Following up on last week’s episode on talking to your younger children about sex, join Foreplay as we discuss talking to your teenagers about sex. Learn how to not only talk to them, but have them talk to you!
Laurie Watson: This is Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with sex therapist, Laurie Watson and author of Wanting Sex Again. And I’m here with my co-host, Dr. Adam Matthews, a couple’s therapist. Today, we’re going to talk about teens and sex. And how to talk to your teenage kids about sex. Which is going to be fun.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Teens and sex, that is the buzz word, isn’t it? That’s the scary thing, teens and sex.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, that’s scary.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Or shouldn’t be scary. But it gets people fired up. I know that.
Laurie Watson: It can be really scary having lived through some of that with my teenagers. Yeah.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, you’ve done it. It is on the horizon for me.
Laurie Watson: And what do you think is so scary? What do you think parents are worried about?
Dr. Adam Matthews: I think we are worried that they are going to do it. They are going to do it. And all the consequences that are going to come out of that.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. And don’t you think even parents who did it as teens are still worried about their kids doing it?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely. Like they are scared to death of it. They don’t want their kids to do the same things they do. Because I think people have so many bad experiences.
Laurie Watson: Right. And we remember feeling immortal, when we were teenagers and all the risks that we took. And now we know we weren’t immortal. And we know our kids are not immortal. You know, and it’s certainly a scary world for people’s entering, you know, a sexual life. Things that certainly when I was a kid, when I was a teenager, AIDS didn’t exist.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: AIDS did not exist when I was a teenager. You know, and nobody had heard of herpes. You know, I mean, now 80% of everybody has genital warts. That wasn’t happening.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. So, those things, the rise of it, and our awareness of it is so much more. Like you’re talking about our awareness of STDs, of teen pregnancy, of abuse, of the things that can just result from teens very early on starting to experiment sexually and starting to explore that. That gets us freaked out. It’s all over the news. It’s all over the news all the time. It grabs headlines, right? It really, it really does.
Laurie Watson: Right. And I think that very few parents can imagine that sex would be a good thing for their kids to have in their teenage years, you know, and have it add to their life., right? I mean, even if you intellectually you can imagine that, there’s still this fear that keeps us from thinking about it in a positive way. You know? And I mean a lot of people I would agree with. I would agree that early teens, you know, the formation of the self is not there yet for a teenager.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: And so, it’s probably more likely going to disrupt them than it’s going to add to them.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And I just want to insert here, if you haven’t listened to the previous podcast where we talked about how to talk to kids about sex before they’re teenagers, I’d encourage you to do so because we talked a lot. And one of the things we mentioned there is about giving them some context for it, talking to them about when you think is the right time to have sex. Because we’re not here to tell you or how to decide that for your kids. But we are wanting to make sure we know how to talk to adolescents about sex because we tend to think that once we’ve had that conversation and we usually have it hopefully before they’re into the teen years of not seeing that as just something that is happens one time, right? So, how do we begin to continue that conversation into the teen years in a way that’s healthy for them and really allows them to talk to us about their own fears, their own vulnerabilities about sex, conversations about sex in high schools are happening.
Laurie Watson: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s all the time, right? They are bombarded with those types of things.
Laurie Watson: I don’t care what school your kid goes to their peers are having sex.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie Watson: And so, I mean it is a conversation that’s super important to talk about and also a conversation that I think by that age, if you have not had a constant conversation with them, they’re unlikely to want to talk to you about it.
Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s right. It’s going to be much harder.
Laurie Watson: So, how do you do that? I mean, I would suggest that there are a million introductions to the topic of sexuality, that can be ways that a parent can add something. And that could be a television show. That could be something that they heard. That can be “the mommies were talking about this the other day and one of them had a daughter that x, y, and z, did this. And I was wondering?” And the idea would be, is start with open ended questions.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: You know, this was happening with so and so and I was wondering what you thought of it? Or if any of your friends were experiencing that? It’s often less threatening to talk about the kid of a parent that you know or heard about or your daughter or son’s friends and what they might be thinking about this. Then asking directly, what do you think about this? Sorry, I have a cold folks. So, I’m sounding kind of froggy. Maybe sexier, I don’t know.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Raspy. The raspy voice.
