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How to Talk Openly With Your Kids About Sex

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By Michele Hutchison,Rina Mae Acosta

This spring, Rina’s four-year-old kindergartner Bram Julius will learn about colors, shapes, how to play nicely with other children, and take his first steps towards learning about sexuality at school. In these early sex ed lessons the class will discuss butterflies in your stomach, friendship, and whether or not you’re happy to hold hands with another child. Meanwhile, my nine-year-old daughter Ina will be having class conversations about the physical changes during puberty and romantic relationships.

Each spring, Dutch children between the ages of four and twelve receive a week-long national sex-education program at school. The aim of these lessons is to allow for open, honest discourse about love, relationships, feelings, personal boundaries, and sex. The Dutch approach is even more surprising when I think about the climate I grew up in. Sex-ed was something you were taught at school in an embarrassing biology lesson. You couldn’t talk about it openly. The Dutch national sex-ed school program might seem odd or controversial, especially since a recent CDC study shows that nearly 80% of American children and teenagers do not receive any formal sex and sexuality education before having sex. But given the bigger picture, we think the Dutch are onto something.

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world while the Dutch have among the lowest—eight times lower than their American counterparts. Research also indicates that, on average, teens in the Netherlands do not have sex at an earlier age than those in the US. This is the case even though Dutch society and parents are more relaxed, even allowing romantic sleepovers in their own homes. If you treat teenagers as if they are mature and responsible enough to make decisions, they might actually live up to those expectations.

It seems that with American children being constantly exposed to sexual content in the media through music videos, prime-time TV, and the internet, American parents anxiously avoid talking to their children about sex in the hope of not exposing them any further. This, in a climate where sexting, sending sexually explicit texts, is becoming increasingly common, even as early as in middle school.

While Dutch schools are providing age-appropriate lessons on intimacy and sexuality, instilling in children a safe code of conduct and respect for others, Dutch parents keep nothing from children. Nothing is taboo. Questions are answered simply and honestly, at the child’s level of understanding and maturity, as they arise. It was one of the first pieces of parenting advice we received from other parents here. Recent questions from my son, Ben, who is just a couple of years shy of becoming a fully-fledged teen, include: “Is sex fun? How?” and “How does a sperm donor get the sperm out?” I have been answering my kids’ questions on anatomy and reproduction from almost as early as they could talk.

Of course, sex can be a tricky, embarrassing topic no matter what culture you’re a part of. But by talking more openly about sex, parents can ease into discussing topics that become more complicated as their children grow older. Topics like gay marriage, sexuality, gender issues, and consent. There’s an added bonus to all this communication: children who have a good relationship with their parents tend to wait longer before having sex.

Like most expats, we were shocked to hear that Dutch parents allow their teenage children to have friends of the opposite sex to stay the night. But here, most teenagers have their first sexual experience in the safety of the parental home—how many Americans can say the same? According to a UNICEF report, 75% of Dutch teenagers use a condom the first time they have sex, and data from the World Health Organization shows that Dutch teens are among the top users of the birth-control pill. So teenage sex is allowed, but preferably in a controlled environment, that is, under the teen’s parents’ own roof. A safe place to have sex encourages safe sex.

Dutch children are well equipped with knowledge about sex before they enter puberty. If they are, the Dutch have learned, they will take fewer risks later on and know how to protect themselves.

It’s no wonder that Dutch kids are considered to be the happiest kids in the world! The Dutch have a very different view of what a child actually is—including accepting the reality that their children will have sex at one point or another . If American parents are anxious to keep their children safe, perhaps it would be better if they, and teachers, were more open about sex after all.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexual assault awareness | Sex in the Suburbs

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — and here’s what you can do.

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1. Believe survivors:

If someone comes to you and discloses sexual assault, believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing. Don’t ask what they were thinking. Tell them you are sorry that it happened. Tell them it’s not their fault. And most of all, believe them.

Why?

Sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported in our society, for a variety of reasons. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, less than a third of sexual assaults are reported to police. One of the most prominent reasons is the concern that the survivor will not be believed. Consider the recent expose by the Salt Lake Tribune about BYU’s Honor Code, used against sexual assault survivors. More than two dozen survivors told the paper that they did not report crimes committed against them because they, the survivors, would get in trouble. Believing survivors is important.

