When my 11 year-old son stepped off the bus from summer camp, the first thing he proudly proclaimed very loudly to my wife – and the entire parking lot packed full of parents – was, “Look at the condoms I got!!!  They’re so I can practice at home!!!”

Our kids go to a summer camp for kids of LGBTQ families and LGBTQ youth one week each summer.  Let me provide the disclaimer that my wife’s sister volunteers as our health care director and I volunteered as one of the assistant directors.  Our philosophy at camp is promoting positive and healthy sexuality.  While the kids clearly know that it is against our policies to have sex at camp, should they choose to break that policy we do expect them to have safer sex.  We also encourage them to ask questions and bring back condoms and dental dams to their lives outside of camp should they be needed or to spark conversations with their parents.

The condom from camp remained clipped to our fridge for the past week.  With yesterday being Ottawa Pride, we decided to kick off our morning by demonstrating to our kids how condoms are to be properly used.

As parents, we want to keep our kids emotionally and physically safe from the repercussions of unsafe sex.  At a base level, both personally and as a larger society, the risks and costs are high.

In Canada, lifetime care and treatment costs have been estimated in 1998 to total about $160,000 per person with HIV, while the indirect costs associated with lost productivity and premature death may be as high as $600,000 per person. These figures are horribly outdated, I know, but it’s the best we have right now (which is an entirely different issue).

The costs for meds to treat other STIs varies and we can now vaccinate our kids against cervical cancer and hepatitis a and b.

While at camp, I was engaged in a very lively and interesting discussion on the current state of sex ed with two of our camp staff who work in community settings.  They were talking about the recent publication of the Toronto Teen Sex Survey (June 2009) and the impact that research evidence would have on what they already experientially knew as youth workers in the sexual health field.

As a parent, there were some eye opening figures in here:

  • 8% of youth are not getting any sexual health education
  • 83% of teens have never accessed sexual healthcare from a doctor or a clinic over concerns of confidentiality
  • 37 per cent of teens in the survey said they were sexually active, but some didn’t know how to define “sex”

But there was one finding that made me stop and reflect and rethink that as a parent my role in sex ed may extend well beyond the healthy relationships and safer sex conversations we have at the dinner table.

The Toronto Teen Sex Survey reports that there is a disconnect between what youth are learning and what they want to know.  So what is it that youth want to know?

The top three topics they learn about are HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy and birth control, but what they really want to learn about is healthy relationships, more detailed information about HIV/AIDS and sexual pleasure.

Given that the best time to talk to your kids about sexual health and identity emerges in the tween/early teen years – often before they have their first sexual experiences – this is going to be one of our top household educational issues during the next school year (our kids only get sex education in school in grade 7 and 9).

As a family, I think we’re doing pretty good on the tactical part of sex education and healthy relationships.  We talk about how relationships and sex should make you feel good.  But I’m thinking that we need to develop some additional strategies on addressing pleasure.

How do you broach issues of sexual pleasure with your kids?  The sex education we’re going to give our kids is definitely not the sex education many of us received from our parents.

Aside from the immediate and lifelong costs of sex itself as related to STIs, teen pregnancy, unhealthy relationships, I wonder how our talks today on healthy relationships and good sex will influence the financial well being of our kids later on in life. Given that the majority of relationships fail because of arguments over sex or money, will I be saving my children heartache and the cost of a divorce down the road if we are able to have more open conversations about sex and pleasure today?