Talking to teens about sex means you have to be brave enough to hear things you never wanted to know (kind of like learning your credit score, or finding out your weight at the doctor's office). But it's still necessary sometimes, when you want to help guide a teen through this rite of passage. So I did it. And it was a far better experience than I'd imagined.
I work with youth as part of a teen media program and grow so close with some them that they become like little brothers and sisters. As an only child, I find that sibling-like connections are something I cherish. One year, I grew really close with a girl named Renee -- a really smart and talkative teen. We got to know each other and I became interested in mentoring her. She'd been in foster care and didn't trust many people, so I prided myself on earning her trust.
That trust resulted in her telling me about her relationship with her boyfriend. Initially, I really enjoyed her candor -- but when the conversation turned to sex, I grew uncomfortable. How could I give her valuable advice about a topic as intimate and private as sex? She was so young and might have different values and beliefs than I do. What was the right thing to say?
I realized that I needed to say to her what I'd wanted someone to say to me back when I was in high school. All I'd wanted was the truth: that I had the option not to have sex, and that I should absolutely protect myself if I chose to do it. I'd wanted someone to tell me how a partner was supposed to treat me, and what loving behavior was all about. I'd wanted someone to tell me what kind of questions to ask my doctor, and how to stay as healthy as possible. I ended up getting this education from my parents, cousins and close friends, and later I realized that Renee had given me the opportunity to talk to and educate her as my loved ones had done for me.
I began by consulting the Planned Parenthood website and teen sex-centered sites such as itsyoursexlife.org. Once I was armed with what to say if Renee had questions, I felt confident enough to approach her. I did -- and we had "the talk." Surprisingly, it wasn't that painful! I just let her know that I wanted her to be safe, and explained how she could protect herself. I told her she deserved a man who wanted all of her, not just sex, and to make sure she didn't compromise on what she wanted. And I told her to come to me with any questions. Nothing was too private, and no question was wrong.
She thanked me, and we had a number of conversations after that. I soon realized that I was getting just as much out of our conversations as she was. I was able to do for her what others had done for me. It felt good to share my opinions, and to be available to someone when she needed me. When she thanked me for being honest and genuine, I thanked her for her trust.
Intimacy isn't just about sex. Every relationship requires openness and honesty, and I was thankful that Renee had turned to me as a confidante and friend. It wasn't about my comfort level, it was about giving her the assistance she needed to be happy and healthy. I'm grateful she gave me the opportunity.