Laurie Watson: The raspy voice. Yeah, that’s me. So, I mean, I think an open ended question gets the ball rolling. And I think parents have to realize they have at least four years in high school to talk to their children. And kind of take a deep breath, take a deep breath. Not everything needs to be said all at once. And I think we’re so anxious about what’s scary out there. We want to, you know, pound those messages. But gosh, this is a big conversation.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, absolutely.
Laurie Watson: It’s a really big conversation about what they’re feeling and their feelings of love and connection with another. I mean it is — it is scary. I will say, I’m not sure who sang it, but it’s like the first is the deepest. Who was that?
Dr. Adam Matthews: I’m bad on those type of things.
Laurie Watson: Trivia for 500 with Dr. Adam Matthews.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Somebody write in and tell us. Maybe, I want to say Guns and Roses, maybe.
Laurie Watson: No, no. It’s a woman singer. Cheryl Crow.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Cheryl Crow.
Laurie Watson: We love you. But I think there’s so much truth in that, the first cut is the deepest. Because when our teens fall in love, they’ve never experienced rejection before. You know, they are just tender, tender little beans. And when that rejection comes, it is just, it kills them. It hurts so bad. And if we say to them things like, “Well, you know, you weren’t going marry that person anyway, you know, get over it.” With an adult lens instead of realizing, “Oh yeah, you know, that first heartbreak. Oh, it’s hard.” And so, we want to comfort them and be with them in this. And again, I mean I see the greatest thing about sex for me, you know, my bias is when sex and love is combined.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, for sure.
Laurie Watson: You know, I think that’s what I’m thinking about. And obviously, we’re talking to primarily committed couples. But you know, that’s the greatest gift.
Dr. Adam Matthews: One of the things that you’re saying is when we are talking about love and about the, for lack of a better word, the teen drama, that goes on around relationships that I think parents are likely to write off or get frustrated by. Like you said, because we just want them to get over it. We see it so easily.
Laurie Watson: It’s anguish for us to see our kids in anguish. So, what we want to do is repress that. “Oh, just brush it off. It’s nothing.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: But when we’re talking to them about that, about love and relationships, we’re also, we’re having talks about sex. We can’t ignore the explicit sex talks, but it’s supporting those love conversations, as conversations about relationship. We’re supporting a healthy view of sex when we enter into those and have those conversations.
Laurie Watson: Right. And I mean sex, when we have orgasm, oxytocin is released. And that’s a bonding chemical. We actually do bond with the person. I kind of think about, you know, the hatchlings, right? Whoever the baby duck sees after they first hatch, that’s their mommy. Well, it’s kind of like after you have an orgasm, whoever you’re lying next to you, you know, you see that person as your, you know, your love, your romantic partner.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: And I think that that is really important. And I do think that there is a difference between men and women. There is a difference in terms of how boys enter the sexual experience and their expectations. And how girls do as well. I have so much to say about this. I mean, I list on my form, you know, what was your first sexual experience like? And I read these. And one of the things that feels sad to me is that 90% of the women who write an answer to that question, the answer is negative. But it was painful. You know, I just got my virginity over with. You know, I didn’t even know the person. It was rough. I mean, very few of them, write in, yeah, it was with a long term boyfriend. We’d been dating for a year already. And you know, we had sex and it was fumbling. But you know, I loved him. And he loved me. And it was really great. I mean, I get that answer hardly ever. And whereas, the male answer is very frequently, it was exciting. It was great. You know, I don’t know what happened, but it was really fun.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It didn’t last very long. But it was there.
Laurie Watson: Didn’t last very long. I don’t know if it went in, you know. I mean really, but I think that men often have a better first experience than girls do. And you know, they’re having sex at about this age, about teenagers. Which one, I think if we can wrap our heads around that our children aren’t going to be having sex, we need to talk to them a little more explicitly about, you know, what makes a good sexual experience. And maybe we asked them, you know, what do your friends say makes for a good sexual experience? Now, I’m not talking about the 13, 14 year old teen. I’m talking about the 18 year old, 17 year old, 19 year old teen, who is in relationship or who is about to be in a relationship. Or who friends have started to go steady. You know, it’s time to really talk with them about that. And also, to talk about the other. You know, the hookup. And what we feel about the hookups, which by and large I am way against hookups for this reason for women. Because most of the time the girl doesn’t have an orgasm. I mean most of the time, like 10% of the time does she have an orgasm. Where’s most of the time the boy does? And it’s like, what is she doing it for? I understand there’s excitement about being desired. But I really don’t get it because she doesn’t get satisfaction, you know? And it’s, again, it’s sort of, I just don’t get what she’s getting out of it. And I talk to young women about it all the time. And many times, still young women have a narrative about romance. I’m hooking up with him, he had sex with me, and therefore he’s going to want to marry me or he’s going to want to date me.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. That this is going to be some kind of long term relationship.
