Talking to Youth about Healthy Sexual Boundaries
Talking about sex can be uncomfortable, especially when talking with youth. However, even young children are able to identify the anatomical differences between males and females. This awareness comes because humans are sexual beings and there are obvious facts that can be observed to confirm this. It is how our bodies are made and how we grow our families and world.
What is not apparent is how and when bodies and body parts are to be touched. This information needs to be taught and discussed to help each youth develop their own healthy sexual boundaries.
In 2015, it was estimated that 41 percent of adolescents have had sex. The younger a teen starts having sex, the higher the chance that risky sexual behaviors can occur. STDs, sexual assault, rape, abusive relationships, and other circumstances can leave a lasting impact on youth. While there is no way to guarantee that these issues will not occur, the more information is provided to youth to make educated decisions, the greater the possibility that they will avoid risky choices and situations.
When to Talk
Some parents or guardians feel uncomfortable approaching the topic of sex with youth. However, due to its relevance and importance, it might be helpful to think about placing the safety of the youth over the level of comfort that is felt. Providing information that is educational and developmentally appropriate is the best route to go. You can start talking about and encouraging boundaries with children, by helping them to have control over how they are touched. It may be helpful to do some research, but it does not take an expert to have a successful conversation. Stay calm, answer questions accurately, and look up any answers that you are unsure about. Children and teens are going to learn about sex from somewhere, and making yourself one of those sources can make a huge difference in their lives.
Types of Boundaries
Having healthy sexual boundaries means addressing all of the ways that sexuality can manifest itself; emotionally, mentally, physically, and digitally.
It can be helpful to bring up the topic of how sex is not just physical, but also an emotional and mental decision. For many youth, the idea of sex is both exciting and scary. It can be hard to know exactly how something will affect you when you have not done it before. Youth hear and see countless stories about how others are engaging in relationships and in sexual acts. They then have certain reactions to these stories. Some youth may feel pressured into having sex, which may have started with becoming too emotionally intimate with a partner. Other teens might feel lost, confused, or be struggling with self-esteem. Helping to identify what emotional and mental boundaries need to exist can take the form of asking questions such as:
- How will you know that you are being respected in a relationship? How will you know you are not being respected?
- How are you separating what you want from what your partner wants?
- Do these actions line up with your values and goals?
- How does the thought of having sex, or engaging in a sexual act, make you feel?
Enforcing physical boundaries can seem like the most concrete, but as emotions and sensations take over, it can be difficult to stand firm. While it is important to teach youth to know their own physical boundaries, it is also important to teach about consent and respecting the boundaries of others. Some questions to discuss include:
- What types of touch are ok with you? What types of touch are not ok?
- What can you do if you feel like your physical boundaries are being violated?
- What might make it difficult to uphold your physical boundaries? Are there ways to avoid those?
- How will you say “no” when you need to?
- How will you stop yourself when someone you are with says “no” or “stop”?
In the current age of technology and social media, sexting, posting sexual pictures online, or discussing sexual topics are common. Questions to ask youth include:
- How much do you trust social media or people that you send pictures to? Is it possible that your pictures could be seen by more people than you want?
- What do you feel comfortable showing in pictures? What do you feel uncomfortable showing in pictures?
- What topics do you think should be avoided on social media? How would you handle if someone posted something that you were not comfortable with on your page?
- Do you think you have to give access to your phone, social media account, or computer to a partner or friend?
Other Valuable Tips and Topics
With all of the possible topics to discuss, it can seem overwhelming. Some of the most important topics to cover include:
- No always means no. Teach your child that if they say no to someone and this is ignored, that person made a wrong choice. It does not matter if your child had “done it before” or promised to do it for any reason. Your child is allowed to change his or her mind. Also, if your child is with someone and that person says no, it is time to stop. Teach your child that consent matters.
- Address the topic that it might feel selfish or embarrassing to enforce a boundary. It also might be frustrating to figure out how to do so. Encourage your youth to continue the conversation about boundaries with you, or another trusted adult.
- This is not a one-time conversation; continue to educate yourself and your youth, and discuss topics as they arise.
If this is something that you are finding a hard time navigating there is help.