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Sex Education at Home: A Guide for Parents
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Sex Education at Home: A Guide for Parents
As parents we provide sex education for our children. Each mother and father teaches his children about sex through attitudes, behavior and verbal comments. Sex education is a lifelong process. Children get their first feelings about sex from their parents who are the most important people in the child's life.
What are your feelings about sexuality? Is sex a topic for scorn and dirty jokes? Is sex a topic to be avoided altogether? Is sex so secret or private or frightening that you can't talk about it? Some adults feel this way. Then they convey to their children the feeling that sex is bad and these children are unaware that human sexuality is a normal part of human personality and can provide some of life's most enriching experiences. Powerful sexual feelings cannot be ignored. Even if parents refuse to relate information about sex, children listen to the stories of friends or read in wonder the comments about movies or news items or covers of books and magazines.
Questions about sex are normal. The early questions are raised by children as naturally as any other questions. A new baby or the birth of pets can lead to healthy discussion and understanding.
Being a good parent is a very difficult job. Most of us learn how by watching our own parents, most of whom did not talk with us about sex. Parents usually need to make an effort to allow talk about sex to enter normally into conversation.
One important job parents face is to help children have good feelings about themselves and their bodies. A girl can learn to accept and like the female body she received at birth. Boys can learn to accept and like themselves as males. Children can learn that they are worthwhile people. One way we can help with this is through honest and meaningful communication. This is as true of sex as of other topics of interest to all children. We must answer questions as directly as possible. We set an example we want our children to follow. We repeat answers over and over again. We learn to refer to parts of the body using standard words - not nicknames or "private parts" for the genitals.
The goal of parents is to raise happy worthwhile human beings. We want our children to like themselves and to be able to establish worthwhile relationships. We want them to accept themselves and to be able to establish worthwhile relationships. We want them to accept themselves as males or females. We want them to be able to love. We want them to grow up to establish families in which they can function in a variety of meaningful ways.
Sexuality is the important aspect of human personality which enables each person to function as a male or female. It includes far more than physical sex! Important considerations about sexuality are psychological, social and moral in addition to physical concerns.
Providing appropriate words and factual information is an important beginning. Boys and girls want to know about their bodies and about everything which touches their lives. Everything interests them. Adequate information enables them to expand their world appropriately as they grow and mature. This is true of sexuality as with other areas of life. Parents are the best teachers. Many books and materials give basic facts about male and female anatomy and the physical aspects of human reproduction.
Psychological aspects of human sexuality are extremely important. How a person feels about himself usually determines his behavior. Only after a person accepts his own body and sexuality comfortably can he function as a wise decision-maker. As we help our children build self-esteem we are enabling them to function in healthy and mature ways.
Society influences sexual behavior and presents children with conflicting ideas. For example, some adults can't or won't answer children's simple questions about sex, but these same adults may laugh at dirty jokes. Some adults enjoy films, magazines and books dealing with explicit sexual experiences, but turn to therapists and counselors for help with their personal lives. It is reported that more than half of American marriages are sexually troubled. Adults may behave in one way but expect from their children quite different behavior. This is unrealistic. Parents who want their children to live successfully with others work to help children understand themselves and society's contradictions. Our society has a soaring VD rate and a rising birth rate among teens, and yet refuses to permit meaningful sex education programs in most schools. Parents, schools, and religious organizations will do well to work together responsibly to help young people.
A major concern for most parents is moral conduct. Morality refers to standards incorporated into a person's own value system. Parents, religious groups, schools and peers influence the values any individual chooses. Learning to make responsible decisions and wise choices about sexual behavior as well as all other behavior - depends on the individual's own values. Parents have a major responsibility to help their children understand why some behavior is preferable to other behavior. Religious groups share the responsibility for the youngsters who participate in their activities. Schools - which have contact with virtually all young people - help students learn how to choose among alternatives in all areas of life. In a democratic society, various views are presented and discussed. Personal values can be strengthened or discarded when weighed against other possibilities. Here the parent's role in helping the child and young person build values is vital.
Sex education begins at birth. Each new baby needs to be wanted and loved and accepted as the person he is - including the fact that the child is male or female. If parents are unhappy or disappointed with the sex of the child, he may sense this and soon feel worthless. Building feelings of self-worth is an important part of sex education. As each baby is loved and cuddled and talked to, he begins to feel good about himself. These positive feelings continue to grow as the developing infant is encouraged to become the unique person he can be. As we help our children develop into independent, mature people, we build on these initial feelings.
Each person develops feelings about his body parts long before verbal communication can take place. When the baby feels his ear, Grandma cheers. He continues to explore his body and discovers a toe. Terrific! Then he finds his penis. Somebody may swat him, say "no, no" or distract him with a rattle. From such beginnings come feelings that the genital area is somehow bad, not to be touched, and is different from the rest of the body. This is unfortunate since it's important for the baby to learn to like all parts of his body, including the sex organs. Since babies get comfort and pleasure from fondling the genitals, he may develop confused feelings about himself and the genital area. All babies explore their sex organs and some babies like to fondle this area frequently. Children turn to the variety of activities available to them as they mature and can explore their environment beyond the confines of the crib or playpen. Therefore, the parent is responsible for providing stimulating surroundings.
Bathing baby offers an opportunity for us to show that all parts of the body are important and all need to be kept clean. Pleasant feelings can be fostered during the fun of the bath. The baby can even begin to learn to recognize the names of the body parts - ear, toe, penis, labia. This is also an opportunity for us to practice saying these standard terms aloud. Following this practice, comfortable conversation containing these words will be easier. In our society, we don't usually talk about the penis or vagina. If we are ever to get over the feeling that we can't talk about sex or sex organs in a responsible way without embarrassment, we must begin. Infant care offers an excellent opportunity for such out-loud practice.
As our children grow and develop, we teach them about all aspects of life by our example and attitudes. This includes sexuality. Much more is caught than taught. As children see parents enjoy each other, they learn what love means and they learn about the relationships that is possible between a man and a woman. The roles of male and female are defined for the young child by his observation of parents. Parents who love each other openly and who share the burdens and joys of homemaking and child rearing are teaching more about sexuality than words could ever do. Of course, parents enjoy ultimate lovemaking in private. Children are indeed fortunate to have loving parents who care for them and each other and can express their feelings comfortably.
