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Dr. Laura Berman on Talking to Your Kids About Sex - Show Recap

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Original Air Date:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How to Talk to Kids About Sex:

Oprah welcomed Dr. Laura Berman, sex therapist from the Berman Center in Chicago, to the show to help parents become comfortable talking to their children about sex. Oprah asked viewers if they have talked to their teenagers about such topics as oral sex, masturbation or vibrators? If not, parents could be making a big mistake by not opening the conversation up to more controversial topics.

Dr. Berman's Session with Middle School Girls:

Dr. Berman sat down with a group of 7th and 8th grade girls and asked them a few questions about sex and sexuality to get a feel for what 12-14 year-old girls already know, and what parents need to see to understand the importance of information. The girls shared that parents have an idea of what is going on in middle schools today, but don't want to believe it's possible. The girls revealed how important having a boyfriend is in middle school in order to gain social status and the popularity of 'sexting' among young teens. Sexting is a way to communicate textually about sexual acts and share naked pictures.

Not only are young teens talking about sex, having boyfriends and sexting, but girls are also performing oral sex on middle school boys. Oral sex is somewhat considered the new 'goodbye kiss' and is seen as minor because it can't cause a pregnancy.

Mothers Respond:

The girls' mothers, who were in the audience, were surprised by what their daughters revealed. Dr. Berman shared that the idea of oral sex being more intimate than sex was common in the past, but has changed with young teens today. Dr. Berman suggests parents talk about oral sex early before a girl is put into the position to deal with the pressure.

Why Parents Should Talk to Kids About Sex:

O Magazine and Seventeen Magazine published a survey together showing how parents and teens talk about sex. Teens revealed in the survey that they want to talk to their parents about the emotional side of sex, such as: "Is a boys using me?" and "Am I ready to have sex?"

The middle school girls shared with Dr. Berman that they feel that it's easier to talk to their parents about sex instead of their parents. One girls shared that she would feel more comfortable talking with her mom about sex if the topic was discussed earlier and more regularly. Not over-reacting is also important for teens to be willing to share.

The Purpose of a Sex Talk for Kids:

Dr. Berman shared that it's important for parents to create a judgment-free zone for kids to ask questions about sex, starting when a child begins to ask questions. What's important is not the answers to the questions, but being open and honest with responses and giving kids the comfort of knowing they can ask whatever questions they need to without fear. It's important to make talking about sex part of regular conversation when it's appropriate. If you wait until your child is 13 or 14 to begin talking about sex, it may be too late. Starting early will empower kids by understanding their bodies.

A Mother's Sex Talk with Her Daughter:

Dr. Berman set out to help Amy have begin to talk about sex with her 10 year-old daughter Jordan. Jordan began asking to talk about the topic 6 months prior, though Amy was unsure of how to handle the conversation. Dr. Berman first told what they would be talking about when they sat down with Jordan. These topics included:

  • The anatomy of boys and girls sex organs
  • The mechanics of making a baby
  • Getting to know your genitals

Dr. Berman also suggested they bring up the idea of masturbation, or self-stimulation, and show images of the anatomy of the reproductive organs to help make Jordan comfortable with her body.

Dr. Berman assured Amy that they would not have to give masturbation a name to start with, but at least talk about it to help normalize the behavior and let her know that it's ok.

Jordan began the conversation by asking what sex was exactly. Dr. Berman and Amy then briefly discussed making babies, a woman's period, a woman's body, a man's body, erections, and pregnancy.

On the show, Dr. Berman pointed out that the first conversation should focus mainly on the mechanics of sex to set the stage for later, more detailed conversations. Kids are ready to talk about sex whenever they start asking questions.

Dr. Berman on Pleasure:

Dr. Berman stressed the importance of talking about the pleasure of sex and sexuality to young teens and not just pregnancy and prevention. According to Dr. Berman, kids should know that sex is a gift and that they can take control of their own pleasure, and that pleasure is about giving, but also receiving.

Dr. Berman on Sexual Response:

When teens are 14 or 15, another important talk is needed to discuss sexual response and understand the mind/body connection. Gayle King appeared via Skype during the show and commented that she can't see parents talking to their daughters about masturbation.

Dr. Berman raised a few important points in response for parents to realize about sex and sexuality:

  • You cannot be a good sex educator if you are not comfortable with your own body and sexuality
  • Masturbation and being comfortable with your body are important parts of overall health and wellness

While Gayle felt the discussion would be inappropriate, Dr. Berman stressed that teens cannot have too much information when it comes to their bodies, and that talking about sex and masturbation is not about giving permission, but about being comfortable with their own body.

Dr. Berman on Vibrators:

Dr. Berman, knowing it would cause controversy, also expressed the idea of talking or purchasing a small vibrator for middle-aged teens. A small external vibrator for the clitoris, while it may sound like it crosses the line, could be helpful for a number of reasons. Many women struggle to reach orgasm, and an external vibrator would be a way for girls to experiment with their own bodies and become comfortable with their sexuality and understand their own sexual response.

Dr. Berman explained that self-stimulation is common and accepted for boys, but seen as inappropriate for girls to experience. This can somewhat be associated to the number of mother's who feel badly about their own bodies and have negative feelings towards masturbation. Normalizing self-stimulation for girls could see them benefit by being able to take control of their sexuality, not needing to be with a boy sexually until they are ready, and having the ability to put off their first sexual experience because they can take care of their own urges and hormones themselves.

Dr. Berman stressed that providing information does not equal giving teens permission to be sexually active, but the knowledge will give them empowerment over their own bodies and sexual experiences.

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