The physical transformations your body undergoes as you age also have a major influence on your sexuality. Declining hormone levels and changes in neurological and circulatory functioning may lead to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal pain.
Such physical changes often mean that the intensity of youthful sex may give way to more subdued responses during middle and later life. But the emotional byproducts of maturity — increased confidence, better communication skills, and lessened inhibitions — can help create a richer, more nuanced, and ultimately satisfying sexual experience. However, many people fail to realize the full potential of later-life sex. By understanding the crucial physical and emotional elements that underlie satisfying sex, you can better navigate problems if they arise.
Treating sexual problems is easier now than ever before. Revolutionary medications and professional sex therapists are there if you need them. But you may be able to resolve minor sexual issues by making a few adjustments in your lovemaking style. Here are some things you can try at home.
- Educate yourself. Plenty of good self-help materials are available for every type of sexual issue. Browse the Internet or your local bookstore, pick out a few resources that apply to you, and use them to help you and your partner become better informed about the problem. If talking directly is too difficult, you and your partner can underline passages that you particularly like and show them to each other.
- Give yourself time. As you age, your sexual responses slow down. You and your partner can improve your chances of success by finding a quiet, comfortable, interruption-free setting for sex. Also, understand that the physical changes in your body mean that you’ll need more time to get aroused and reach orgasm. When you think about it, spending more time having sex isn’t a bad thing; working these physical necessities into your lovemaking routine can open up doors to a new kind of sexual experience.
- Use lubrication. Often, the vaginal dryness that begins in perimenopause can be easily corrected with lubricating liquids and gels. Use these freely to avoid painful sex — a problem that can snowball into flagging libido and growing relationship tensions. When lubricants no longer work, discuss other options with your doctor.
- Maintain physical affection. Even if you’re tired, tense, or upset about the problem, engaging in kissing and cuddling is essential for maintaining an emotional and physical bond.
- Practice touching. The sensate focus techniques that sex therapists use can help you re-establish physical intimacy without feeling pressured. Many self-help books and educational videos offer variations on these exercises. You may also want to ask your partner to touch you in a manner that he or she would like to be touched. This will give you a better sense of how much pressure, from gentle to firm, you should use.
- Try different positions. Developing a repertoire of different sexual positions not only adds interest to lovemaking, but can also help overcome problems. For example, the increased stimulation to the G-spot that occurs when a man enters his partner from behind can help the woman reach orgasm.
- Write down your fantasies. This exercise can help you explore possible activities you think might be a turn-on for you or your partner. Try thinking of an experience or a movie that aroused you and then share your memory with your partner. This is especially helpful for people with low desire.
- Do Kegel exercises. Both men and women can improve their sexual fitness by exercising their pelvic floor muscles. To do these exercises, tighten the muscle you would use if you were trying to stop urine in midstream. Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. Try to do five sets a day. These exercises can be done anywhere — while driving, sitting at your desk, or standing in a checkout line. At home, women may use vaginal weights to add muscle resistance. Talk to your doctor or a sex therapist about where to get these and how to use them.
- Try to relax. Do something soothing together before having sex, such as playing a game or going out for a nice dinner. Or try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or yoga.
- Use a vibrator. This device can help a woman learn about her own sexual response and allow her to show her partner what she likes.
- Don’t give up. If none of your efforts seem to work, don’t give up hope. Your doctor can often determine the cause of your sexual problem and may be able to identify effective treatments. He or she can also put you in touch with a sex therapist who can help you explore issues that may be standing in the way of a fulfilling sex life.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Despite there being pockets of society where attitudes toward sexual and gender identity issues are evolving, the vast majority of our culture remains squeamish about addressing sexual health and pleasure. Most sex education in schools, if it is taught at all, focuses on the mechanical aspects of sex — the function of organs, menstruation, etc., and the negative — STI’s, stranger danger, using condoms and pills to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and so on.
As a sex therapist who works every day with teens and adults struggling with sexual issues, I can assure you that there is far too little true sex education going on in our world. The lack of “sex positive” information — that is, acknowledging that sex is a huge part of everyone’s life and should be accepted, enjoyed, and informed — is evident in the lives of my clients. Many carry a burden of shame because their fantasies or private sexual practices don’t conform to the stereotypes that society has presented. Some have never acknowledged their own desires or understood how these may evolve over time. Others are terrified of admitting an attraction to someone of the same sex, or that they want to experiment with some sexual practice that society deems as “deviant” from the norm. They don’t know that when it comes to sexuality, there is little that can be called “normal.” Sexual expression is as broad and varied as you can imagine.