Not all homes fit this pattern. Fortunately, all is not lost when the home situation is to ideal. There are still plenty of opportunities for healthy expression of emotion. Children can learn to love and care about themselves and others. One of the parents may have to make a special effort when raising children in a home where little love is shown.
When there is only one parent, he should try to give the child an opportunity to know adults of the other sex. An uncle, aunt, neighbor, or grandparent may be available. Friends are often very understanding and willing to include children in their family outings. May single parents are successful in raising children who are emotionally healthy and happy. Being both father and mother is certainly difficult. Lacking the opportunity to discuss childbearing practices with another concerned adult places the responsibility for decision-making and example-setting on the one person. The single parent must take care not to be overwhelmed by this task. An effort should be made to have fun and enjoy life both with and without the children. The person who devotes all time and energy to child raising will not continue to grow as a person. This pitfall should be avoided. Many parents without partners find support by joining such organizations as The One Parent Family.
Young children often like to fondle their genital area. Parents sometime get upset by this if it seems to be a habit. Nearly all children do this at some time and some children do so frequently. It is perfectly normal and to be expected. Parents who know that their children lead happy active lives have nothing to worry about. Such genital fondling is harmless. Of course, a parent should be sure that this is not a sign of discomfort - that underwear fits properly and that the genital area is clean.
If a child feels generally unhappy and refuses to participate in activities available to him, but mostly wants to fondle himself, a problem may exist which requires the help of a professionally trained counselor at a child guidance clinic or other facility. The problem is not the fondling of the sex organ, but rather is his total emotional outlook.
Parents must learn to talk honestly with children at an early age. Talking about everything includes answering questions about sex. With young children, these questions and answers will be short and simple. All children are different. They develop individually and ask questions at different ages. When a question is asked, it should be answered simply. Parents who say, "Wait 'till you're older and I'll tell you that," find that the time for answering questions doesn't seem to come again. Other parents go into involved explanations which the child neither wants nor understands. Simple answers are sufficient.
Honesty is of utmost importance. Children soon learn whether they can trust their parents' answers. If so, they will continue to discuss questions and problems with them. If not, they will stop asking questions. Instead, they will ask their friends and get misinformation from hem and from magazines, movies, etc. Children often have a way of asking questions at a time which causes the parent embarrassment. For example, "Why s the lady fat?" asked about a pregnant woman in the grocery store which causes the parent to want to say "Shh!" A simple explanation will satisfy the child. Willingness to give young children direct honest answers builds a foundation for good communication. Early questions include wanting to know where babies come from, how they get started, how they get out, and whether birth hurts either baby or mother.
Early School Years
Young school age children are busy people with expanding horizons. They are learning in the more structured situation at school and are beginning to explore ideas. Their interest in sexual questions continues to exist as does interest in other things. Developing friendships and relationships with teachers and others leads to more emphasis on the world away from home. Yet home and parents are where the child returns to share joys and troubles. An understanding listening parent encourages the child to talk about this expanding world. The child continues to grow and learn about himself and life and to solve simple problems which he confronts.
Children between five and eight usually develop a sense of modesty and a desire for privacy which may be completely different from their actions only a short time before. Most children decide the bathroom door should be closed and perhaps locked when they are inside. Nudity (which may have been healthily present previously) now seems totally inappropriate in the child's view of himself. Children deserve the right to manage their feelings about their bodies as they develop. If parents continue to be comfortable at home, the child learns that he is still accepted and loved whether in the tub with brother or insisting on bathing alone. Of course, refusing to bathe at all is a different problem for parents! Most children continue to behave in modest ways - until later years when they will perhaps be more accepting of nudity again. All of this reflects the pressures of our society.
Children who have asked early questions about sex may be satisfied and seem totally disinterested in sex. Others may continue to ask questions and want slightly more complete answers than they accepted earlier. The child who has not asked where babies are made and how they get started may now ask specific questions. The best guide for parents continues to be to answer simply and honestly. The child will want more information than at an earlier age, but is not able to understand deep emotions like love in the adult sense.
Children between five and eight learn many new words. Some of them are slang words which may be very upsetting to parents. A word may be used matter-of-factly because it was used by another child. Or it may be used as an attention-getting device when the child realizes how much attention it gets from parents! Some parents overreact to the use of the word by the child. Often the parent views the word in terms of vulgar sexual meaning while the child does not realize that the word has any sex connotation at all. If the parent can calmly discuss the meaning of the word and explain that he doesn't use that cord in conversation and doesn't want it used at home, the child will usually understand. Some children will use such words occasionally to impress friends or to emulate older children.
Playing doctor is fun for young children. Sometimes this leads to exploring each other's bodies and satisfying natural curiosity. Children are usually interested in the genital make-up of both sexes and it's important that they learn the differences between male and female. Parents often overreact to this very natural situation and cause undue upset and guilt in the children who may bet a feeling that their bodies or genitals are bad. If parents remain calm and remember the naturalness of the situation, the children's curiosity is soon satisfied and other interests will assume priority. Activities and games should be available. Exploring each other's bodies because of boredom and lack of alternatives would not lead to healthy development.
The child has now learned that some human activities take place privately. He uses the bathroom for toilet functions. Similarly, he can be expected to refrain from fondling the genitals publicly. This can be urged calmly and without upsetting the child. When the child occasionally forgets this rule of our society, it is a breach of etiquette rather than a moral misdeed. Parents do well to remember this and refrain from causing guilt or distress.
At this age, the child is able to understand much more about how life begins. Seeds, flowers, baby animals, human babies - all these and many more fascinate him. The ideas that a seed can grow into a specific plant or a fertilized egg can grow into a special animal or person is marvelous. The child now observes other families first hand and begins to see how they differ. He begins to understand how important a family is and appreciates his own role within the family as he grows. Self-esteem and decision-making are enhanced through the responsibilities the child has a home - making his bed, setting the table, helping with the dishes, taking our garbage, deeding and caring for pets, and being given an opportunity to help with chores he likes. The child is learning to direct his activities in constructive ways.
