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Your Teen and Oral Sex

QUESTION: My teenage daughter told me she does not plan on having intercourse, but she (and her friends) see no problem at all with having oral sex. I was absolutely floored and didn't have a clue how to handle it or what to say. Any ideas?

ANSWER: Your teenager is ignoring the emotional ramifications involved in becoming sexually active. Her psychological readiness to share her body with a sexual partner deserves special consideration, whether she is contemplating oral sex, intercourse or mutual masturbation.

Let your daughter know that having sex is an intimate experience with both emotional and physical dimensions. After all, Monica Lewinsky professed a deep attachment to the President, despite having had only oral sex. And her sense of rejection did not appear lessened by the fact that she did not have intercourse.

Do not be thrown by your adolescent's arbitrary statement. She may be speaking provocatively in order to stimulate having a discussion with you on the subject. Certainly, if her concern was only about pregnancy, then oral sex might be her answer. It is your job to point out to her that pregnancy is not the only issue here.

Do not be intimidated to speak frankly and directly to your daughter about sex. It is your teenager's job to challenge -- and yours to answer the call by letting her know your beliefs and philosophy. Have the same kind of discussion with her that you would have about intercourse. This is an opportunity to share your values with her as a woman, as well as a mother.

If you truly believe that sex should be nurtured within a loving and committed relationship, tell her why. If you believe that trust is an important prerequisite to sexual vulnerability with another, explain why you believe it will make a difference for her. But do not stop there!

Banish any myth that oral sex equals safe sex. Though rare, it is possible to contract HIV orally, presumably if open sores in the mouth are present. Since the mouth is susceptible to undetectable lesions, oral sex is no guarantee of safety from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. This includes herpes.

But physical health is not the only point. Your daughter's developing sexuality and her self-perception is at stake. How she relates to her sexuality now will lay the foundation for how she values herself in future relationships with men. Also, her self-respect rests upon how she perceives she is treated by others. If she chooses to sexualize a relationship, it is important that it be a positive experience that increases her sense of value rather than decreases it.

Emotional health and self-esteem hinge upon meaningful relationships with others, whether they are sexualized or not. Sex can alter the definition of an existing relationship. It is a big step that requires responsibility for another person. If trust is important in friendship, why wouldn't it be critical in a sexual relationship? Help her to anticipate these changes and evaluate how she might feel about having sex with someone, after the fact.

Use this as an opportunity to connect and discuss sex with your teen, rather than avoid it. Your teenager's sexual development and interest can also bring up vulnerability for you, too. If so, sort through your feelings with your husband or a close friend, so that you can speak openly with your daughter.

If you never had this kind of discussion with your own mother, you may find it particularly awkward at first. But if you talk through your initial discomfort, you will likely find that your relationship with your daughter deepens. She might even be secretly relieved for your guidance on the subject.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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