I’m embarrassed to talk about sex

By DR MICHAEL LOWRY [email protected]

Dr Michael Lowry is an experienced parent and educator, who regularly visits his Algarve home in Tavira. His work over many years in universities has led to increasing interest in, and understanding of teenagers, their problems and feelings. He has published widely in professional journals, and has delivered presentations at international conferences.

My daughter is aged eleven, so not strictly a teenager, however I feel the current problem is related to her teenage years.

She has become curious about sex and reproduction, with many of her questions arising as a result of either what she sees and hears on television, or from her friends at school. What concern me are two issues: first, I am embarrassed to talk about sex with her, as I feel she may develop a changed attitude towards the way I and her father have behaved. Secondly, I am concerned that she has misunderstood some aspects of sex education which worries me. Her school teachers tend to be as embarrassed about this as I and her father are. Any advice will be appreciated.

What you describe is a very long standing series of concerns, made far worse by the fact that sex education and the associated relationship and emotional issues have been demonised by parents and teachers. The result of this is that all concerned shy away from the subjects and in doing so make matters worse. The way of dealing with this first of all lies with our deciding clearly on the nature of the issue. Sex education in its rawest form deals with the simple biology of how animals (including humans of course) re create their species. That level of understanding is accessible to children of your daughter’s age and possibly even earlier primary age school children. Dealing with the simple biology will go a long way to removing any potentially embarrassing or difficult elements of the topic, and should pave the way for the equally important aspects of social and emotional sexuality and reproduction. What it is less likely to do, and this is of major concern for many parents, is to remove altogether the prospects of unplanned pregnancy. I use the word ‘unplanned’ rather than ‘unwanted’ with reason. Highly intelligent and aware people still have unplanned pregnancies, so ignorance is not the whole picture.

It is extremely important that parents respond to enquiries from their children about the process of reproduction. Start by using simple words and perhaps pictures of the unity of sperm and egg. That in itself is for most people relatively unthreatening. From that basic and very important understanding you may in time move towards what for many parents and teachers are the real threats: emotional and social relations. We must get rid of the demons attached to sex and reproduction education, to address these with confidence and then to develop in our children an awareness of sex related social and emotional responsibilities and care. Please refer to my book, which has a lot of information about all of these elements. Good luck with your very important task of parenting a soon-to-be teenager.

‘Teenagers: their care and maintenance in captivity’ is available direct from: www.lulu.com or from major online retailers.

Dr Michael Lowry can be contacted by emailing [email protected]