Having the Sex Talk With Your Teen Daughter

You taught your daughter to ride a bike, tie her shoes and wrap a present. Now it’s time to step up to the plate and teach her about sex.

You taught your daughter to ride a bike, tie her shoes and wrap a present. Now it's time to step up to the plate and teach her about sex. Empower her to say "No" to sex, sexually transmitted diseases and letting someone else have control over her body. No girl under the age of 18 benefits from having sex (most likely, boys don't either).

Whenever I have a young girl in my office, we begin to chat about what is important to her. Sex education usually comes up in the conversation, and it is incredible how much it hasn't changed since I was a kid. Many schools still separate students by gender and show a film. From there, it sounds like students receive a lecture about the dangers of STDs and why teens shouldn't have sex. But teen pregnancies are still happening, STDs are on the rise, and it seems to me the current sex education programs are not working.

A girl approaches relationships much differently than a boy – she has different concepts of caretaking and nurturing, and she will delay her own interests to attend to the boy. This may develop into going along with the boy, doing what he wants to do, all for the sake of securing the relationship. The problem with this is that once she begins to focus on the boy, her own goals get side-tracked.

A girl also is responsible for birth control, protecting herself from STDs and the consequences of having sex. And until age 21, the frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed, which means the part of the brain that helps a teen girl reason, control impulses and understand consequences is not fully working.

So how can your daughter possibly consider all of the possible consequences of having sex without part of her brain being fully engaged? And what about all those raging hormones?

Don't delay – start the dialog with your daughter now. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Open the door for dialog.

Set dates with your daughter or go for a walk. Talk with her about sex, and begin by listening to what she has to say. Talk about celebrities. Talk about your feelings in regard to sex. You want your daughter to know she can come to you at any time. You want her to understand the most important issue is her health and her goals in life.

Realize your role as  the teacher.

No school will teach your daughter as well as you do. You can talk about values, your own morals, and the importance of establishing a friendship. You can provide the knowledge of birth control, STDs and keeping her body healthy. Your teaching can be ongoing, whereas the school only spends one afternoon.

Remind her she's in control.

Impress upon your daughter the importance of being the one in charge of her body – the one responsible for birth control and warding off STDs. There is a power in being able to say "No." Saying she's not ready for sex at this time in her life is perfectly acceptable. Most boys will respect this, and may end up feeling more enamored with her then if she had given in.

Stay engaged.

If you don't talk to your daughter about sex, someone else will, and their counsel may not have her best interests in mind. Begin today and open up the conversation. If you don't lecture, but stay open to help her explore her feelings, the two of you may end up feeling much closer. Stay interested and involved in her life, knowing where she is and who she is with. You daughter will come to realize she can always come back to you.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of "Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever" (Bayou Publishing, November 2008, $14.95). Visit www.maryjorapini.com and www.StartTalkingBook.com.