Family night for the average
Santa Fe teen typically consists
of pizza, board games and bickering with the siblings.
For Amy Christian and daughter Noquisi Christian-Smith, however, family bonding goes deeper. After bingeing the Netflix show Sex Education on a recent Friday night, mother and daughter engaged in a discussion on sexuality.
Christian has a unique take on what “the talk” — you know, the infamous conversation a parent has with their child about sex — should look like.
Rather than a one-time chat, “I think if we look at sex holistically as part of life and as accepting our bodies, it truly is a long conversation over time that happens at the level the kid is at as they grow up,” she says.
Opposed to the traditional “birds and the bees” sit-down parents have dreaded for ages, Christian’s approach suggests that new techniques are essential to address the needs of 21st-century teens.
Her daughter, a senior at Santa Fe Prep, agrees it’s important for parents and teens to discuss sex as questions appear — and when both the teen and the parent are ready for it.
“Otherwise, a forced conversation is never a good thing,” Christian-Smith says, “especially about such awkward topics that you don’t totally want to discuss with your parents.”
Dr. Anne Ridley, a clinical sexologist and owner of Modern Aphrodite, a female pleasure and intimacy store in Santa Fe, agrees a “one-and-done” discussion is not enough and says it’s critical parents provide an open, trusting environment for teens to talk with them.
“It’s about creating an alliance and safe space for your teenager to be able to come to you in a way that isn’t judgmental so that you can provide accurate and helpful information,” Ridley says. “When kids feel they are going to be received in a way that is accepting, they are more able to ask appropriate questions around issues that they’re actually facing” — whether physical health questions or inquiries pertaining to the emotional impact that comes with intercourse.
Kurt Kastendieck, a medical doctor and father of three, emphasizes the importance of educating teens on the emotional effects that accompany the decision to have sex.
“It needs to be more than anatomy and ‘this is where babies come from,’ ” Kastendieck says. “Parents, and almost any system, fail at teaching this too often because intimacy is a lot more than just going through the motions.”
Ridley says the decision to be intimate with someone for the first time is unique to each individual: “Some date younger, some older, but everyone has their own progress.”
According to a 2017 study by Planned Parenthood, 42 percent of females and 44 percent of males between age 15 and 19 have had sex.
Christian-Smith says many who identify as LGBTQ start having sex much later in life.
“[My mom] told me, ‘If you feel like you’re behind your friends who are heterosexual, you’re not; that’s just where you are,’ ” she says. “And that has really helped me just live with myself and where I am in terms of my own journey.”
Because many schools lack LGBTQ sex education, the responsibility of providing accurate and helpful information to queer youth often falls to parents. Christian-Smith says her parents decided to provide her with supplemental information outside of a classroom setting, and “that “reeducation” at home was very important,” she says.
Parents like Ridley and Christian also value “reeducating” their teenagers on the importance of consent, which comes down to teaching kids to respect themselves and set boundaries.
“For me, it really keeps coming back to self-esteem, self-worth, self-value,” Christian says.
Many teens encourage parents to explore these topics with them so that when they are ready, they are more prepared — physically and emotionally.
“Parents are the main adults in our lives, and understanding sexuality is so important for being a responsible adult,” says Justin Sanchez, a senior at St. Michael’s High School. “I definitely think it’s a parent’s responsibility to initiate ‘the talk’ because if they don’t, kids will just figure it out themselves the hard way.”
So is there one “right” way to have the talk? Not necessarily, experts say.
Ridley emphasizes that people have different belief systems, which impact what choices they hope their kids will make. For example, many parents, like Kastendieck, advocate for abstinence, while others simply want their kids to be mentally ready.
“Parents are scared that their teens are growing up too fast, so I think that’s where a lot of the stigma comes from,” says Christian-Smith. “It’s coming from a place of love and wanting their teenager to enjoy their life before they get into anything that they perhaps shouldn’t.”
Ultimately, though, it should come down to giving teenagers the proper resources and knowledge so they can make their own decisions. Whether that information comes from parents themselves or a trusted family physician is ultimately up to a child’s parent or guardian.
However parents choose to educate teenagers about sex, Christian says, it is critical that a parent never backs away from an awkward or uncomfortable conversation, and is, instead, willing to show young adults their sexual well-being is nothing to be embarrassed about.
“This is how life comes about,” she says. “So why are we ashamed of it?”