Talking To Your Kids About Sex
All of this negativity about our sexuality has roots in how we experience our first sexual awakenings in childhood and puberty. Without someone to talk to — an open-minded parent or relative, a therapist who has been educated about healthy sexuality — teens and tweens will gather information from peers (quite often wrong), and the Internet (which is awash with porn of all types, and often conveys misinformation about the emotional and physical realities of sex).
But what if parents were well informed and willing to talk to their kids in an honest and open way? Kids who grow up in families where sexuality is openly discussed are not just healthier and happier, but they also are less likely to take risks with their sexual health. It’s evident, as well, that the #MeToo movement has broken open much of the secrecy that surrounds women’s and girls’ sexual harassment and assault. This is a good thing that can lead to opportunities for conversations between parents and their children about consent, mutual pleasure, and more.
Sex education isn’t just for our children. Certain negative ideas about sex lie deep within our social upbringing, so responsible parenting requires first that we face facts and educate ourselves. Parents need to be sensitive about how much information to share and consider the stage of their child’s development and be aware of their own biases and negative attitudes about sex or sexuality that fall outside their understanding of what is “normal.”
For instance, one client shared with me that when he was a boy struggling with his sexual identity, he and his dad drove by a gay bar. His father pointed to it and said, “That’s where all the fags go to dance.” A woman told me her mother found her porn and accusingly said, “You’re not into that, are you?” These offhand remarks drove their kids ever more deeply into silence and despair, and it took them years to acknowledge and come to terms with their sexuality.
It is vital for parents to convey to their child that they are willing to talk about anything, especially sexual pleasure and love. Then the most important thing is that the parent listens openly and nonjudgmentally. Such moments are very vulnerable for both child and parent and must not be quashed by negative responses such as shaming and scaring. It is fine to talk about your family values, consent, contraception and such. And, if asked about one’s own experiences, one must be open and honest about them. Conversations like these can be helpful for the child to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sexual practices and experiences.
- The Fundamentals of Sex
- Find a sex counsellor near me
Suppose he or she admits to you that they have been watching porn? This is a great opportunity not to judge them, but to offer important facts about porn, such as:
- The people in porn are not making love, they’re making a movie!
- Couples in the films aren’t modeling real intimacy. Real intimacy is about more than sex.
- In most porn, the actors are acting, faking real intimacy and the women are faking orgasms.
- Porn is fiction. Not every woman or man wants to be treated in the ways they may be treated in porn.
- You rarely see this in the movie, but the actors probably had a sexual health conversation before filming about what is okay and what is not while they are engaged in sex. The consent of both parties is really important, because without it one may be caught up in embarrassing and difficult legal and moral situations later.
If they ask, “Have you watched porn?” and you have, don’t lie unless you want to drive a wedge between you and your teen. Be honest. Let them know they can ask any question, but that there are some questions you may prefer not to answer, as they are private to you.
It may seem rather ironic that in the regions of our nation that have the strongest religious cultures and/or negative attitudes toward sex education, communication, and LGBTQ issues, studies show that these are the places where the vast majority of Internet porn is being viewed. It’s a perfect example of how going to war with our sexuality doesn’t work. Healthy sexuality is a gift that too few people have opened. If one tries to avoid or repress it, it will often come out in dark and damaging ways.
Sex Essential Reads
What Do Women Really Want?
Why Do We Have Sex?
Matters of Consent
Therefore, there is one more thing that parents should instill in their child: They must know absolutely that they don’t ever have to succumb to pressure, emotional or physical, to have sex if they don’t want to. If the sex being offered is something they don’t want, or if it is with a sexual partner they don’t want, it is their right and responsibility to refuse. If they are sexually violated in any way, they must know that they can tell you as their parent what happened and that you will not judge them for it but are willing to comfort them and take whatever further action is needed.
There are few things in life that impact our sense of well-being and happiness as much as sex. Let’s give our children a good start on that road by being well-informed and willing to talk with them about healthy sex and the joy that it can bring.
Bass, Ellen. 1996. Free your mind: The book for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and their allies .NY: Harper.
Resh, Evelyn. 2009. The secret lives of teen girls: What your mother wouldn’t talk about but your daughter needs to know. Hay House.
