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The Squeamish Parent's Guide to Teen Sex

How speaking frankly and honestly is becoming the new revolution in sex ed



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Like Clark, Barajas doesn't end the conversation with information about STIs, HIV and teen pregnancy prevention.

"We want to be positive about sex, but the mainstream schools, they want us to go in there and show pictures of nasty STIs, and that's not really sex ed," she says. "Most of all, I want them to be aware of their bodies, I want them to honor and respect their bodies. Otherwise, they're not going to take care of themselves."

Even with programs like Barajas' and with information about sex more readily available from here to Poughkeepsie, what is most often heard about teens and sex are the accounts of golden boys on football teams drugging or intoxicating young girls and sexually assaulting them for fun. We all watched as newscasters gushed sympathy for the Steubenville rapists. The religious right continues to be militant in its anti-choice agenda, shaming teen moms and slut-shaming women who want access to contraception.

When a whopping 44 percent of rape victims are under 18, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, it is crucial that kids are educated about consent and healthy boundaries. And that's the hard part—teaching our kids about sex and self-respect, along with the joys and risks of emotional and physical intimacy, even if it scares the bejeezus out of us. But what about our sexuality as parents? Is it OK to disclose information about what we're into, how many partners we've had or what really happened after that hiking date last week? Married, single, hetero, gay, bi, trans, poly—whatever our sexual orientation, how much is too much information for our kids? And how are we ever going to be able to look them in the face again if they discover we are into some really kinky stuff? Or that we have more than one lover? Or that we're gay?

"There's a big difference between educating and pushing it onto your kids. I'm definitely not advocating for anyone to push any kind of sexual agenda onto their children. That's really the opposite of what I hope my work is doing," says Clark. "But the baby boomer version of sexuality, the consumer culture around sex—it's dysfunctional and it makes us feel bad when we're real about sexuality because we don't have enough examples."

Clark says some of her coaching, which includes clients from as far away as Australia, India, Ireland and Eastern Europe, focuses on helping parents with coming-out strategies with their kids and how parents with other kinds of "alternative" sexualities can be open and honest about who they are.

"How do you talk about your sexuality," Clark asks, "and not make it an exception in your own household, right? Because the dominant narrative is man-and-woman reproduction, but that's never gonna happen if you're gay, so why teach that first and then teach yourself as this weird secondary or periphery sexuality when it's your fucking house and it's your family? If you have an alternative sexuality, there's ways to explain it where it doesn't violate your child's boundaries."

And of course there's the question of how single parents can fit in some boot-knocking without traumatizing the kids. When do we introduce our kids to a new lover? Or do we? Is it OK for our kids to hate someone we're sleeping with—or do they even need to know we're getting laid?

It's all contextual, Clark says. And like everything else in the great wild world of parenting, we will make mistakes. We'll screw up and embarrass them and scare them and totally gross them out when they see us making out in the car after a date. Hopefully, though, we can push through those panic attacks we have about our kids having sex and learn to enjoy an occasional (or, God willing, frequent) sexcapade with one or more consensual, orgasm-giving partners.

And maybe someday our kids will look back and remember something other than an awkward middle-school sex-ed class. Maybe they'll remember how embarrassing and brave it was for their parents to talk about oral sex. Maybe they'll remember how confident they felt that first time putting on a condom in front of a partner because their dad handed them a box one time and let them practice at home.

And when all is said and done, maybe they'll look back and feel grateful for all of the hard work we've done in raising them, even if they're creeped out just by knowing that we're getting some, too.

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