2. Engage your voice:

Teens — lift your voice to counter any messages that any sexual assault is the survivor’s fault. Talk about consent with your friends and peers. Have speakers in to your school and other organizations to teach about consent. Don’t be silent.

Parents — talk with your teens about consent. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they are uncomfortable in a situation, even if they have broken a house rule. Think about it: Would you rather have a child who has had a few drinks call you for help and a ride, or would you rather have a child who didn’t want to get in trouble end up sexually assaulted?

Coaches — use your authority to counter cultural messages that pressuring people into sexual activity is OK. It isn’t. Make that clear with your teams and students, no matter what gender they are. Athletes are often leaders in their schools and popular. Help create an atmosphere that makes clear consent popular, too.

Fraternities and sororities — get educated and keep getting educated. Traditions can be wonderful, and they can be harmful. Make a commitment to work together in your organizations to create a healthier culture around consent, including caring for each other when alcohol is involved. Be smart. Engage your voices together.

Religious leaders — make a difference by shattering the silence so prevalent in our religious communities about talking about sex. Create healthy faith communities by having clear boundaries, smart supervision policies for children and youth, and engaging your voices in conversations around healthy relationships, communication and consent.

3. Get involved:

• Learn more by going to www.nsvrc.org to find ways to engage on social media, download posters for coloring, download postcards with healthy messages and more.

• Consider hosting a viewing and discussion of the movie “Spotlight.”

• Learn more about sexual assault, types of sexual violence, laws in Washington and the effects of sexual violence at www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault.

Now is not the time to be silent. Engage your voice. Take action to become more aware of and to prevent sexual assault.

Complete Article HERE!

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What to do when your teen tells you they have a sexually transmitted infection

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By now, most parents likely know that not talking about sex with their teens will not stop them from doing it. And, as a parent, you might even have done some reading on how to have The Talk with your kids. Maybe you think you’ve done everything right when it comes to having important conversations with your teen. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding the discussion because you’re not sure where to start.

No matter which category you fit into, you may still find yourself as the parent whose kid comes home and tells them they think they might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or that they have contracted an STI. The way you respond to that bombshell can make all the difference for your child going forward — in their relationship with you, with future partners, and with themselves. “Often, the response of the people that you confide in when you first have a diagnosis shapes how you see your condition from then on out,” says Myisha Battle, a San Francisco-based sex coach. “It’s important that parents have a response that can potentially produce a positive outcome for kids when they’re disclosing.”

That, of course, is easier said than done. Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, a sex ed web site for youth, and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, says that the groundwork for a positive response begins before your child ever receives a diagnosis. In fact, the way you talk about STIs from the beginning may determine whether your child even comes to you if they’re worried about their sexual health. And that, says Corinna, includes things like not talking about any infectious illness in a stigmatized way. “The closer we get to people, the more susceptible we are to infections,” Corinna explains. So if you wouldn’t talk about getting the chicken pox or a cold from someone as something gross, you shouldn’t talk about STIs that way, either. “When STIs come up in media or if people make a stigmatizing joke, correct it,” Corinna says. “Also important is not assigning value to people who do or don’t have an STI.”

And, no matter how many safer sex conversations you have (or haven’t) had with your kid, even people who do everything right can contract an STI. “STIs can happen even if you use protection and get tested,” says Ella Dawson, a writer who was diagnosed with herpes at 20. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime; two in three people worldwide have herpes simplex I and half of new infections are genital. The CDC considers both chlamydia and gonorrhea to be common infections. But, as Corinna points out, “The tricky thing is that when we talk about STIs, we’re talking about easily treatable illnesses like chlamydia versus [something like] HIV.”

Something else that might affect how involved a parent is or needs to be is how a young person contracted their STI in the first place. Often, STIs are contracted during consensual sexual interactions, but they can also be contracted during abuse or an assault. Corinna says that the biggest concern that they hear at Scarleteen from teens who have STIs is that their parents or caregivers will be disappointed in them. But, more serious than that, are fears that they may be kicked out of their house for having sex. Or, “if it happens in a wanted or ongoing relationship,” says Corinna, “there is the fear that their parents will punish them by refusing to let them see the person anymore.” All of these things may prevent a young person from disclosing their status to their parent or caregiver, or to avoid seeking medical attention all together.