Roffman, Debbie. 2013 Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. Perseus Books
Couples are having less sex whether they want to it or not. Here's how to improve your sex life. USA TODAY
No matter your relationship status, sex remains a complicated — and often touchy — subject. Although no one wants to admit it, people across all demographics are spending less time in the sack.
For couples who live together, married couples, and older people in general, the decline in how much sex they have is even more staggering, per a 2019 study of British adults and teens.
But how much sex should couples really be having? Research has shown that couples who have sex at least once a week are happier than their less-bedded counterparts. (A caveat: Happiness levels don’t rise with more time spent under the sheets.)
Still, that number doesn’t quite apply for everyone. And, ultimately, experts say how much sex a couple should be having depends on the couple itself.
How much sex should a couple have?
Once a week is a common baseline, experts say. That statistic depends slightly on age: 40- and 50-year-olds tend to fall around that baseline, while 20- to 30-year olds tend to average around twice a week.
However, Dr. Peter Kanaris, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist based in Smithtown, New York, warns that couples shouldn’t rely on the average as a metric for their own sex lives. He’s seen couples on every part of the sex spectrum, from those who have little to no sex to couples who have sex 12 to 14 times a week.
“What’s actually more important than for couples to get caught up in some statistical norm to match themselves to that is to look at this from a perspective of sexual satisfaction,” he told USA TODAY. “If a couple is sexually satisfied, then that’s the goal.”
Dr. Linda De Villers, a sex therapist and an adjunct professor of psychology and education at Pepperdine, agrees.
“There’s a certain amount of motivation to feel normal, whatever that means,” she told USA TODAY. “You should be sexual as often as both you and your partner feel good . If you can say it was satisfying and fulfilling, that’s how often you should be sexual.”
Should I be planning sex?
Despite the prevailing idea that sex is spontaneous and fueled by sudden desire, sex should be planned, De Villers says.
“If people have kids or commitments, it’s really helpful to have some planned sex,” she said. “If you don’t have planned sex, you’re much more likely to have no sex.”
And besides, she points out, most sex is planned anyhow. For instance, she says, before you go on a date, you pull out all the stops to make yourself presentable for a prospective partner.
“You had planned sex,” she joked. “The evening usually culminates at a certain point, and you knew damn well it would.”
What if one person wants sex more than the other?
That’s one of the most common problems Kanaris experiences in his line of work. It’s a problem that afflicts even the most successful couples, he says.
“When our intimate or sexual partner has low desire, it can be a blow to self-esteem and the ego of the other partner,” he said.
Worse, he says, the other partner may “fill in the blank” as to what’s causing the lack of sexual desire in the worst ways, amplifying their own insecurities and possibly further inhibit communicating.
He advises couples engage in honest, transparent “intimate communication” about their sex lives if they’re feeling unsatisfied.
“In my experience, you can find couples who communicate very well about paying the mortgage, taking care of the kids and other issues, but may (have) very poor or absent communication in matters of intimacy or sexuality,” he told USA TODAY.
What’s key, says De Villers, is being communicative and expressive about what you want sexually. “It’s important to learn to be sexually assertive and have sexual agency,” she said.
How else can I satisfy my partner?
De Villers points out that there are plenty of other ways to have sex without, well, going the whole nine yards.
“There are different kinds of sex that you can have,” she said. (Plus, they should be factored in the ‘how many times’ conversation.)
Non-penetrative sexual activities, she says, are more likely to be pleasurable for both partners, especially for people who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. This is also true for LGBTQ couples, who tend to have non-penetrative sexual activities more than their heterosexual counterparts, De Villers notes.
What factors could be contributing to a reduced sex drive?
According to the British study, the “sheer pace of modern life” is a contributing factor for why couples are having less sex.
“The stress of modern life — just the day-to-day of how we live our lives — has a very negative impact on sexual desire,” Kanaris said. “Life moves in our modern age so much faster as recently as 20 years ago, certainly 25 years ago.”
But Kanaris and De Villesr also think there may also be individual and couple-specific factors that tend to be overlooked when couples evaluate their sex lives.
Medications, such as antidepressants, can inhibit libido.
“Environmental comfort” may also be a factor. A bedroom that is too close to the kids’ bedroom, or one that is not decorated to facilitate intimacy, may contribute to your partner not wanting to have sex.