Laurie Watson: Relationship. And no, that is definitely not what the male population is saying. You know, I talk to college students all the time and I get to talk in intimate settings as well. And they’re not saying that. They are saying, “Yeah, it was great. I had an itch. Wanted to scratch it.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. Well, and I think for two, for the male part, I think that is, and you tell me if I’m off here. But it feels like when we’re not having those conversations with our boys as well, that are becoming young men, that sex is becoming more about how often, about the quantity rather than the quality.
Laurie Watson: The conquest.
Dr. Adam Matthews: The conquest, how many partners have I had, just the shear numbers. And it becomes a competition because men tend to turn things into competitions. Rather than about affection, about love, about care, and about a mutual experience. It becomes about a singular experience, just for me and what I get out of it.
Laurie Watson: Sure. And I think that that creates a lot of anxiety in young men believing that they’re left out of the contest. Because they haven’t had sex yet or because they haven’t had sex with as many partners as they believe their roommate at college has or whatever. And I have a really interesting study that was done at the University of Michigan. And basically, it said they took a study and they asked, how many sex partners do you believe your roommate, or your best friend is having? And how many have you had? And the answer was, they all had had on average of two sexual partners. But they believed that their friends or roommates had had four. So, the reality was everybody had had about two sexual partners. But their belief was that everybody else was having double the sex that they were having. You know, and that puts a lot of pressure on young people.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Sure.
Laurie Watson: Like, “Wow, I’m being left out because I’m not having this.” And as parents we can talk to our kids. We can bring the research. I mean, I don’t want it to be about bringing the research only. I want it to be a long conversation. But we can be reassuring.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And two, let’s just all get on the same page. Men lie about their sexual conquest.
Laurie Watson: Sure.
Dr. Adam Matthews: We just lie. And so, like that’s one of the things that perpetrates that myth that makes me believe that my friends are having more sex than I am, that gets put out there. And people are lying about this.
Laurie Watson: And I think they lie in part because there’s a lot of pressure that says they should be sexual animals, right?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Absolutely.
Laurie Watson: That that’s what being young, and male is to be full of sexual desire and to be, you know, spilling that all over.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And that they should always want sex. That they should always be thinking about sex cause that’s what it means to be male. And so that, I think, when we begin to have those conversations with our kids. We begin to counteract some of those, some of those myths that exist out there.
Laurie Watson: I think so too. And you know, I had three sons and we had lots of conversations about it. I did talk pretty freely about it with them. And I mean they asked me everything from, you know, telling me about the issue with the particular person to, you know, “Mom, I don’t think I’m very good at it. What do I do?” And you know, of course I’m a parent as well as a sex therapist. And so, well here’s a good book. You know, I mean, I want there to be appropriate boundaries too. But I want to answer real questions. And you know, I did talk to them about, you know, it’s not all about intercourse, intercourse, intercourse. It really is about how you touch her. And do you know where the center of her sexual universe is? It’s her clitoris, not her vagina. I mean, I was able to say those things pretty frankly. You know, just in a frank sort of normal conversation.
Dr. Adam Matthews: You’re not leaving the education up to the school system, right?
Laurie Watson: Or up to their peers or up to their experimentation. You know, so that they would know, or God, up to porn. I don’t want them to learn it from porn. That was another thing I told my sons and we did have protective mechanisms on our computers at home. But obviously by the time they go off to college, that’s all gone away. But I said, really, really, really, you know, pornography does not teach you about real sex. It teaches you about a performance. That’s not how real people look usually. And it is often not how real people respond. Because I said give yourself a chance to have your own first experience. So, that you’re not measuring yourself against everything you’ve seen. You know, and do I think my kids have seen porn on computers? Probably. Absolutely. Some of them I know have. You know, but I wanted them to have a chance at feeling something. You know, kids are clicking into a performance. I read something the other day, a young woman said, you know, “When I’m having sex with someone, I start to feel pleasure, and then I remember how I ought to be acting. And I try to act like those porn girls.” And it’s like how tragic is that?
