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If you are a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably already had THE Talk. By now, your child understands where babies come from and the potential consequences of having sex.

In addition, most public schools provide some level of sex education as part of the health curriculum. In our area high school, each student was assigned an STD to research, so each of my kids came home one day announcing what they “had.” For the most part, you know that they’re informed, but is that enough? If they are going away to college, for instance, are they really ready for the reality of independent living and making responsible decisions?

Moving out of your childhood home, whether it’s temporary (a semester at school) or permanent (getting one’s own place) is one of those things in life for which you really can’t fully prepare. There are some aspects (having a roommate, for example) that may be familiar, but there will certainly be something unexpected too.

Some teens have grown up sharing a room with a sibling, or have spent a week or summer at camp, but moving into a small space and sharing it with a complete stranger for most of a year is something very different. There are going to be things about this new person, and this new situation, that’ll be surprising and unfamiliar.

I was unprepared for much of college life and I worried about my children going to college unprepared as well. I knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to prepare them. Before they left for school, I suggested problems they might encounter if, for no other reason than simply so that they could think about how they might approach various situations.  I wanted them to be better prepared than I’d been for communal life as a young adult. 

Sex is everywhere. It’s implied or explicitly addressed in entertainment and advertising. Even children’s movies have a level of innuendo. Companies and schools have been forced to set up guidelines and rules addressing sexual behavior. Reports of sexual assault on college campuses are getting increased media attention and schools are responding with prevention and awareness programs.

While it’s true that today many have their first sexual encounter in high school, that number jumps quickly in college. According to the CDC, 47% of high school students reported they’ve had sexual intercourse, and the Guttmacher Institute reports that by age 20, 75% of individuals are reporting they have had sex. 

Studies indicate that the perception of sexual activity is actually higher than the reality, and some worry that this may encourage teens to engage in sexual activity earlier than they might otherwise. In study after study, individuals underestimate the number of people in the study group who are not having sex.

Despite the appearance that everyone is doing it, not everyone’s happy about it. There’s been much discussion and study on “hookup culture” common today. This idea tends to reinforce stereotypes: All men want sex all the time. Men are praised for their exploits, women are reviled. Casual sex is devoid of emotion, it’s simply an act. The implication is that relationships are superficial, and that old-fashioned “dating” is dead and gone. This is true, to a degree, but people still want relationships.

The New York Magazine’s 2015 Sex on Campus Survey reveals a more conservative attitude about sex than one might expect. While reports of the hookup culture imply an epidemic of one-night stands, an overwhelming majority responded with the longest period of time offered on the survey (longer than a month) when asked, “How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?”

The majority of college students are also finding romantic partners through friends, rather than at bars or parties. The question, “How many sex partners do you think you should have before marriage?” also reveals a more conservative tendency, with the overwhelming majority of people answering 1-5.

While most young people – 91% in the New York Magazine survey – want a relationship, and someday marriage, many are afraid that doing so at this point in their lives will complicate things, that they will not have time necessary to devote to studies or that they will no longer have time for friends and social activities.

To understand hook up culture, it’s important to look at how relationships are defined. As was true with prior generations, the meaning of words is constantly, if subtly, changing. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we need to make sure we understand the terminology.

Hookups are defined as anything from kissing to intercourse, without the expectation of commitment. It’s interesting to note that a hookup does not necessarily lead to a relationship, but that most relationships evolve from a hookup. Although this may sound alarming, according to a 2010 report published by the American Sociological Association –  Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?  – when looking at college students’ most recent hookup, only about one third involved sexual intercourse, while another third involved other sexual acts, and the final third engaged in “kissing and non-genital touching.”

The report goes on,

“Hookups may be the most explicit example of a calculating approach to sexual exploration. They make it possible to be sexually active while avoiding behaviors with the highest physical and emotional risks (e.g., intercourse, intense relationships). Media panic over hooking up may be at least in part a result of adult confusion about youth sexual culture—that is, not understanding that oral sex and sexual experimentation with friends are actually some young people’s ways of balancing fun and risk.”

The Media Education Foundation Study Guide indicates that despite this, many traditional roles remain. Men initiate more dates and sexual activity than do women, and report greater pleasure from sexual activity than the women reported. Women still worry that they’ll no longer be respected after a hookup. More than 75% of men contact the woman afterwards. Sex is more common within a relationship than with a hookup. In a curious flip of stereotypical gender roles, today’s women are slightly more likely than men to no longer be interested in a relationship after a hookup and it’s men, not women, who more often initiate the, “define the relationship” talk.

Leah Fessler, a recent graduate of Middlebury College questioned the value of the hookup culture on campus, making it the topic of her senior thesis. In it, she makes the assertion that, in some ways, the hookup can be seen as a feminist statement. It’s a way to avoid commitment, to dedicate one’s self to studies and/or a career.

After completing her study, however, she concluded that, “Despite diverse initial perceptions of, and experiences with, hookup culture, 100% of female interviewees stated a clear preference for committed relationships, and 74% of female survey respondents say that ideally, they’d be in a “committed relationship with one person.” Perhaps more surprising is the male view on relationships – only 6% responding that they desire casual hookups devoid of commitment.

So, why do college students engage in hookups? Fessler says, “In hooking up we see a glimmer of hope, we see potential, we see the only, if not the most accessible (remember: we’ve got almost no free time), means of taking a step toward what we really want: something more, commitment.”