Technology may also play a factor: De Villers says that playing with your phone while you’re with your partner detracts from your interactions, and makes for a worse sexual experience.
When should you go to an expert?
This conversation can be very difficult to have. In cases where one-on-one dialogue is unproductive, seeking a third-party expert, such as a couples’ therapist or a sex therapist, may be beneficial.
“If it seems like the emotions are too strong, and there’s defensiveness, and paradoxically, rather than with your partner, it’s easier to have it with a stranger,” said Kanaris. “And that can make all the difference.”
What are the health benefits of regular sex?
There are both physical and psychological benefits to having regular sex.
It helps sleep, it has cardiovascular benefits — according to a 2010 study, men with active sex lives are less likely to develop heart disease — and it has benefits for the prostate, says Kanaris.
Sex releases endorphins and creates a feeling of closeness between you and your partner, says Mary Andres, a University of Southern California professor in marriage and family therapy.
But not only does sexual intimacy foster a feeling of well-being, says Kanaris, it also can have positive effects for the immune system.
There has been intense discussion around consent recently, and these are vital conversations to have. But there is far less discussion about what comes afterwards: the actual sexual relationship.
How can we have good sex throughout our lives? And how can we learn to get what we need?
Sex therapists agree that no matter your age, we need a more expansive view of how to achieve sexual pleasure. Credit: iStock
It’s normal for the type of sex you’re having to change when life gets busy, or when you’re going through a particularly stressful period, says sex therapist Jacqueline Hellyer. A global pandemic, for example, doesn’t exactly spell Roman Holiday levels of romance.
When a couple can no longer rely on pure passion or lust, they can and should have sex for connection, or for love. “My overall approach is that you have to understand that life changes,” Hellyer says. “Sex is like food; you have to decide what you feel like at each meal.”
Sex in your twenties
The twenties are a time of exploration for young women, and of discovering what makes you feel good. But this is only half the equation. In order to develop satisfying sexual relationships, young women need to know that their desires are normal and valid, and they need the confidence and the language to convey their desires to a partner.
According to Melbourne-based psycho-sexologist Chantelle Otten, “even just knowing what your anatomy is labelled as, knowing the parts of your genitals, is something that a lot of those in their twenties (and beyond) don’t know about.” In a patriarchal society in which the needs and desires of men are prioritised, young women need to know that they are allowed to seek pleasure, and they are allowed to ask for what they want.
Young people, but particularly young men, need to be mindful of the impact of porn on their sex lives. Though porn is ubiquitous, it should be consumed in moderation, as porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex and sexual pleasure. “So many young people (impacted by porn) are psyching themselves out from having sex,” says Hellyer. “There’s a real performative approach to sex in porn, and there’s a real concern with how you look.”
According to sex therapists, young women can lay the groundwork for fulfilling and positive sexual experiences by learning how to obtain pleasure, both alone and with partners.
Sex in your thirties
The thirties can be a busy and stressful time, in which sex and sexuality is deprioritised. Women may feel overwhelmed by the pressures of work, financial commitments, and raising a young family, and their male partners may grieve the loss of the pre-parenthood sexual relationship.
Women can subsume their identities as sexual beings in favour of their identity as mothers. For some women, the challenges of trying to conceive – having sex for procreation instead of pleasure – can place great strain on their sexual relationship.
Dr Bat Sheva Marcus, sex therapist and author of Sex Points, advises couples in their thirties to schedule regular erotic and romantic time. “People feel guilty doing it,” she tells me, “but the sexual connection will sustain the relationship during this time”.
Sex in your forties
The forties is a time of shifting identity for many women, as their careers become more established, and their children grow more independent. For those in long-term relationships, the challenges of monogamy may kick in, and couples may face temptations or boredom or even infidelities. This is the time to focus on communication within the relationship, says Otten. Couples need to remember “how we want to interact with each other, and how we can find that passion again, and how we can be erotic again.”
For some, the forties may be a time of new beginnings. With divorce rates high for both men and women in their forties, many will find themselves back on the dating scene, and potentially exploring their sexuality with new partners.
Sex in your fifties
For most women, the fifties is the age of perimenopause and, eventually menopause. Marcus explains that the hormonal shift of perimenopause is as dramatic and unsettling as the hormonal changes of puberty. Women may experience sexual challenges such as vaginal dryness, or pain felt during intercourse, both of which can be treated and resolved.