Dr. Adam Matthews: How awful is that. Yeah, absolutely.
Laurie Watson: You know, she doesn’t get to feel her body. She doesn’t get to experience the sensations of her body.
Dr. Adam Matthews: That reminds me of like one of two things that are happening in adolescence, that is affecting these things. One, they are flooded with emotion. They’re flooded with hormones that are just making them and it’s emotionally just confusing. And so, helping them make sense of those things, it really helps support healthy sexuality. And then the other thing is, and I was dealing with this with a client the other day, who is searching for an identity. And if we’re not stepping in and having the conversations that you’re talking about, there is a chance that they find that identity in sex. I was talking to a young lady who began having sex when she was in middle school. And it became a full pledged identity for her, where she was not able to express her emotions or talk about her wants and her needs in a relationship because she readily admitted it, “I expressed it through sex.” So, I dealt with when my boyfriend cheated on me, I dealt with it by having sex with him. Or I dealt with it by having sex with somebody else. And it became a real issue for her because part of that identity had formed during her adolescence. And nobody was there to talk to her about it.
Laurie Watson: Talk her through it.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Talk her through it, talk through the pain of that initial breakup with a boy or talk to her about when her high school boyfriend cheated on her on the school grounds, where everybody knew about it.
Laurie Watson: Yeah.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And so, those types of things —
Laurie Watson: Wow. That’s so painful. And so complex by the teenage years. And often so silent from the parents. Like no intervention or comforting word, you know, from their parents.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Questioning, asking.
Laurie Watson: No relationship probably with their parents enough that they could bring this to them. And I think that’s what we want to do. Let’s come back to this Adam. Because I think this is so important. And I think what you said, so many parents don’t want to imagine that their daughter could be going through that. And so, what they are telling them are things like just don’t do it. You know, and blanket messages that are not necessarily conversations about where the child is really at. You know, their fear, perhaps their moral stance, whatever it is, is blocking a real relationship with their teen just when the teen needs it the very most.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: So, you’re listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with sex therapist, Laurie Watson and Dr. Adam Matthews, couple’s therapist. And we will be right back.
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Laurie Watson: Welcome back to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy. This is sex therapist, Laurie Watson and couple’s therapist, Dr. Adam Matthews. And today, we’re talking again about teens with sex. And Adam, you had such a sweet thing to say. Tell that story again.
Dr. Adam Matthews: One of the things that happened growing up, especially when I was a teenager. My parents would write us a letter on our birthdays, tell us all kinds of those mushy parent type things for the most part. You know, just kind of roll my eyes through it. And my mother sent me one when I was 17 or 18, I can’t remember. She sent it through an email. And email was just starting to become a thing. And so, I was sitting at the computer lab at my school looking at this email from my mother.
Laurie Watson: Oh, no.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And they always started the letter by, you know, 17 years ago at this time, I was in the hospital getting ready for all that kind of stuff. Reflection. And in this one, she said that typical thing, 17 years ago, I was in the hospital and I can’t believe that it’s been this long. And she said, “I also can’t believe that 17 years and nine months ago was some of the best sex that me and your father have ever had.”
Laurie Watson: You can’t see me, but my eyebrows just jumped up. Like, wow. You are in the computer lab thinking, “Oh my parents had sex, oh my God.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: I know. I’m in the computer lab and I fell out of my chair at this point. I’m on the floor. And hiding the screen because I’m afraid people are going to see it.
Laurie Watson: Click, click. No, take that off, take that off.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, that’s right. After I got over kind of the trauma, the mini trauma in my mind of that several years later, I realized that looking back on that, realizing that what a formative thing it was to have your parents tell you in a healthy, appropriate way that sex is good for them. You know, sex was not a bad thing for them. That it’s an enjoyable.
Laurie Watson: Right.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And it made me remember that my parents, you know, did things like they kissed in front of us. You know, and they didn’t get upset or stop because of our eye rolls or our groans, you know.
