Is Gwynnie right about teen sex advice?

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The actress is a vocal proponent of straight talking - Tim Stewart News
The actress is a vocal proponent of straight talking - Tim Stewart News

I was 10 when my mother explained to me what an orgasm was.

After I'd discovered the word at the back of an old Cosmopolitan magazine, I was so mystified I looked it up in my pocket Oxford English Dictionary.

I asked her about it during one of our regular evening chats when she would slip into a bubble bath after work and I would sit on the toilet lid.

“It’s like a giant crescendo in an orchestra”, I remember her saying. (After that, I always imagined it as like the climactic bit in the Beatles’ Day in the Life, which proved to be startlingly accurate.)

At the time I probably wanted the toilet to swallow me up, but now, I still appreciate my mother’s candour.

Forty years on, I am reminded of it even more now that the subject of sex keeps coming up more in my conversations with my 16-year-old daughter, Clio. And now, my mother finds herself in good company. Gwyneth Paltrow – admittedly, the high priestess of oversharing – has revealed she talks to her children about sex with an impressive openness.

In an interview with Ellen De Generes, the 49-year–old mother-of-two says her son Moses told her that he used to be embarrassed by the fact Goop sold vibrators for women, but has now had a change of heart.

Paltrow told how her son has told her he thinks it's “great”, saying: “You're making people feel not embarrassed to buy something, You're a feminist.”

True, this is not that sort of mother-son moment most of us can relate to.

But let’s salute her as a mother who has raised a boy who is already thinking about female pleasure – and who has considered that women also enjoy sex and masturbation.

With teenage girls increasingly reporting feeling coerced into acts by boys who want to copy the one-sided activities they’ve seen online, mothers have never needed to talk about this stuff more.

So what's the best way to talk to your teen about sex?

Child clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin is consultant editor of the book What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents. She says it helps to see teens’ initial squeamishness as a natural part of a development, not a sign you should give up and they are not listening.

“It’s common for teens to feel disgusted by their parents' sexuality. It serves an evolutionary role so you don’t start fancying your mum or dad.

“But towards the middle to end of the teen years, adolescents also develop metacognition, the ability to understand their own thought processes, as well as the ability to see issues from other people’s perspectives.

“So in this case, it sounds like Moses has been able to overcome those initial feelings of ‘That’s yucky’ and think about what making vibrators more openly talked about actually means for women. And good for him.”

While teens – and particularly boys – like to give the impression they would rather jump from a burning building rather than endure a chat with us about the subject, that doesn't mean they aren’t listening, adds Rudkin.

Studies have found that adolescents pay more attention to your opinions and values about sex than you realise, if they don't say much in return.

Paltrow deserves praise for not just for leaving the subject to Moses’ father, ColdPlay singer Chris Martin.

Rather than just leave it to the same sex parent, Rudkin says mothers shouldn’t be afraid of taking to sons – and nor should dads be too nervous to talk to daughters.

Rudkin says: “So much of porn is about objectifying females. I think it’s important that mums also step in to talk about how girls should also be treated.

“There’s also nothing to stop dads asking if there’s anything their daughters would ever like to ask so they get a fully rounded perspective.”

Of course, the difficulty can be where to draw the line about bringing in your own personal experiences. In the same interview, Paltrow hinted that she takes one of the pocket-size vibrators she sells on Goop business trips for her own personal use.

Of course, most of us aren’t flogging sex toys on national television. But for the ordinary parent, it is certainly Too Much Information, says Rudkin.

“Keep the focus on your teen and don’t go into too many details. Frame your memories of what it was like for you from a position by talking about things you’d wished you knew when you were younger.”

And no matter how much your teen rolls their eyes, remember at the end of the day, there's just one main message you need to get over: however and whenever they choose to do it, the best sex is part of a meaningful and intimate relationship.

From porn to pregnancy: how to approach the subject of sex

Be open to questions: Tell your teen that it’s natural to be curious but hardcore porn is not a reliable, positive source of sex education. Tell them you are open to talk though any questions and you will always try to answer without judgment or criticism. Get some distance by asking their opinion about topics coming up in the news or asking them what they are observing among their peers as conversation starters.

Talk about the upsides: Don't limit your conversations only to averting disasters, like pregnancy, coercion, rape and STDs. And don't only focus on the physical side of sex either. Talk about the link between intimacy and emotions. Point out that good sex is joyful and intimate, not embarrassing and painful.

Teach teens about quality: Discuss with both your sons and daughters that equality is just as good for boys as it is for girls – and should apply just as much in the bedroom as the workplace. It allows both to reach their potential without limits.

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