From nine to twelve, the pattern of development changes. Bodies take on new shapes. Rapid growth spurts are common. Hands and feet may seem too big. Some children go through an awkward, gawky stage. Some develop early; others late. Some develop rapidly; others slowly. This can be distressing for the young person who sees his best friend developing at a completely different time or rate. Personal growth patterns can cause anxiety. Parents need to be reassuring and help children understand that the changes in their bodies are perfectly normal - a sign that they are beginning the long process of becoming an adult. Children will learn that it's normal for each person to be different. It's OK to be taller, shorter, faster or slower. During these years, children can be helped to feel good about themselves by knowing that by the late teens they'll each have a grown-up body.
Girls begin this changing pattern of development about two years earlier than boys. Thus, girls of twelve and thirteen are often taller than boys the same age and may seem more grown-up than these boys, but boys soon catch up. Children may feel embarrassed about their developing bodies during this period. Both girls and boys notice hair starting to grow under the arms and in the pubic area. Girls see that the nipples are budding and the breasts beginning to grow bigger and rounder. Some boys have temporary enlargement of the breasts which can frighten them; they need assurance that this will pass. Often this is part of a generally fat stage. A girl's hips get curvier and wider. If she understands that her body is preparing itself for the future time when she can choose to be a mother, she can accept these changes.
First menstruation is an important event in the life of every girl. It can begin as early as age eight or as late as age sixteen. Most girls begin menstrual periods at about age twelve. A girl needs to understand what is happening to her. The girl who knows that menstruation will begin and why, who has a sanitary belt and pad ready, and who has an understanding family is very fortunate. Knowing that the school nurse will be helpful when menstruation begins at school is reassuring.
Major changes occur in boys. The voice becomes deeper and he sometimes goes through an embarrassing stage when his voice is hoarse or crackles. An erection may occur for no reason that he can explain. This can be frightening and embarrassing. If the boy understands that this is perfectly normal and that he will gain much more control over his penis when he's older, he can accept these occasional erections. Between twelve and sixteen, boys have their first wet dreams - most at about fourteen. Understanding that this will happen can help to avoid fear and worry. When a boy knows that wet dreams are normal - though messy - he can realize that this is one way that his body is getting ready for him to choose to be a father some day.
Private fondling of the genitals (masturbation) occurs in both adults and children. Nearly all boys and many girls discover the pleasure of masturbation before or during the teen years. Masturbation causes neither physical or psychological harm. It is a normal activity and a natural release of sexual tension. Many parents remain totally unaware that their pre-teens and teens masturbate. It is wise for parents to mention the fact of masturbation but not through direct questioning. This helps young people avoid unnecessary guilt and anxiety.
Most nine to twelve year olds are very interested in babies. Understanding how babies develop inside the mother fascinates them. Questions about intercourse are sure to arise. Honest, factual answers are best because children hear many stories from friends. Adult emotions involved in sexual intercourse are beyond the capacity of the pre-teen to comprehend. They want to know why adults have intercourse, when this is ok, and whether this will ever appeal to them personally. Once curiosity and interest are satisfied, attention should readily turn to daily activities; school, sports, ballet, building models, music, reading and climbing trees.
Young people today are aware of the constant appearance of sexual themes on television and in magazines. Therefore, it is especially important that parents reinforce positive values about sexuality. Parents can show that the joy and wonder of sexuality is a gift to be treasured. Children can learn that the value of sexual activity depends on the circumstances involved. The child learns attitudes which will enable him to grow into a warm and loving person or into one who misuses his sexuality. Parents are very important in helping children establish values which will lead to responsible choices of behavior that can mean long-lasting happiness.
Families that have been able to talk about everything together in the pre-teen years are fortunate. When questions have been honestly answered and when no topic is taboo, a foundation of understanding is laid. Young people need guidance and understanding from parents if they are to become mature independent adults themselves. Reaching adulthood has always had its problems - and attaining maturity today is in some ways more difficult than it was for those who are now parents. Do you remember the questions you had as a teen? The worries? The sexual feelings? Our children have the same questions, feelings and worries today! Learning to be comfortable with the opposite sex; learning how to deal with the intense sexual feelings which come about in adolescence; learning to relate in healthy ways to other people' deciding on goals for the future; coping with pressures of school, friends and society; all this is involved in becoming an adult. Physical maturity is more quickly and automatically reached than emotional and psychological maturity. Only as teens work through the kinds of situations where they must make decisions about their own behavior, can they become the mature independent adults their parents hope for.
Helping teens choose worthwhile values by which to guide their behavior is a primary job of parents. It is useless for parents to try to impose their values on teen-age children. Some young people will rebel openly while others will seem to conform to the parents' wishes but will not really develop their internal value-system so that they can direct their own lives as adults. The example set by parents in the practice of love is a major aspect of value-building. The parent who speaks of love but does not live lovingly shows his children his real values.
Some topics which concern both teens and adults are difficult for many families to discuss. Even if a family has not talked openly about sex prior to the teen years, the parents may find they are able to approach subjects they consider vital to helping their teen. If subjects are kept general and not personal, conversation is much easier. Although sexuality is an important aspect of life, it is only part of the total personality. Honesty in relationships with others should include honesty in sexual relationships. Exploitation exists in both sexual and non sexual aspects of life. People who value themselves and others will be concerned about both sexual and non sexual interaction with others. Discussed below are some topics which you may want to consider in preparation for discussion with your teens. Only when you have thought through your own values and can talk about them can you share them with your children. Husbands and wives can benefit from discussing these topics together and will then be better prepared to help their teens. In some families, husbands feel these matters are the responsibility of the wife. It would seem far better for children to learn from both parents. It is sometimes wise for parents to admit how difficult this kind of communication is.
Nearly all males and most females masturbate (fondle the genitals for pleasure) at some time during their lives. This causes no physical or psychological problems although myths still persist from the past. Masturbation is very common during adolescence. Done privately, this should be of no concern to parents. Parents have a responsibility to avoid comments which will cause feelings of guilt about normal activity. Release of sexual tension can be achieved by masturbation. The parent who can maintain a relaxed view of masturbation - that is, accept it as normal - helps both himself and his child.
