is, how do you get a hold of one of these? They say, educate, empower kids on the front.
Dina: Yeah. So, people can buy the books at educateempowerkids.org, or they are… They’re all available on Amazon as well.
About Dina Alexander
Dina Alexander is the founder and CEO of Educate and Empower Kids. She is the creator of How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs. Dina received her master’s degree in recreation therapy from the University of Utah and has taught in various capacities for the past 19 years, including marriage enhancement, art for small children and group fitness. She has also worked with teenage girls in a residential treatment setting, adults with drug addictions and special needs children.
She founded EEK after reading an article about teen porn consumption and becoming worried about the dangers of apps and online media. The organization strives to educate parents, teachers, and community leaders about how to deal with these dangers and raise strong, healthy kids who use technology for good in this new digital age.