MONTREAL — CJAD radio personality Laurie Betito’s recent talk to a group of parents included many facts and statistics about teen sex – as well as advice – but one message came through.
Be honest, transmit your values, but make sure you teach your kids about sex, sexuality, safe sex, relationships and intimacy, she said.
“Just because you talk openly about it, doesn’t mean they’re going to do it,” Betito, a sex therapist, told parents of students who attend UTT-Herzliah High School.
A psychologist, Betito has, since 1999, hosted the radio show Passion, in which she takes calls and gives advice about love, sex and relationships. Passion is the highest-rated radio program in Montreal’s 10 p.m. time slot on weeknights.
Betito was frank, explicit and wide ranging in her talk at the Gelber Centre on the “real truth” about teenage sexuality, which appeared to cover just about every aspect of the subject.
She gave the school a “bravo” for organizing the event. “All schools should do this,” she said.
At times, the audience seemed reassured by what they heard, but at other times, slightly aghast.
First, the “bad” news: kids are becoming “hypersexualized,” and this is taking place at much younger ages thanks to earlier-onset puberty and bombardment by media, “every time they push a button,” Betito said. “Reality TV has become the real world,” with all media containing significant levels of sexual content.
“By age 13,” Betito said, mostly because of the Internet, “most kids have had access to porn.”
More bad news: teens in general remain abysmally ignorant or ill informed about sex, sexuality and relationships. Some don’t consider oral sex to be “sex,” since it doesn’t result in pregnancy, and STI’s (sexually-transmitted infections) are at new highs. More than 10 per cent of teens engage in anal sex and more than 35,000 teens become pregnant each year, and that’s often connected to alcohol and/or drugs.
But there’s some good news, too. The age of first intercourse – 15 – has not changed in 50 years, and teens will not “try” sex just because you broach the subject with them or because condoms are available at school, Betito said.
Moreover, the more informed teens are about sex, the less likely they are to have sex earlier, she said. The message to kids that “everybody’s doing it” is a fallacy,” Betito said.
So, what to do, then, in this awkward pas de deux between parents and kids about sex?
First, start early, Betito advised, since kids are sexual beings from day one of their lives. Don’t worry about how you’ll talk about sex, since in general “you can’t do this wrong.” But be as “concrete” as possible. Transmit your values. Model positively for your kids, because they will end up repeating what they see at home. Statistics indicate that the healthier the relationship between parents is, the more likely that their children’s first sex will be delayed. The same holds true if daughters have a close relationship with their fathers.
And that is always the preferable thing, Betito stressed, because the older you are when you start, the more mature and informed you will be. The human brain, she noted, does not reach full development until age 25.
Birth control? Kids should know about it by age 12, she said, since it’s the ones who don’t know who end up paying the price.
Certain sexual mores have changed since Betito’s day, she conceded. Oral sex, once considered an intimacy reserved for those in a committed relationship, used to take place after intercourse, but now the norm is the other way around. College-age kids no longer “date”: they get together in groups to hang out, “hook up” for casual sex and then – maybe – date.
This is not necessarily a good thing, Betito said, but it’s a reality that can only be discouraged by informing kids about sex, sexuality and relationships from a young age on and modelling and inculcating values.
“It’s not that teens are going crazy. They just need to have the information,” she said.
Also, if a child is gay, the parent’s duty is to “be there” for them, not judge them, as a child who is struggling with sexuality “picks up on homophobia” coming from a parent.
Betito said that parent may feel uncomfortable talking about sex with a teen, but it must be done.
“Avoid scare tactics, and talk about facts,” she advised. “Be patient and persistent, and eventually the door will open up. Make it non-optional.
“If they don’t want to hear about it, give them a book,” Betito said. “Don’t wait until your children ask you.”