Making out has different definitions in different places but usually refers to hugging and kissing only, similar to the older term 'necking'. Before becoming upset about comments made by teens, you do well to try to understand what the young person really means. Since slang term change rapidly, there's no reason for embarrassment when you don't know the specific meaning of a term. Petting means the couple explore each other's bodies. It usually includes deep kissing (French or tongue kissing) and touching parts of the body which would be covered by a bathing suit. Petting may be very pleasurable for couples who care deeply for each other when both partners agree that this is a good idea for them. If one partner is forcing the other (physically or verbally) the relationship and activity is damaging. The dangers from petting are that it may be regretted later, or it may lead to intercourse which the partners do not want to have happen at that time. If you realize the strong sexual feelings of your teens, you can be understanding of their behavior. Teens who have opportunities for many activities (school, music, sports, clubs, religious group interests, etc.) and who understand the hazards of petting can be trusted to handle the situations which arise. The lonely teen who fears that he is not liked and has few ways in which he feels successful, may turn to sexual activity in an effort to receive attention and affection. If you show your teens how much you care for them and trust them and you encourage worthwhile activities which bring good feelings to the teen and you make an effort to discuss questions which arise, you have done much to guide your children toward healthy sexual attitudes and development
Most people kiss, caress, and engage in petting before marriage. Some have sexual intercourse. Most parents and religious groups teach that intercourse is best saved until marriage. Perhaps it is difficult for you to accept the fact that your children may be sexually active. As with adults, the range of reasons for sexual activity varies. Casual sex with a variety of partners is a far cry from deep commitments, including sexual communication, made within a loving relationship. You may wish to caution your teens about some of the pitfalls of premarital intercourse. Intercourse is such an intense experience that if one partner makes a deeper commitment than the other, depression and emotional disturbance may follow the breakup. It is extremely difficult for most teens to decide for themselves whether they can cope with the depth of emotion that is generated. In addition to the inability to realize the strength of feeling, the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and VD are real. Teens who decide to be sexually active need to know how to protect themselves from both possibilities, just as adults do. There is no proof or clear cut evidence that premarital intercourse makes a person a better or worse sexual partner in marriage or that the act itself affects the marriage relationship either favorably or unfavorably. All this depends on the maturity of the individuals involved and their feelings about themselves and their sexual experiences.
Contraception & Family Planning
Most people want to finish school, get a job, and get married before undertaking the responsibilities of caring for a baby. Most parents want to wait for some time between babies. Therefore, most married people use contraception. It teens decide to have intercourse, hey too should protest themselves against unwanted pregnancy. A girl can get pregnant the first time she has intercourse.
Both partners should feel responsible for preventing an unwanted pregnancy. You have a responsibility to be sure that your children understand how pregnancy occurs and that it can be prevented. This is not encouraging them to have sexual intercourse. You must realize that your children MAY choose to have sexual intercourse. The attitude that says "if you play around you deserve to get pregnant and suffer the consequences," helps no one. It is unfair to the boy and girl to force them to take a responsibility for which they are not ready and it is certainly not fair to the unwanted baby.
Abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only absolutely foolproof method of birth control. However, there are many modern methods of family planning which offer excellent protection when used properly. Teens who do not know there are reliable methods available to them may resort to less effective methods or trust in myths. Condoms and spermicidal form may be purchased at the drug store and when used together offer very good protection. They must be used each time the couple has intercourse and the condom may not be reused. The form must be used just before intercourse to be effective. Either form or condoms used alone do not offer adequate protection.
The diaphragm is a rubber cap which is inserted into the vagina to cover the entrance to the uterus. Spermicidal cream or jelly are used with the diaphragm. A girl must be examined by a doctor to be fitted with the correct diaphragm size. The girl then inserts the diaphragm into the vagina each time before she has intercourse. This may be done a couple of hours ahead of time. The cooperation of both partners is helpful in being sure the diaphragm and jelly are used every time intercourse occurs.
The birth control pill is the most popular contraceptive method used in the US The pills are made of synthetic female hormones and most pills prevent ovulation. The pills are very effective and very safe when used under a doctor's direction. Most - but not all - women can use the pills without problems. Girls should have had menstrual periods for at least one year before beginning to use the pill. If protection is needed before that time, other methods are recommended. The pill user must remember to take pills daily as directed in order to get contraceptive protection. Using another person's pills is not wise.
The IUD (intrauterine device) is a small plastic or plastic and copper object which is inserted into the uterus through the cervix by the doctor. It remains in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. When the girl wants the IUD removed, she returns to the doctor to have in taken out. The IUD offers most users excellent birth control protection.
Couples or girls wanting to learn more about contraception or who wish to get a method of birth control should visit a private doctor or a Planned Parenthood, Family Planning, or Health Department clinic. Many clinics now have special teen programs.
Young people who learn about birth control methods have not been shown to be more sexually active than other young people. Studies show that most sexually active youth do NOT use contraception. They hope that pregnancy won't occur - and are frequently disappointed. Hope is not a method of birth control!
If you can discuss methods of birth control generally - rather than suggesting that your teen ought to get a method - you can help your child understand something which may be vital in his future life. Your child may be able to help a friend get protection and avoid the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy after conception has taken place but before the developing baby is able to live outside the woman's body. It is not a method of birth control. Abortion is now legal in all states. Illegal abortion can be very dangerous, but legal abortions performed by qualified doctors are safer than childbirth. During the first three months of pregnancy (within 12 weeks), a simple safe procedure can be done without general anesthesia. Later, abortion is more difficult, more expensive, and there is greater risk. Anyone considering abortion should first find out whether she is pregnant. A simple urine test can determine this six weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period.
When an unmarried teen is pregnant the situation can be difficult for both the teens and the parents. The young people involved are usually very frightened. They need all the understanding love which parents can provide. Of course, the parents are upset! Letting emotions of anger take over and becoming punishing and demanding with the young people solves no problems. Parents have the responsibility to act in a mature fashion and work with the young people to reach a solution which leads to mutual caring and learning. Some families draw closer during times of trouble. Communication may be reestablished and the young people learn how much the parents really care about them.
There are agencies which can help the family reach decisions about pregnancy and other family problems. Physicians, clergy and Planned Parenthood Centers offer sympathetic counseling. When the couple or the girl decide to continue the pregnancy, agencies such as Birthright or Support can give needed understanding. Parents should not try to force a girl or couple to marry or to have an abortion. Parents can help in the decision-making process, but a forced abortion or a forced marriage can lead to later unhappiness.
STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases or VD Venereal Disease) refers to several specific contagious diseases which are contracted through sex contact with an infected person, male or female. VD is now epidemic among young people between fifteen and twenty-four. They should know that having sexual contact with several partners increases the chance of getting VD. They should also know that VD doesn't come from dirty toilet seats or towels. It only comes by way of sexual contact with other people who have VD. Unfortunately, most girls who have VD show no symptoms even though the disease may be extensively damaging to them.
The first symptom of syphilis is usually a painless sore (called a chancre and pronounced "shanker") which appears on the sex organs, moth or elsewhere. Chancres may disappear even if untreated and may be followed by a rash which also may go away. But the germs continue to spread inside the infected person. If not treated, syphilis can eventually cause insanity, serious heart disease, blindness, paralysis and death.
Gonorrhea (often called 'clap') is an infection which initially attacks the sex organs. In boys, the first symptom is usually a burning sensation during urination. This is felt soon after intercourse with an infected person (within two weeks and often as soon as a few days). Pus with an unpleasant odor drips from the penis. Girls may have a discharge of pus from the vagina but often girls do not notice any symptoms. Regular VD tests are advisable if contact is with various partners. One major result of untreated gonorrhea in both males and females is sterility due to the formation of scar tissue which closes the Fallopian Tubes in the female or the vas deferens in the male.
It is very important for a person who may have VD to get medical treatment quickly. Both syphilis and gonorrhea can be cured by penicillin or other antibiotics. Use of condoms will help to protect either partner from infection. Washing the genital area with warm water and soap immediately after intercourse may help. If the male urinates immediately, this may wash the germs out of the penis. You should be sure your teenage children know about VD both to help them make wise choices about sexual activity and also to help them get medical help if they are expose to VD.
Homosexuality refers to the choice of sex partners of the same sex rather than of the other sex. Some people choose to have sexual relations with people of both sexes and they are called bisexual. There is no one explanation as to why some people choose homosexuality. Most theories contend that such preferences are associated with emotional and personality development. A homosexual cannot be recognized by his/her appearance. The Gay Liberation Movement has urged homosexuals to 'come out' and declare themselves openly a homosexuals. Since our society makes life very difficult for them, homosexuals do not usually publicize their private lives. Female homosexuals are called Lesbians.
Many boys and girls have one or more same sex sexual experience. This does not indicate that they will choose same-sex partners as adults. Most teens who make an effort to know and like members of the other sex find that they prefer heterosexuality. Family service agencies and mental health clinics offer help for persons confused about sexual orientation.
Mixing Sex and Alcohol and Sex and Drugs
Young people need to know that sex is not enhanced by alcohol any more tan driving is improved by drinking. The same is true for drugs. In small quantities, alcohol removes inhibitions and people say or do things which would otherwise make them feel foolish. Large quantities of alcohol depress sexual appetite and make people unable to function sexually.
More studies need to be done before we can reach specific conclusions concerning drug use and sexual activity. As with alcohol, being a little high may destroy inhibitions and make sex talk or behavior seem to be more fun. Extensive drug use will make an individual unable to take any interest in sex. Use of some drugs apparently causes chromosome damage which may lead to the birth of deformed babies. Addicts have often had unhealthy babies, but one reason for this is the lack of interest in nutrition and prenatal care by the addict. People who use drugs or alcohol as a crutch to heighten sexual pleasure and not allowing themselves the freedom to enjoy the depths of emotion possible only in a clearheaded condition. You know of many other reasons for encouraging young people to live fully without being hindered by alcohol or drug use. Again, lines of communication between parents and teens can help increase understanding and can encourage responsible behavior by the young person.
Sex and Love
A mature person (of any age) is one who is able to give and receive love. A loving person care for others. There are many kinds of love which fit into a variety of relationships with family and friends. Not all kinds of love involve sexual feelings. In any loving relationship, there is pleasure in giving to and caring for another or others. Before anyone can do this, he must care about himself. Placing a high value on not exploiting (using) another person means loving. Two people who dislike each other may feel sexually attracted., Or two people who are good friends may =not feel sexually attracted. But, when a teenage boy and girl establish a warm relationship, sexual feelings are easily aroused. Young people must cope with their feelings of loving and of sexual attraction. Being able to do this and choosing appropriate behavior is a major component of maturity. Casual sexual encounters are usually meaningless and often harmful in terms of the feelings of guilt and worthlessness which results.
Both boys and girls should know that a boy is usually more more easily and quickly aroused sexually than a girl. The boy's feelings are not necessarily related to love. If a girl doesn't understand this, she may misinterpret sexual advances for signs of love. Girls are sometimes unfairly provocative to boys who are trying to handle their feelings responsibly. Both boys and girls should know that they can learn to manage their sexual feelings and must be encouraged to do so.
You have been teaching your children your values since they were born. A lecture or threat in adolescence does not teach values. Each person incorporates into himself ideas from many sources. Within this framework, what is called a 'value system' develops. You help your children by seeing that they have information on which to make their decisions and choose their behavior. You help by your example. You help by consideration for your child. You help by exploring the future with your child: education, job opportunities, hopes for a future family. Meaningful goals are important. Knowing that you care about them can help. Your children want to make wise choices. Trust becomes an important ingredient in the parent-adolescent relationship. When you have done your best, you must let go and encourage independence. Trusted teens usually want to live up to your standards. Your constant questioning (nagging) and overreacting to any undesirable behavior will undermine the mutual trust and respect which you and your children want. Breaking away from family ties is difficult for the maturing youngster - and not always easy for the parent, either. It is best done gradually beginning in childhood and continuing to increase throughout adolescence. The greatest gift you can give your child is unconditional love and the possibility to be himself.