Laurie Watson: I mean they were demonstrating this appropriate sexual, warm, passionate relationship. And then telling you about it too at an appropriate age, which is incredible. Even though the, I’m sure as a 17 year old like, “Oh, gross.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And I think as parents too often when our kids do that, when they blah or they eye roll, we stop. And we don’t push the other way. It was like, “I don’t care if your eye rolling, you are going to hear how awesome sex is, that we still have a good healthy sexual relationship.”
Laurie Watson: Yeah. And I think that this is important to our conversation. Also, as we think about teens and talking to them about sex is so often it’s the other way around, right? Parents have come to a halt sexually or the marriage has kind of cemented into problematic areas. Sex often being muted. Or you know, boring. Or something because people have not been courageous about keeping their passion alive. And then they see their teenage kids full of passion, full of this sexual energy. And it’s kind of like the juxtaposition against their own lives. You know, they can’t remember. They don’t want to think about it. It’s almost like an in your face.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s too much. Yeah.
Laurie Watson: You know, an in your face. And we want to say, we want to pull them down, right? Well, you know, it isn’t something that lasts. It’s not, you know, you need to be responsible and grown up like we are to kind of —
Dr. Adam Matthews: Control your passions.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. But your parents, you know, what a different message saying, “Hey, we are sexual still and enjoying it.” And conveying that message, I mean, that’s a context I think for our teens having sex that we can say, you know, “In a long term committed relationship, this can be a really good thing.” And formative in the ways of thinking about their choices now. I mean, one of the things I believe that comes up is what happens when the teen is making choices about their sexuality that don’t match the parent’s vision and projection for what the kid should be doing?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Oh, that’s a big one. Yeah.
Laurie Watson: You know, maybe the kid is coming out as a gay young person or maybe they’re having sex earlier than you really think is appropriate. Or God forbid they are having dangerous sex, right? You know, you find out that they’ve had sex with multiple partners and haven’t used protection. And I mean, it can be really frightening. And it can set the stage for a power struggle. An area of a power struggle between parent and child. You know, what do you mean you came home at two o’clock in the morning and you don’t want to tell me where you are? You know, I mean this is a tough time for parents in so many ways. Also, in their marriages. That is often a tough time. You know, as children are leaving and going off to college, you know, the divorce rate kind of spikes.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yup.
Laurie Watson: You know people who stayed together just for the children. Maybe they don’t have enough energy to have these conversations with their kids. And so, you know, they ignore it, or they are just get angry and they have the power struggle instead of the conversation.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that keeps coming up is having that conversation. Having a safe place where they can have that conversation where of course parents are going to have to draw boundaries that they think are appropriate for their kids. But when we automatically go to punishment or we automatically go to condemning as opposed to going to conversation and what is going on here? Why are these things happening? Why are you making the choices that you’re making? And exploring those conversations with them, I think they are not going to stop the behavior. They are going to continue to do it. And it’s just going to go underground and we’re not going to have access to them to be able to help try to shape and mold what is happening with them.
Laurie Watson: Right. I would say one duty of the parent is to set appropriate boundaries, structurally, around things that are important. I mean for me, I always wanted to know who, what, when, and why you’re going somewhere. And when are you going to be home? And I mean we set up a trusting system early on. I mean, my kids, it was negotiable, right? I mean, okay, it’s prom night so maybe the curfew is a little longer. But I wanted to know where they were going to be, and I wanted to know where they were going to after prom night. And which parents were going to be there. And I called those parents like, is there going to be drinking allowed or not? Because drinking and young people and late night hours, that’s a combustible sort of situation that I was not up for. I know one parent recently came to me and said, “My daughter is going over to so and so’s house after the prom. And she’s a single parent. And I’m not sure she has the same value system.” And I say, “Why don’t you volunteer to go over and help?” You know that mom has a bunch of kids coming in and she’s going to need help serving. And that provides more stability without putting the kibosh on it, without, you know, telling that other parent, “I don’t trust you to appropriately be with my kids.” And I said, “Why don’t you ask your daughter, you know, what are the expectations here about who’s sleeping where?” Because I guess it was like a spend the night after the prom. And is it going to be a mixed crowd and is there going to be alcohol allowed. And what do you feel about this? It needed to be a conversation because she said, her gut instinct was, “No, you are not doing that. No way.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Absolutely, no way.