Some women lose their sex drive after menopause, whilst others, liberated from pregnancy worries, feel more sexual than ever before. Sex in midlife may also be impacted by episodes of erectile dysfunction, which strikes around 50 per cent of men in their fifties.
Sexual relationships at this age require excellent communication, and, when there are physical challenges for either partner, a willingness to look beyond the narrow definition of penis-in-vagina sex. As Marcus reminds me, many older men and women go on to have active and fulfilling sex lives right into their seventies and eighties.
At every stage of life
Sex therapists agree that women and men of all ages need a more expansive view of sex and how to achieve sexual pleasure. Otten believes we should all be “pleasure oriented,” as opposed to orgasm oriented. “There are stages (in life) where we are just not vibing sex that much, which is absolutely fine,” she tells me. At these times, “we’re allowed to say, let’s have sex in other ways,” such as oral sex, mutual masturbation, or touching not culminating in intercourse.
Hellyer agrees. “I believe why people struggle is that they’re trying to fit a very broad and beautiful thing into a very limited and unsatisfying model of sex.”
Finally, sex therapists lament the issues that body image poses for people of all ages, but particularly women. Younger women frequently compare themselves to others; older women compare themselves to their younger selves. Marcus advises her clients to look back on photographs of themselves from a decade earlier, to remind themselves of how great they looked. “Don’t wait 10 years,” she reminds them, “to realise how terrific you look right now.”
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If you’re looking to improve your sex life, there are many natural methods that could work for you. Your libido, or sex drive, is closely related to your general physical and mental health. So, by taking care of your overall wellness, you can enjoy heightened libido and greater sexual satisfaction!
Work to Keep Stress Levels Low.
Stress can have a major impact on your sex life. Especially for women, feeling stressed out can inhibit sexual desire and satisfaction. There are many ways to naturally manage stress, including meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, and even laughing.
Make Sleep a Priority.
Getting enough high-quality sleep each night is an important component of healthy sex life. Sleep boosts mood and energy levels, which has a positive impact on libido. After all, when you’re feeling tired or exhausted, you likely won’t be as interested in having sex.
Pay Attention to Your Nutrition.
Your diet can impact your sex life in several ways. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can support your energy levels and confidence in your appearance. Proper nutrition can also prevent health conditions that may negatively affect your sexual function, including metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Achieve Hormonal Balance.
The hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all impact libido and arousal. With age, the body’s natural production of these hormones drops off, leading to less sexual desire. For women, when the body stops producing sex hormones with menopause, low libido and vaginal dryness can result, leading to diminished sexual gratification.
By bringing the hormones back into balance, you can improve your sex life. BioTE® hormone therapy uses bio-identical, all-natural hormones that are derived from plants to restore hormonal balance. With BioTE®, you can regain your libido and sexual satisfaction.
For more information about BioTE® and further insight into how to improve your sex life, schedule an appointment at the Visionary Centre for Women today!
…and the one factor tied to virginity loss two years earlier than average.
Posted October 21, 2016
- The Fundamentals of Sex
- Find a sex therapist near me
Unfortunately, my office isn’t equipped with a crystal ball. But the following statistics about teenagers should sooth fears and resolve some of the mystery.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which conducts the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), the average age of teenagers in the U.S. when they lose their virginity is 17 years old (16.9 for males, 17.2 for females). In fact, over 80 percent of Americans have had sex by the age of 20, usually with someone slightly older than them—0.6 years older for males, 1.4 years older for females. (The ages for mutually consensual sexual activity are largely the same among homosexual and heterosexual youth.)
Exposure to Sexually Explicit Materials
Due to a relaxed restrictions on film, television, and the internet (that porn empire in your home!) teens have more access to sexually explicit material than ever before. One click and they see more, learn more, and be can traumatized more by sexually explicit materials than any other youth in history.
Even more troubling, while parents do their best to block and filter access to these materials, tech savvy teens have an uncanny way of outsmarting them. (For more, see my book, When Kids Call the Shots.) Well, parents, if you’re worried that all this exposure has increased sexual activity among teens, you can relax: The age for virginity loss in the U.S. hasn’t changed. In fact, it has been consistent for years.
Do Female Smokers Have Sex Younger?
Study outcomes can be wacky, but this outcome really leaps off the page: The NSFG study showed that female teens who smoke tend to lose their virginity two years earlier than non-female smoking females teens.