“Teens with STIs need two things,” says Dawson. Those things are “access to medical care, and support. Make sure that your child has gotten a quality diagnosis from a medical professional, and also make sure that they are being treated with respect by their physician,” she says. Then, bombard them with unconditional love and support. It’s also important to do what you can to avoid adding to the shame and stigma your child might already be feeling. “Believe me, they don’t need you to confirm their own feelings of shame and regret,” Dawson warns.

Of course, it’s normal for parents to panic when their kid comes to them with an unexpected revelation like an STI diagnosis, but “it’s important to keep that freak out away from your kid,” says Battle. Corinna encourages parents to put aside their emotional reaction and get themselves educated so they can best help the young person in their lives. “If you’re in denial about [your] young person having sex, try to move past it and help them with what they need. If it’s about you controlling their health care and not giving them access, fix that,” Corinna says. “If you didn’t have conversations about what it means to be sexual with someone else, it’s time to have this conversation.”

Everyone agrees that the best way to be helpful as a parent is to take your lead from your child. “If they are upset, validate that. If they don’t feel bad about it, don’t make it a big deal,” suggests Corinna. Demonizing the transmitter, especially if that person is a partner, is not a helpful tactic and may alienate your child. Also not helpful? Trying to implement behavior modifications that same day, like taking them immediately to buy condoms, because it may feel like blaming. Also, going behind the young person’s back and calling their healthcare provider or their partner or telling a co-parent without getting explicit permission are surefire ways to lose a teen’s trust.

If your child isn’t sure what their diagnosis means, it can be a great time to get educated together. If they’re unsure if they might have an STI, “ask, ‘What are your symptoms? Let’s go to trusted website and find out what next steps should be.’ Or if it’s a diagnosis, it’s still an opportunity to sit down and ask what they learned at the doctor and what they know, so you can understand the next steps,” says Battle. Check out the resources on Scarleteen, the CDC’s website, or the American Social Health Association.

If you haven’t had great sex education yourself, learn along with your teen. After there is some distance, you can initiate another conversation about safer sex and make sure your teen has access to the appropriate supplies to help them avoid an STI in the future.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is letting your child know that an STI does not change the way you see them. This “does not mean your child has erred, ruined their future, or shown their true, negative character. Anyone can get an STI, even if you’re on the Dean’s list,” says Dawson. “What’s really important is that your kid is having a respectful, consensual and healthy sex life.”

Complete Article HERE!

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High-risk sex, girl-on-girl experimenting linked among NYC teens

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By Susan Edelman

Nearly half the Big Apple’s sexually active high-school girls have had female partners — and many engage in behavior that endangers their health, an alarming new study finds.

Researchers from New York University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine based their findings on a 2013 survey of public high-school students citywide — but most heavily in “high-risk neighborhoods” in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Of 4,600 girls surveyed, 1,101, or 27.5 percent, were sexually active. Of those, 513, or 46.6 percent, reported same-sex experiences, according to the study, published this month in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

This “vulnerable population of girls” who engage in same-sex or bisexual activity are twice as likely as heterosexual teens to be sexually active. The researchers also found:

  • These girls start having sex sooner, have more sexual partners and suffer more “intimate partner violence.”
  • They are less likely to use contraceptive methods — putting them at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy if they also have sex with boys.
  • They use more alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
  • They report more suicidal thoughts or attempts. Girls “not sure” of their sexual orientation are at highest risk of trying to kill themselves.
  • Even though female-to female transmission of HIV is possible, many of these girls do not test for it or other sex-related diseases.

Dr. Chanelle Coble, an adolescent pediatrician and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, co-authored the study with Einstein assistant professors and psychologists Rosy Chhabra and Ellen Silver.

The researchers found the abundance of same-sex activity even though not all teens who indulged identified themselves as lesbian or bi-sexual.

“Just looking at how someone describes themselves doesn’t tell the whole story,” Coble said. “When they’re young, it’s harder for them to be specific about their identity — they’re still exploring and figuring it out.”

An advocate for lesbian and bisexual youth called the study’s results, “disheartening, but not surprising.”

Lesbian and bisexual girls are often stigmatized and treated with hostility, said Emily Greytak, research director for GLSEN, a Manhattan-based group that promotes safe schools for LGBT students.

“That can lead to more risky behavior, and takes a toll on their health,” she said.

The surveys were conducted by the city Department of Health for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Complete Article HERE!

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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

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A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

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