Warning: This post may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault or date rape.

“You’re only as good as your reputation.”

This was the take-home message of what little sex ed I got from home growing up. Almost nothing was said other than emphasizing that “good girls” don’t have sex with tons of guys, or even discuss sex at all. Nothing about safety, nothing about when, nothing about why. Everything about guilt. About not disappointing the family. Parents, I’d like to encourage you to not go this route. It’s a dangerous road, and here’s why.

When I was 20, I dated an older guy. He was a family acquaintance. He was handsome and mysterious. He had his own apartment, while I lived in a dorm. He asked me out one day, and I was flattered. My family encouraged me to go. I’ll spare you the details, but I will tell you he coerced me into doing more than I was comfortable with on that first date. Did I say “no”? Yup. But it didn’t matter. Now, the person I am today would tell that 20-year-old girl to run screaming from him and not return. But he knew my family. He knew I worried about their opinion of me. And he was smart. My efforts to break if off were met with “…but you lead me on. You didn’t stop things from happening. Do you want your family to know this about you?” A low-blow for sure. Truly believing that reputation mattered above all else, and truly thinking I was at fault since sex = guilt, I decided to try to make it work. It seemed to be the noble solution. I continued to date someone who took advantage of me for five months. Five months. When I finally broke it off, I still felt tremendous guilt. If I’d been more careful, it wouldn’t have happened. He told everyone I’d broken his heart. My family encouraged me to give him another try, not knowing the truth. Thankfully, I didn’t, but the guilt remained for over a decade.

What you teach your children about sex and when you teach it is a personal, family decision. Each family has their own unique set of beliefs and values that they must remain true to. But please, encourage an open dialogue with your kids. Tell them that reputation isn’t all that matters. Health and safety are what matter. Don’t make them associate sex with guilt. Whatever path you choose when you start this discussion with your kids, make sure they know that no one should manipulate them into sex with guilt, and that they should never use guilt as a tool when dating. No one “owes” anyone anything other than honesty and respect. Make sure your kids know this.

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