You may wonder if nicotine become an aphrodisiac for teens, or if vaping is the new foreplay. The answers are simpler than you think. Young smokers tend to be risk takers, which makes them much more likely to engage in risky behaviors. If you’re collecting data on oppositional defiant disorders in youth, teen smokers are more likely to be predominately featured.
Time to Talk About Sex
If you want your teenager to approach his or her first sexual encounter thoughtfully, then it’s time for you to have an awkward conversation. Yes, “the sex talk” is still a must. Sure, you may receive resistance, eye rolls, and gag responses from your kid (“Gross, mom! Seriously!”), but don’t let them discourage you.
If you’re anxious about having “the talk,” a spouse, cousin, or family friend is a fine substitute. The more teens know about sex, the less likely they are to be impulsive or engage in risky behavior. According to the NSFG report, 74.4 percent of parents today talk about sex with their kids. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent who has the conversation; any trusted adult will do.
Whether it is sex or another major life decision, open and positive communication with your teenager will inspire him or her to make smart choices. Remember, the best way to keep your kid healthy is keeping your relationship healthy.
Sex education is designed to help young people gain the information, skills and motivation to make healthy decisions about sex and sexuality throughout their lives.
Is Sex Education Effective?
Research on sex education has focused on whether programs help young people to change specific behaviors related to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as:
Delaying sex until they are older
Using condoms and contraception when they do have sex
Reducing the frequency of sex
Reducing the number of sexual partners
Hundreds of studies have shown that sex education can have a positive effect on these behaviors, particularly when sex education programs incorporate all of the following seventeen key characteristics as developed by Douglas Kirby from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:
The Process of Developing the Curriculum:
Involved with multiple people with different backgrounds in theory, research, sex and STD/HIV education to develop the curriculum.
Assessed relevant needs and assets of target group.
Used a logic model approach to develop the curriculum that specific the health goals, the behaviors affecting those health goals, the risk and protective factors affecting those behaviors, and the activities addressing those risk and protective factors.
Designed activities consistent with community values and available resources (e.g. staff time, staff skills, facility space and supplies.)
Pilot-tested the program.
Curriculum Goals and Objectives:
Focused on clear health goals — the prevention of STDs, HIV and/or pregnancy.
Focused narrowly on specific behaviors leading to these health goals (e,g, abstaining from sex or using condoms or other contraceptives), gave clear messages about these behaviors, and addressed situations that might lead to them and how to avoid them.
Addressed multiple sexual psychosocial risk and protective factors affecting sexual risk behaviors (e.g. knowledge, perceived risks, values, attitudes, perceived norms and self-efficacy).
Activities and Teaching Methodologies:
Created a safe social environment for youth to participate.
Included multiple activities to change each of the targeted risk and protective factors.
Employed instructionally sound teaching methods that actively involved the participants, that helped participants personalize the information, and that were designed to change each group of risk and protective factors.
Employed activities, instructional methods and behavioral messages that were appropriate to youths’ culture, developmental age and sexual experience.
Covered topics in a logical sequence.
The Implementation of the Curriculum:
Secured at least minimal support from appropriate authorities such as ministries of health, school districts or community organizations.
Selected educators with desired characteristics (whenever possible), trained them, and provided monitoring, supervision and support.
If needed, implemented activities to recruit and retain youth and overcome barriers to their involvement (e.g., publicized the program, offered food or obtained consent).
Implemented virtually all activities with reasonable fidelity.
In addition, there are many other outcomes that people want for themselves and for their children, such as the ability to form and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships, the ability to appreciate one’s own body, and the ability to engage in sexual activity that is mutually consensual and satisfying.
Providing a safe space for your teen to ask questions can help equip them for healthy relationships in the future. Expert Rachel Harrison shares her advice.
You’ve been guiding your child through each milestone in their lives – how to ride a bike, bake a cake or dusting off their knee after a scrape. As they enter their teens, it can feel harder to help guide them in the same way. But when you show them you’re there to talk – and to just listen – it can make a huge difference. Making home a safe space can make it easier for them to come to you for help if they need it. Providing teens with accurate information about sex has also been shown to delay sexual activity and make teens more likely to use safe practices when they’re ready for sex.