Laurie Watson: She knew that saying no was going to set up a power struggle with her daughter. And it was like, “Okay, are there other ways that it can be conversational?” And that’s exactly what she did. She went over. She helped. I don’t think she actually spent the night. But she got there early the next morning with donuts. You know, there was an agreement with the parents. And I believe at that point her daughter actually came home with her. And she brought her back for breakfast. You know, just because the daughter realized there was really no place to sleep and everybody was sleeping in it, you know, it was a same sex, only sleepover. You know, so it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be. And she found a way to support the other parent, you know, to have the conversation with the kids about what it was going to be with boundaries. But I mean, I definitely called the parents that were hosting parties for many, many years. I mean, probably through the years my kids were seniors. But by the time they were seniors, they knew my value system. And I trusted them to tell me that it was going to be the way it was going to be.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And you’re having these conversations all through those years that’s setting up you to be able to trust them and them to be able to trust you. And for it not to be a power struggle. Like for instance, the young lady that we were talking about in the first half of the podcast, she didn’t have anybody like that. And so, she had to trust her friends and wrestle with it herself in her head about how she felt about sex, how she felt about what she was doing, about trying to make sense of the shame that she was feeling as well as the enjoyment that she was getting from the sex. And honestly, the control that she was experiencing. She found it to be something that she could use with boys and with men. And so, those types of things that she was not able to have those conversations with any adult to help her make sense of what was happening. Because as we’ve talked about, like all that stuff going on with teenagers is happening once and they have very little way to make really good sense of it.
Laurie Watson: Right. And this young woman finds that she can use sex as a tool rather than that being an expression of love and excitement and pleasure between her and her partner. And you know, how sad is that? That without the guidance of a loving parent who talks her through that, who can talk about it, I mean, so few parents are willing to believe that their teenage kids are sexual and having complex relationships with their then partner. They don’t even want to think about that. And so, they don’t talk about it. And ask.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Or they want to say, “It’s not my kid.”
Laurie Watson: Yeah, right.
Dr. Adam Matthews: It’s not going to happen to my kid.
Laurie Watson: I mean, I will say, one of the most painful things I remember is when one of my late teen children broke up with their girlfriend. And I mean, literally sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and lost like 15 pounds, a child cannot stand to do that. I mean, was so broken hearted. And of course, you know, I believed it had been a sexual relationship. And you know that first cut is the deepest. It was so true. And you know, I was glad and honored to be able to have that conversation and hold this child, literally. I mean, my 18 year old son, I was literally holding him as he’s sobbing. And saying, “I have never felt so awful in my whole life. Nothing has hurt like this.” And being able to comfort him, even though it was terribly frightening. You know, just to see your kid and that much emotional pain was terribly frightening for me as a parent. But I was grateful that we had had a history of conversations and openness that he could literally at 18 year old crawl onto my lap and cry and sob and have somebody there to comfort him.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. Well, and I think what you had to power through, any uncomfortableness you felt about those conversations over the course of his adolescence, right?
Laurie Watson: Right, many.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And I think we have to do that. It’s not going to be comfortable. It’s not going to be easy conversations. But it’s necessary conversations. Like this is such a necessary part of parenting in adolescents because it is so prevalent, and it is your kid. It’s, you know, they’re going to have to deal with it. But we have to power through our discomfort. And our own anxiety in having those conversations.
Laurie Watson: Yeah. I want to add in something that I have seen in my practice. It’s the difference, particularly for young women, the way that we don’t imagine that they have desire of their own. I mean, we charge young women’s still to this day with being the brakes in the relationship assuming that the young man is the engine. You know, she’s the one that we expect to say no to sex. And we don’t ever her with desire. And then we grow up. You know, we have this crop of women who are older, who don’t have desire. You know, but we’ve set on and charged young women with the that they have to say no. And I read from this guy, Daniel Steinberg, and it was the erotic impulse. He was the editor. And he says, you know, “Girls are taught that sex is their enemies. Sex is a beast. A man beast. They must tame the beast. Lust is unfeminine.” And you know, and I think that’s true. And I had a patient, who his wife had low libido, and that was one of the central complaints of the marriage. And you know, she wasn’t as experimental as he wanted to be. Any wanted some pretty normal stuff. And his daughter at the same time in the treatment was, I don’t know, she was an older teen, young woman. And she had a boyfriend and he had this conversation with her, you know, about that this boy only wanted her for one thing. And she came right back at him and said, “Dad, I’m the one who started it. I’m the one who initiated the sex, the sex between us.” And her father was just like, “Oh, that’s crazy. That that can’t be true. I know young boys. I know what they’re made of.” And he was committed to the idea that a young woman could not have sexual desire. That it was all started in the young man, you know, and I think this is a crazy twisted up world. In the need to protect the daughter, he was shutting down her very central true self of saying, “Wait, wait, I have sexual desire. It’s coming in me. It is in me.” And the father was giving her the message, “That’s impossible. Sexual desire resides in young men, not in young women.” You know?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Well, and the thing about that is a dangerous message to send to young women and the implication for young men is that they cannot stop it.