In an article she wrote for Quartz, Fessler further asserts that, “sex is inextricably linked to emotions, trust, curiosity, and above all, self-awareness. To attempt to separate emotions from sex is not only illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure, but also impossible for almost all women.”

She goes on to say that, “…men’s experiences with hookup culture are equally complex. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of males I interviewed and surveyed also ideally preferred committed relationships. But they felt strong social pressure to have casual sex. Culturally, men have been socially primed to believe they ought to “drive” hookup culture, and that a crucial part of the college experience is sleeping with many women and then discussing these “escapades” with their male friends. So despite what men might truly want, pervasive hookup culture prompts them to predicate their public identity as heterosexual men on the number and physical attractiveness of the women they’ve slept with. Needless to say, the detrimental effects of this performance pressure are countless and severe.” 

This all points to a disillusionment with the status quo. There is evidence that young people yearn for emotional connection, yet their actions indicate otherwise. 

What is perhaps news to some is the casual acceptance of the various sexual acts between kissing and intercourse. We need to define sex. For many, sex is exclusively intercourse. Oral sex or other sexual acts are seen as something “other.” Many with considerable sexual experience are technically considered virgins, perhaps because the perception is that oral sex is “safe.” 

And STIs remain a huge concern. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new STI cases each year, half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years. Though some STIs have obvious symptoms, many have no, or only mild, symptoms. A test from a healthcare provider is the only sure way to confirm infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 4 new STI cases occur in teenagers. It’s a little known fact that, “for some STDs, such as chlamydia, adolescent females may have increased susceptibility to infection.” In 2014, people aged 15-24 accounted for 66% of all cases of chlamydia, 63% of all cases of gonorrhea, and 28% of syphilis cases reported in the U.S.

Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus – even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. Though many think that oral sex is safer, it’s not. STIs transmitted through oral sex include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV and HIV.

How to talk to your kids

Even though, or perhaps because, sex is everywhere today, we need to have conversations with our children. According to Dr. Michael A. Carrera, of The Children’s Aid Society,

“Young people inevitably learn about sex and sexuality from their environment anyway, and it’s evident that the environment is not always very safe or reliable, so it is up to caring adults to influence their sons’ and daughters’ moral development, healthy decision making abilities, self-esteem, and knowledge of, and comfort with, their own sexuality. A parent really has no choice in this matter. The only choice is whether the job will be done well or poorly.”

Sex education classes tend to be clinical, and portrayals in the media tend to be unrealistic. Neither of these convey our values, and opinions which carry more weight than many parents think. Barbara Huberman of Outreach for Advocates for Youth, points out that, “parents who act on the belief that young people have the right to accurate sexuality information are parents whose teens will delay the initiation of intimacy and use contraceptives when they choose to become sexually active.”

Preparation for this conversation is crucial. If you expect to talk to your child about sex, then you can’t be surprised by questions. You don’t always have to have the answers, but being open and willing to talk will set the tone for a positive (and hopefully ongoing) dialogue.

Be an “askable” parent.

Be willing and available to talk. Encourage questions and conversations. Be honest. Be prepared to answer questions that may make you uncomfortable.

Initiate the conversation.

Research shows that teens are reluctant to bring up the topic. They may be embarrassed or worry about their parents’ reaction. They’re afraid their parents may assume they are already having sex, or simply are unsure about how to bring up the topic.

Show that you’ve done your research. Share statistics and anecdotes like those above that illustrate how people view sex differently.

Be specific.

Deborah Roffman, the author of Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex points out, “Parents have to stop talking in code. Children need accurate definitions, facts, and guidance. If we don’t teach our children, someone else may teach them what we don’t want them to learn.” 

Admit to your mistakes.

It’s easier to talk to people who aren’t perfect. You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. If you made poor choices, own up to them – simply, and without detail. Too many teens feel pressure to live up to expectations of perfection.

Listen, don’t react.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Often, questions are simply that. Just because a child is asking questions about sex, doesn’t mean that he or she is already sexually active.

Don’t laugh or ridicule.

There is a place for humor, but never at your child’s expense.

Acknowledge your feelings.

It’s okay to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Sex is a complicated subject. Everyone talks about it and no one talks about it.

Teach safe sex.

Don’t assume that talking about contraception gives your child your blessing to be sexually active. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, talking about both abstinence and birth control results in a fewer teen pregnanciesWe should talk about both abstinence and contraception; they are not mutually exclusive.

Talk about more than avoiding pregnancy and STIs. Educate your kids about sexual assault. It’s an unfortunate truth that women, especially, need to be wary of assault. The Department of Justice reports that nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience an attempted or actual sexual assault and it’s understood that many more cases go unreported due to the prevalence of victim-shaming.

Remind them to watch out for others.

The Department of Justice report also indicates that bystander intervention helps prevent assault.

Teach that sex can have consequences other than STIs and pregnancy.

Though it’s downplayed, there are emotional aspects to sexual relationships. It’s important to talk about sex with a partner before having sex. Things to address include birth control, the possibility of STIs, each person’s expectations.

Consider who else can provide accurate information.

No matter how good your relationship with your child is, there are things they may not want to discuss with you. Where else can your child turn for accurate, helpful information? The doctor?A counselor? 

Address ways to manage stress. 

Simple things like exercise and meditation can relieve some of the intense pressure many young adults feel. It can be deeply tempting to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Substance use impacts the ability to make good decisions about intimacy, consent, and self care.

Talk about your values.

According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), “Research shows that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values.”

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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