Feeling comfortable asking questions is a big part of learning. Our Mates and Dates facilitators – who deliver healthy relationships education – find that teenagers usually have a lot of questions. Mates and Dates, funded by ACC, allows secondary school students to freely discuss things they’ve been wondering about when it comes to sex, identity, friendships, or whānau. It’s a no-judgement environment that aims to give young people the skills and knowledge to prevent harm caused by sexual and dating violence. And these are skills that will stay with them for life.
What do teens want to know about sex and relationships?
The Mates and Dates course offers an anonymous question box where students can post anything they’re too shy to ask in class or would otherwise feel unable to talk about out loud. There’s no shortage of questions, and they usually fall into one of seven categories:
- Information and fact seeking. (Is there a legal age when someone can consent to sex? Is sex supposed to feel good?)
- Is my body normal, are my thoughts and behaviours normal? (Is it normal to touch yourself? Is it okay that I don’t feel like having a relationship even though all my friends have boyfriends/girlfriends?)
- Permission seeking. (What if I don’t identify with any gender label? Is that OK? Do you have to do anal?)
- Values-based. (Do I have to wait until I’m married to have sex?)
- Eliciting personal information from facilitators. (Have you done oral sex? Do you do this job because someone raped you?)
- Help-seeking. (What do you do if you know someone is being abused?)
- Advice seeking. (What is the best line for picking up chicks? How do I know if someone likes me?)
That’s a lot of different questions going through teens’ minds. But there’s plenty of ways you can help.
What can you say or do to make a difference?
As a parent or caregiver, you can help your teen stay informed by showing them you’re OK talking about sex and relationships. Talk about it regularly but keep it brief and to the point. Short, regular chats are better than a long one-off talk. Let them know they can ask you anything and you won’t get mad at them.
Make sure teens have good quality sex education so they aren’t relying on pornography to learn about sex. It’s important to remind young people that pornography is very different to sex in real life. It often doesn’t show the key ingredients of a healthy sex life, such as consent. Ask teens what they think about the relationships they see around them, in real life and on TV. Try asking things like ‘do you think both people are totally into that? Does that look like consent to you?’. Listen carefully to them and value what they say.
When answering questions, you can:
- normalise asking questions by letting them know that the questions they’re asking are common. Affirm that it’s good to ask questions
- acknowledge they might be feeling awkward. You could say, ‘we all get embarrassed sometimes, but it’s good to talk about this’
- talk about consent regularly and in a positive way. A lot of teens say they grew up being told if you don’t get consent, you’ll end up in jail. Explain to your teen that it’s more than just following rules. Consent helps to create mutual pleasure. Everyone involved should be enjoying themselves. Consent is important every time, for everything you try
- try not to assume anything about your teen or their friends. They may not always be going out with someone of the opposite sex, or they may not want to be referred to by ‘she’ or ‘he’. Even if the relationships are different to what you’re used to, try to remain interested and respectful
- be honest and answer questions as they come up. Treat questions seriously and respectfully. If you don’t know the answer, thank them for coming to you and let them know you’ll come back to them
- be positive, calm and unshakeable when talking about sex and relationships. They’re probably looking at your reaction. If they think you can’t cope with it, they won’t ask you next time
- keep a sense of humour and don’t try to be cool! You don’t need to use the latest slang or know about Tik Tok, but you can be a supportive and approachable parent.
What it all comes back to
Remind your teen that their feelings are valid and saying no doesn’t make them a bad person. Communicating what they want and listening and respecting what their partner wants are both crucial. It all comes back to a balanced, healthy relationship.
It’s also important to acknowledge that, while you’re there to talk anytime, there will be times they don’t want to talk to you. Let them know you’re there, but if there’s something they want to talk about with someone else, there are other trusted adults they can talk to. You could suggest some of the helplines listed below, or a school counsellor or doctor.
Encourage teens to keep asking questions. The more we have upfront, no-nonsense conversations, the more we can help them understand the core elements of a healthy relationship – consent, equality, and respect.
Rachel Harrison has worked in domestic and sexual violence prevention and response for more than 20 years. She’s currently a Mates and Dates facilitator, in addition to supporting organisations to reduce sexual harassment and create healthy cultures. Rachel is also a mother to a 17-year-old daughter.
Where to get help
Safe to talk Kōrero mai ka ora is a sexual harm helpline that is free, confidential, and 24/7.
Just the Facts is a New Zealand-based sexual health website.
Rainbow Youth works with queer and gender diverse youth, as well as their wider communities.
Villainesse: The real sex talk is a 12-part web series that educates teenagers about sex.