Marriage vs. Living Together
Marriage is the pledging of two people to form a wonderful and meaningful partnership called a family. In a good marriage, both partners give and receive love. Teens who have grown up in such a warm environment are fortunate. Teens who see their parents making marriage the best that it can be, learn what marriage is. However, some older teens and young people in their early twenties decide that they are not ready for marriage but do have a meaningful relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend and so decide to live together. Parents may be very upset by this. It may contradict all that they have tried to teach their children. Parents can voice their objection to the proposed situation and refuse to give it their blessing. However, threats usually do not work and rejecting the child at this time can have unhappy consequences. Sometimes the parent must accept the inevitable, giving assurance that the child id still loved in spite of the chosen lifestyle. Frequently, such relationships lead to marriage. When they do not, the experience may have been ether an opportunity for growth or may have been destructive. After such a relationship ends, the parent is needed for love and support. Saying "I told you so" doesn't help. The parent cannot lead the young person's life for him. Parents and adult children who can be friends and appreciate each other are fortunate.
Throughout the many years of parental responsibility, the job is
both difficult and rewarding. All parents make some mistakes. If
you have tried to understand and love each child you have no cause to
feel guilty. Children make mistakes, too. You should not blame
yourself for your child's mistakes. Responsible parenting usually
leads to raising happy, worthwhile human beings. In this way we
prepare our children for adult life and to be contributing members of
the human family.
Reproductive Health Is A Confusing Issue For Many Women
"It was surprising to me that between 40 and 60 percent of [respondents] had complete misconceptions about basic concepts relating to their own biology," study researcher Dr. Lubna Pal, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, told The Huffington Post. "We're not talking about heavy science; we're talking about basics."
The findings underscore a pressing need for better education at all levels, Pal said.
The results of the survey -- which was conducted in conjunction with First Response, a company that manufactures home pregnancy and ovulation tests -- were published in the journal Fertility and Sterility on Monday.
One major area of confusion was the ovulatory cycle. Ninety-five percent of the women correctly said that "ovulation" refers to the release of an egg from the ovary, but 25 percent did not know that so-called "normal" menstrual cycles can take between 25 and 35 days, and 40 percent were unable to identify when ovulation typically occurs within that cycle.
The survey also revealed some blind spots about fertility and best practices for conception. Many women in the survey did not know, for example, that factors like obesity and irregular menstrual cycles may have consequences for fertility. Roughly half believed erroneously that having sex more than once a day increases the chances of getting pregnant.
About 40 percent of the respondents said they believed that women's ovaries continue to produce new eggs during their reproductive years, which is not true. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, although preliminary studies hint that women might, in fact, be capable of making new ones.
In addition to incomplete understanding of reproductive concepts, the survey also showed that many women who were not actively attempting to get pregnant nevertheless had concerns about their ability to do so down the road. Among the women not currently trying to conceive, 40 percent said they were worried about their ability to get pregnant once they started trying, and 20 percent said they thought they might need fertility treatment.
National estimates suggest, however, that only 10 percent of women have difficulty getting or staying pregnant.
"If I'm aware of my age, and that I have no risk factors ... my worry about infertility should be no more than 10 percent," Pal told HuffPost. "But when I'm not even aware what the risks are, and when I have heard most of my information from women and blogs [about fertility struggles], I'm going to buy into the negative side without understanding the reality. And it's going to generate unnecessary anxiety."
Though time and resources are limited, women's health care providers must find ways to discuss basic concepts with patients, she continued, and schools must also provide clear information. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 22 states and the District of Columbia currently mandate sex education.
While many of the women in the survey said their health care providers were their primary source of information about their reproductive well-being, only 60 percent said they went at least annually, while 10 percent said they had never seen a women's health expert.
Pal told HuffPost that it is incumbent upon women to seek trustworthy information, and to become experts on their own bodies.
"We need to be forearmed with a sense of awareness about our own biology," she said. "It needs to happen."
The study included 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 40.
Roughly 80 percent of the respondents had at least some college
education, and 43 percent reported they had an annual household
income of over $50,000.
Questions Children Ask and Answers
Where did I come from? You grew in a special place inside Mommy. The place is sort of like a nest and is called the uterus.
Where do babies come from? Babies grow in a special place inside their Moms.
How did I get out of Mommy? You were born. That means that you came out through a special opening between Mommy's legs.
Did it hurt to get born? It didn't hurt you at all. It hurt Mommy a little but she was so happy when she saw you that she soon forgot all about the hurting part.
How did I get inside Mommy? All babies need a Mommy and a Daddy. When two grown-ups, a man and a woman, love each other very much they put their bodies close together. The man's penis goes inside the woman's vagina. Then a seed from the man may meet an egg inside the woman. It is a very tiny little dot of an egg, not big and hard like a chicken egg. The seed and egg join inside the mother and start a baby growing. (You may wish to add how happy you were to know you were going to have a baby.)
How long does it take the baby to grow inside the Mommy? About 9 months.
What are breasts for? A woman's breasts give milk after a baby is born. The baby can suck the milk from the breasts. If the woman wants to, she can give the baby milk from a bottle instead of from her breasts. Either way, the milk helps the baby grow.
Why do I have a belly button? Your belly button, or navel, marks the spot where you were connected to Mommy by a special cord while you grew inside her. After you were born, you could breathe and eat so you didn't need the cord any more. The doctor cut it. No, it didn't hurt when he cut it. Just like having your hair cut doesn't hurt.
How big was I when I was born? You weighed 7 pounds (or 5 or 9). You were about this long and very precious! You still are even though you're not a baby any more.
Is there another way for a baby to be born besides coming out of the special hole in Mommy? Yes; sometimes the doctor has to do an operation called a cesarean section. He then makes an opening in the Mother's body and the doctor lifts the baby out. The doctor sews the mother up again and she's fine afterwards.
Why are babies born in hospitals? The doctor and nurses are helpful to the mother during the delivery, which means the time when the baby is being born. Usually everything goes fine. But sometime the mother needs special help and then it's a good thing for her to be in the hospital where the doctors and nurses can take care of her and the baby right away. Having a baby doesn't mean being sick, and the mother and baby come home in a few days.
What is menstruation? Menstruation is the process by which a small amount of blood and other unneeded material leaves a girl's or woman's body, about once a month. The menstrual flow or period lasts a few days each month. The woman uses a sanitary napkin or tampon (like this) to prevent the flow from staining her clothes. A girl usually has her first menstrual period when she's between 10 and 14. Some girls start a little earlier and some a little later, both of which are normal. A girl can carry on all her usual activities during the time she has her period. Yes, she can swim and run and wash her hair! In fact, it's important to keep clean - taking a bath or shower every day; exercise is important, too. If a girl gets a period in school, the nurse or teacher will help with providing a sanitary napkin or tampon.