Laurie Watson: Right. That it’s impossible.
Dr. Adam Matthews: That they have to rely on the female to control it. And so, it’s just downhill. That once it’s started, it’s just downhill. And how dangerous is that for our culture?
Laurie Watson: Our culture.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Where we are missing —
Laurie Watson: And how old is this message?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah, it’s so old.
Laurie Watson: In our modern world, how old is this message?
Dr. Adam Matthews: I think it really twists. And then you add on top of that some really bad sexual experiences that they have, nobody to talk to them to make sense of it. And it’s no wonder that we end up with such a high degree of sexual assault, especially in college, right? That we are seeing because partly there is this message that men are the only ones that are sexual, and they need a release for it. And they can’t stop it once it starts.
Laurie Watson: Right. I mean, I think you’re right. I don’t know that that exactly follows. But I think what I’m hearing you say, Adam, is that there’s some message, often of entitlement that is conveyed to boys of, “We get it. You’re sexual. It’s a beast. It can’t be stopped.” And we don’t give them the message that they absolutely need to have self-control.
Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s right.
Laurie Watson: You know, and that they need to respect, you know, no. And that they need to get consent. And so, there’s an entitlement and a narcissism that somehow our culture or the parents or you know, the message is conveyed to the young man that unfortunately, you know, he doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t stop because he gets the yes from a deeper place. Like, I deserve this. I’m owed this. And then, there’s of course the date rape, the rape culture, all of that. You’re right. It’s a really scary thing. And you can imagine, you know, you have young girls. I mean, I’m sure that’s scary out there. And I have young boys. And had young boys. And I mean that was one of the things certainly I conveyed to them was that, you know, they needed nearly written consent from their partner that this was an agreement. And I would say, I mean I’ve just been delighted to meet their young women partners and girlfriends. And you know, it’s been a joy of mine. And I don’t ask questions. But I kind of assume at a certain point after they’d been together for a while that they’re going to be sexual. And I think, what I hear from them, is that sex is important to them. Couple of them had a conversation with me. I remember we were up at Chapel Hill, which is where my kids went. And you know, they were talking about, you know, “Yeah, I could hook up. I could join that. But it doesn’t feel good to me. I feel very empty about that idea.” And you know, I mean in some ways I had conveyed my deeper value and they had taken it inside them. That to me, sex, the best thing in life had to be combined with respectful, loving, romantic relationship, you know? And so, they really weren’t interested in the hookup culture and they were normal young men. You know, they were totally normal guys. Anyway, of course, my husband I know had multiple conversations with them as well. I don’t want to leave him out of this. I mean he contributed a lot of good things.
Dr. Adam Matthews: For sure. Well and I think that what we’re talking about here is developing healthy desire. Again, going back to the joy first of sex. And being able to talk about our own joy and sex and displaying that and talking to our kids about that.
Laurie Watson: As parents.
Dr. Adam Matthews: As parents.
Laurie Watson: Right. Having a sexual relationship that is solid is the best message that we can give our children about sex, about healthy sex.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. That’s right. I think that’s a good point because we have to realize we are sending them a message about sex.
Laurie Watson: Whether we say it or not.
Dr. Adam Matthews: That’s right, whether we talk about it or not. We are sending them a message about sex.
Laurie Watson: Right.
