Any parent who has positive memories of adolescent conversations with her own parents about sex is in the lucky minority. Most of us look back and laugh at the unhelpful or even absurd things our parents said. Fortunately, parents today understand the importance of establishing open, honest communication about sex with our teens.
Besides the attempt to avoid unplanned pregnancy and protect our teens’ health, talking about sex with our children helps them come to terms with their birth parents’ history. For adopted teens, there is an extra layer of complexity around sex that makes communication especially important to their emotional and physical well-being.
The Birth Parents’ Legacy
We must overcome our anxiety about “the talk” to ensure that our teens understand the consequences of decisions they make about relationships and sexual activity. Teens need to have an opportunity to explore myths and misconceptions with trusted adults.
Parents should know that their teen’s self-esteem and sense of identity is affected by thoughts and feelings related to sex. When a teen’s adoption story involves unplanned pregnancy, as it does for many, the circumstances surrounding their conception can lead one to wonder, “Was I a mistake? Was my birth mother promiscuous? Was my birth father a bad person? Did they care about each other?”
As they ponder questions about their birth parents’ relationship and sexuality, teens form attitudes about their birth parents. These attitudes affect the way they see themselves and their own behavior. For example, if a teen believes her birth mother was promiscuous, she may conclude that she is destined follow that imagined path. Or she might go in the opposite direction, and decide that she must avoid any contact with boys.
Adoption researchers have found that adopted teens are at greater risk than their non-adopted peers for pregnancy. It is believed that, with little or no information about their birth parents, some teens become pregnant to understand firsthand their birth parents’ experience. Their intent is to “undo” the placement decisions made by their birth parents, and to “keep their child.” Such thoughts may drive teens in a direction they do not consciously intend to go.
For all these reasons, adopted parents must find ways to help their teens express what is on their minds. This is no easy task, since many teens are uneasy about discussing sex, as well as adoption and birth parents, with their parents. They may want more information about their birth parents, but fear what they may learn. And they may fear that you fear they will follow in their promiscuous birth parents’ footsteps.
Communication will help them form healthier, more realistic, and more positive feelings, which will increase the chances of having a positive sexual identity, and a deeper understanding of the circumstances facing their birth parents. There are many resources to guide you in talking about sex and adoption issues (see “You Are Not Alone,” below). Chances are, if you’ve talked about adoption throughout your child’s life, talk about sexuality will come more easily.