When a woman is pregnant (that means she's going to have a baby) the menstrual flow stops for nine months. Except during pregnancy, most women continue to have menstrual periods until they're about 50. After that, they aren't able to have babies any more.
Why do women menstruate? Every month a tiny egg inside a woman matures - that means it is ready to be fertilized by a sperm from a man and grow into a baby. The inside of the uterus gets soft so that a baby could grow there. When the egg isn't fertilized, the material inside the uterus isn't needed. So it leaves the woman's body as the menstrual flow.
What is ovulation? Ovulation is the process by which an egg or ovum leaves the ovary (the place where it develops into an egg in the first place). This happens about once a month. There are two ovaries, one of each side of the uterus.
What are wet dreams? Starting when a boy is between 12 and 16, he occasionally has nocturnal emissions or wet dreams. This is perfectly normal. Some semen is released from the penis while the boy is asleep. Semen is a special fluid that contains sperm. It is not urine. Sometimes a dream about sex happens at the same time. This is perfectly normal, too. Since a wet dream may be messy, the boy may want to put on clean pajamas or change the sheet and he should feel comfortable about this.
What is an erection? Sometimes a boy's penis gets hard and stands out from his body instead of hanging down loosely. He can't control this but the penis soon relaxes. There is no reason to worry about such erections. As boys grow older, they find they can control their erections. A man needs to be able to have erections. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to have sexual intercourse. Only an erect penis can fit into a woman's vagina.
What is sex? Most people use the word sex to mean sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This is only one aspect of sex. It also means male and female - the two sexes. Sexual intercourse takes place when the man and woman want to have their bodies close together. The man's penis goes inside the woman's vagina. When the man and woman love each other, they enjoy sexual intercourse. Sperm from the penis gets inside the woman's vagina during intercourse so a baby may begin. However, grown-ups often want to have intercourse when they don't want to make a baby. So grown-ups often want to have intercourse when they don't want to make a baby. So grown-ups can use special methods of birth control to let them enjoy sexual intercourse without making a baby when they aren't ready to care for one.
Who has sexual intercourse? Married people have
intercourse. Sometimes people who aren't married have intercourse,
too. Usually a couple want to be married when they have a baby so
that there will be both a father and a mother to help care for and
provide for the child for many years.
Questions Parents Ask and Answers
Will telling children 'the facts of life' promote sexual experimenting? There is no evidence to support this view. As in all other areas of life, factual information helps children and adults make wise decisions. Without the facts, it's easy to make mistakes and get into trouble. Attitudes about sexuality learned at home are helpful when children and youth face decisions about their own behavior. Curiosity can lead to sexual experimenting. Teaching children facts and helping them to develop healthy attitudes will not prevent all trouble. But it can help.
My husband thinks all this is my responsibility. How can I persuade him to help me? Children learn about males and females from you, their parents. They observe your interaction and your display of affection. They also observe the ways in which you answer their questions. Because mothers have usually been with young children more than fathers, it's natural for many children to ask mothers about sex. When fathers are asked, they do well to answer as honestly and simply as possible. One helpful hint for you as parents is to discuss sexual questions between yourselves. This can lead to comfort when answering children's questions and to greater understanding of both sexes. Thinking through your own feelings and beliefs is essential. Sharing the contents of this booklet and discussing your own views with each other may be helpful.
Do boys need to know about menstruation? Do girls need to know about wet dreams? Boys live in a world including mother, sisters, girlfriends, and eventually possibly a wife and daughter. Girls live in a world including father, brothers, boyfriends, and perhaps husband and son. The earlier the members of both sexes come to understand and accept themselves and each other, the more sympathetic and caring they can be. Boys who think menstruation is funny or nasty don't understand it. We need to make more of an effort to help our children with their understandings and appreciation of both sexes.
If you only have children of one sex, how can a parent teach about the other sex? When children are young, a variety of play activity allows them to see other children and both sexes. Most nursery schools encourage children to use the same toilet facilities which leads to a health acceptance. Children can bathe or swim together and thus see each other. Questions about body parts can be answered simply and physical differences between boys and girls accepted by the very young child. As children reach school age, they usually become modest and no longer want to share the tub with the other sex. You can accept and respect this wish.
If I hear my child using 'dirty words' how can I stop him? Most children will repeat words they hear. Usually the child doesn't even know that the word may have a sexual connotation. You can discuss the meaning of the word with your child and explain that this s a negative way to talk. You may use the word in the explanation so that the child knows that you aren't unbearably shocked. You can insist that the child not use the word at home. However, it may be expected that most children will want to use such words occasionally to impress their friends. Parents do well to accept this and not become upset. Of course, if you commonly use these words at home, you must expect your child to follow your example.
If a child fondles his external organs, what should I do? Girls don't do this, do they? All children are apt to fondle their genitals, girls as well as boys. This is normal and there is no reason for you to become upset. Some children do this more than other children, just as some children suck their thumbs more than others. By the time the child is school age, he can be told if he wants to do this, it should be done privately. By now he understands the meaning of privacy in many areas of socialization.
If an adolescent masturbates, will it lead to trouble for him? What should I do? Masturbation is normal human activity. Most adolescent boys and many teen age girls masturbate. There is no reason for you to be concerned about this normal activity. Contrary to old myths, masturbation does not cause pimples or other problems. You can simply accept this personal private activity.
We hear so much about venereal disease now, because they say it's epidemic. What can we do about it? You can share information with your children. Encourage school classes to give accurate information bout VD, including the way it is contracted and methods of prevention and cure. Education is one of our best defenses against the present VD epidemic.
We don't feel comfortable or confident about the sex education of our children. We often fear for our children. How can we grow more confident about raising our children? Since you are taking time to read this web site, you obviously are making an effort to become more comfortable in your role as sex educator. We all make mistakes and so do our children. Have confidence in yourself and recognize your own abilities. Have confidence in your children because you are helping them mature. When problems do arise, try not to overreact. Work with your child to find solutions. Listen. Be honest in giving answers and opinions. Trust your child - and trust yourself. No parent can do more than make an effort to do a good job. Be comfortable with that. As your child becomes mature and independent, encourage him to make his own decisions and to share ideas with you. Parenting is a tremendous job - the most difficult one that many people ever undertake. Therefore, we must not expect perfection. After we have tried to do the best we can, we must remember that we are independent people, too - not just parents. Try to appreciate your children as the individuals they are.