Dr. Adam Matthews: And so, having that healthy relationship and then beginning to build a foundation where we have short and long conversations with them and as adolescents. And I love what you said about bringing in their opinion. What are they thinking about this? What are they thinking about these situations? And allowing them to kind of as adolescents where we don’t, maybe as kids, they’re not forming their own opinions quite yet. We’re telling them more. In adolescence it seems, and tell me if I’m right about this, that it seems to be more of a two way dialogue rather than a one way dialogue.
Laurie Watson: So important, Adam. I love what you’re saying. Yeah, I do. I think it’s a two way conversation. And I think we should give people here, right at this moment, open ended questions they can ask their teenagers, you know?
Dr. Adam Matthews: Oh, yeah. I’d love that.
Laurie Watson: So, how about saying, you know, “Hey, you know, I know kids at your age are sexual. Are you having friends that are entering into sexual relationships? And what do you think about that?”
Dr. Adam Matthews: What are you hearing at school and at other places? Messages that you are hearing about sex and how are you feeling about those?
Laurie Watson: Right. And I might ask, have you heard of any kids having bad experiences yet with maybe sex and drinking? Have any of your friends or friends of your friends or people had that remember we want to help them, not by putting them on the spot.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Oh, yes.
Laurie Watson: But by giving them a way that they can talk about maybe their feelings without it, I had a young teenage girl who came in for many reasons. It had to be a structural problem with her anatomy that had to be repaired. And I said to her, she was about 15. And I said, you know, you never probably get to sit with a sex therapist very often in your life. Do you have any questions? Nope. Not a one. And I said, well, we have one more meeting. Why don’t you ask your friends if they have some questions? And she came back with a literal scroll of questions that her friends had about sexuality. So, sometimes you can say, you know, I’m always an open book for you about sexual questions or relationship questions. And you know, even if your friends have questions that maybe you’d like to know what I think about those questions. I’d love for you to ask me them. So, we can talk about what your friend is going through. And you don’t even have to tell me the name of your friend, you know. I mean, we want it to be safe, we want it to be open. And also, maybe saying, you know, if I can direct you to some good material about the sexual relationship and love and relationship, let me know. And I might even purchase some of those books, read them, feel comfortable with them, you know, within my moral frame that this is something I would want my kid to read. And have them available. Maybe put them on the shelf. I have noticed a few of my sex books gone missing. You know that I later found in a box, underneath the old play clothes in my kid’s closet. But you know, I was careful. I made sure that those were books that were appropriate books, right.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. And what do you think too about, it seems like when we encounter sexual messages in culture, especially ones that are relevant to them and in TV shows and movies about asking them about what they think that character should do? Or what they think that character is feeling? Or you know, what do they think about this decision that they made?
Laurie Watson: My favorite TV show was Friday Night Lights. It’s probably on —
Dr. Adam Matthews: It was on Netflix or Hulu or something.
Laurie Watson: For sure. We watched that through the teen years. And absolutely every problem of the teenage years comes up on the show. And sometimes my son would stop the show. And say, “Mom, I need to talk to you about something.”
Dr. Adam Matthews: Wow.
Laurie Watson: I mean it was a great conversation starter. I mean, it was a very moral show. You know, the husband and the wife were the love story of the whole show, which is so different than, you know, usually when it’s the teenage kids. But really the central love story was the coach and the school counselor. And I mean it was a great, great show. I mean, salt and light is how I saw those people in their community, the way they interacted with their teens, they had good open conversations with their kids. As well as setting good appropriate boundaries and having healthy expectations.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah.
Laurie Watson: So, yeah, I think you’re right. Having conversations about the culture with our kids is super important.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Yeah. I hope that that’s helpful to parents because it’s helpful to me. It’s helpful to me.
Laurie Watson: I do, too.
Dr. Adam Matthews: I’m bookmarking this podcast and coming back. Coming back to it in three years.
Laurie Watson: Three years, yay. Okay.
Dr. Adam Matthews: Those foundations that were talked about, that we’ve laid over time are really going to pay off for us in the teenage years. And being able to have those conversations, not being fearful about that. Like we can have confidence in talking about sex with our kids and with our adolescents. And really be, that’s okay. That’s good.
Laurie Watson: That’s good and important. Well, that concludes today’s talk on telling your teens about sex. And you’re listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with sex therapist, Laurie Watson and couple’s therapist, Dr. Adam Matthews. Thanks for listening.
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