Having stated my position, I want to address the recent controversial "How to" article on anal sex in Teen Vogue. The publishers are defending the article and calling their critics "homophobic." This obscures the real issues which parents and concerned adults have.
The article includes the following statements:
- "[N]ot everyone is having, or wants to have, "penis in the vagina" sex. If you do have "penis in the vagina" sex and are curious about something else, or are finding that that type of sex is not for you and you'd just like to explore other options, it's helpful to know the facts."
- "Anal sex and anal stimulation can be awesome, and if you want to give it ago, you do that. More power to you.
- "...perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity."
- "...just know that it isn’t weird or gross."
For example, anal sex is associated with an increased risk of adult fecal incontinence; of contracting HIV, Hepatitis A, B and C; or picking up parasites like Giardia and intestinal amoebas; bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli. (According to the CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/analsex.html)
These are medical facts, but there is no mention of ANY of those risks in the article. They also fail to mention that the primary reason young girls agree to participate in heterosexual anal sex is not because they "want to experience something new," but because they want to "preserve their virginity." [Think I'm kidding? Try asking a group of teens "If someone has had oral and anal sex with multiple partners, are they still a virgin?" Be prepared for a migraine.]
Some people have responded to the TeenVogue article with outrage, calling for boycotts, etc. While I agree that the writer and publishers of Teen Vogue are deceiving themselves if they think their target audience of teen girls 11-17 can fully comprehend those serious risks, I disagree with the outrage.
First, because anything that is banned for teen consumption increases in cultural cache. Tell a teen "you can't see/do that" and it immediately becomes more appealing. But secondly because there is a very good chance that the teen you are trying to protect will one day either befriend or develop a crush on someone who HAS the Vogue perspective on heterosexual anal sex. Will Mom/Dad be there when the subject comes up, and the need to fit in or please their crush is overwhelming? Probably not.
What should a parent do instead? As awkward as you might be discussing this with your son or daughter, it is a great opportunity to help you child learn how to defend themselves against peer pressure. Think about it Mom or Dad. YOU are dying of embarrassment. YOU feel paralyzed by the idea of starting this conversation. And YOU are the ADULT!! But you still think your child will want to talk to YOU after they had had such a discussion with a friend/crush?
Where should you start? To begin with, this topic can't be your FIRST discussion! If you haven't already talked about how amazing sex is and how (because it IS wonderful) it can impair a normally smart person's good judgment -- you have to start there. You want your child to look forward to a healthy, safe, guilt-free sex life... someday. Sexual desire is natural, but controlling it is a sign of maturity -- like when they stopped wetting their pants it was a sign they were growing up. Start there.
Second tip, it's much easier for teens to engage in a discussion when the focus isn't on THEM. They will gladly give you their input and opinion about someone else's choices or behavior. So a question like, "What do you think makes someone drink a beer at a party when they really don't like the way it tastes?" will get you some interesting feedback. You can do the same thing to talk about sexual behaviors.
In Real Life it could sound like this: A teen once said emphatically she didn't like a certain boy "that way," but a week after they started "hanging out," suddenly they were boyfriend/girlfriend. Turns out every day for a week they were just driving around and talking. And at some point, they decided to kiss, "just to see if there was anything there."
- What are some reasons these two people might have decided to become boyfriend/girlfriend? And do you think HER reasons are they same as HIS, or different?
- What effect do you think being alone in his car would have on their decisions, as compared to decisions they might make in the family room at her house?
Be aware, these are exactly the conditions required to overcome the initial pain and fear of anal sex. Teens who choose to engage in this behavior may unintentionally set themselves up to be disappointed with vaginal sex later on. Literally depriving their future self of the safe, healthy, guilt-free sex life you want them to have.
Please remember, if YOU aren't influencing and guiding your son or daughter's sexual development, a lot of other people will.