In our family the father of the children is not present. How can a mother alone guide her boys and girls toward healthy attitudes? Raising a child alone is a difficult job. When problems arise a single parent must often make lonely decisions, but many have enjoyed raising children and have don so very well. Be sure your children have friends of both sexes and that there are adults of the other sex from you for them to know and emulate. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors can be very helpful.
I can answer my children's first and early questions about sex, but I don't know how to tell them that the sperm enters the egg to start a baby. Should I do this? When? How? When the young child asks how the baby started growing inside the mother, he only wants a simple answer. One or two sentences will do. Simply explain that a part from the father goes into the mother and the baby starts to grow. Later you can expand the information to fit his interest and understanding. Children are able to accept the simple facts about conception and birth as easily as they could accept a fantasy. Early answers build trust in your as a source of helpful information which continues through the years. This is the beginning of healthy attitudes about sexuality.
My child has never asked questions about sex? Should I bring up the subject? Some children are more curious than others. Some ask any questions while others observe and listen quietly. Some children have learned early that they should not ask such questions. At appropriate times, comment on the cat having kittens, the new baby next door, your need to buy tampons or sanitary napkins at the store, the venereal disease epidemic, etc. Sex doesn't have to be talked about all the time. Conversation at appropriate times will lead to learning in a comfortable and casual way. When appropriate, admit to the child that you wish you'd talked with him about this earlier. Understanding and observation of behavior and building of values take place daily.
How can I keep my boy from being a sissy or my girl from being a tomboy? Encourage each child to develop fully as an individual. Help him feel good about his accomplishments. All children differ, including brothers and sisters. Children should not be forced into a mold. They should be helped to develop their own potential strengths. All children should be helped toward maturity, independence, and individuality. Not all boys want to participate in sports. Not all girls want to sit quietly of cook or sew. Both boys and girls can learn many skills and interests. When they are happy with the skills they are developing and they have confidence in their ability to succeed at their endeavor, they will become mature people. A worthwhile goal for parents is to encourage each child to develop his potential.
How can we be sure our teenager doesn't have sexual intercourse before marriage? You can't. There are few things in life of which we can be absolutely sure. As parents, all we can do is our best. After spending the years during which the chid was growing up helping him develop healthy attitudes and helping him build a value system which for you may include confining sexual intercourse to marriage, you trust your child and allow him to become an individual with independent actions. Your continuing interest in your child and ongoing love and caring will reinforce the established relationship. Most teens make great effort to live up to the trust and expectations of parents. They want you to be proud of them! Pitfalls for you to avoid are overreaction to any behavior which they don't like, lectures about the dangers of sex, or frightening the child into rebellion or unhealthy attitudes. But every time a teen makes a mistake there is no reason to blame yourself. All teens make some mistakes (just as all adults do). Be accepting and encouraging and loving. That's the best you can do. Undue worrying over whether a teen will decide to have sexual intercourse is wasted energy. Some teens will make this choice. You can try to understand the thinking and behavior of your teens. By late adolescence, it's best to encourage independence while continuing love and friendship.
How do I know when to seek outside counseling help for my child? Where can I get such help? When you are very concerned about a problem or behavior don't hesitate to seek help. Often the help will be directed toward the parent or whole family group rather than toward one child. When problems are solved early, they are solved more easily. Child guidance clinics and family service agencies offer help. So do private psychologists and psychiatrists. Your doctor or clergyman may be a source of help. Seeking help is not an admission of failure or weakness. Rather, it is a mature reaction to a very difficult situation. Outside help is often invaluable.
Source: Planned Parenthood
For specifics, see Contraception
Permanent Birth Control
It is a one-time operation which closes a pair of small tubes, either in the man's body or in the woman's body, so that the man's sperm and the woman's egg cannot meet and result in pregnancy. It does not affect the reproductive glands. Neither the ovaries in the female, nor the testes in the male are removed. Permanent Birth Control is not castration. No organs are removed. It is not hysterectomy. It does not alter sexual function in any medical or hormonal way.
How much hospitalization is required?
Laparotomy is considered major surgery under general anesthesia and usually requires several days of hospitalization. For the other techniques, local or general anesthesia may be used and hospitalization ranging from a few hours to several days may be required.
Are there possible side effects with these procedures?
Minor side effects of surgery can be a sore throat or nausea from the general anesthesia. Bleeding and/or infection at the site of the incision can occur, but these are not serious, and with treatment, disappear in a few days.
Side effects of laparoscopic tubal sterilization might include some discomfort and shoulder gain from the gas introduced into the abdomen, bleeding from the incision or in the abdomen near the tubes. A short, sharp pain can sometimes be felt as the tubes are sealed.
Are all techniques suitable to all women?
No. Based upon the person's medical history, and physical examination, the physician will determine which technique is advisable in consultation with the patient.
If desired, can Permanent Birth Control be performed in conjunction with abortion?
It can, making a separate hospitalization unnecessary. It is best if permanent decisions about sterilization are made at unstressful times, ideally weeks or months before the procedure itself.
Are there physical changes in women after a Permanent Birth Control procedure?
Other than the inability to reproduce, there are no known physical changes. Since no gland or organ is removed, hormones which regulate feminine characteristics and performance are still produced. The age of menopause will be unaffected, and there is no change of nature or resulting weight gain.
Will there be changes in menstruation?
Some women have noticed menstrual changes after surgery on the
tubes. However, studies of menstrual patterns in women have not
proven a direct relationship. Use of temporary contraceptive methods
before having a permanent birth control operation may contribute to
these changes, as may aging. For example, it is well known that oral
contraceptives can result in reduced menstrual flow. Therefore, a
return to a normal pattern can seem like an increase in menstrual
The Pill (female)
Emergency Contraception (female)
Gels and Foams
Cervical Caps and Diaphragms (female)
IUD (Intrauterine Device) (female)
The Sponge (female)
Tubal Litigation (female)
* * *
"It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and
violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire
to beget children is a natural urge." - Phyllis Diller