Talking with Your Teen about Sex
Many parents feel anxious or uncomfortable talking with their children about sex. That is not a surprise, but if parents don't talk with their kids about sex, somebody else will! Teens get lots of information (and misinformation) about sex from their friends, the Internet, television, magazines, books and movies. By the age of 15 or 16, many boys and girls in the United States already have had sex. It's up to you to make your child understand what it really means to have sex, both physically and emotionally.
Do not worry that you will be "putting ideas into your teen's head." Talking with your teen about sex will not encourage him to try it. In fact, teens who talk openly with their parents usually wait longer to have sex and are more likely to use birth control when they do. Talking about sex will help prepare your child for mature, healthy relationships in the future.
Before you talk with your teen, take some time to prepare. If you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable, read some books on the subject or talk with your child's pediatrician. The more you know, the more confident you will feel advising your teen. Consider also talking about these issues with another adult as practice before talking with your teen. This will give you a chance to think about the questions that may come up and how best to answer them smoothly. It may also give you a chance to explore your own attitudes about sex.
Don't be afraid to tell your child that you are uncomfortable talking about sex. Reassure him that he can ask you any questions he wants, and if you don't know the answer, you'll look it up and get back to him.
Some parents, especially single parents, wonder if it's OK for a mother to talk with her son, or a father to talk with his daughter. Experts say that it makes no difference who gives the talk, as long as it's a trusted adult.
Many parents are not sure how and when to start this type of conversation. There is no "best time," but there are many opportunities. For example, pregnancies in the family or the start of menstruation are both good times to open a conversation about sex. You can also talk about sex and relationships as these topics arise in TV shows or movies.
Once you start the conversation, there are certain areas you'll want to cover. Below is a list of some of the most important ones. If you don't get to everything at once, don't worry! You'll have more than one opportunity to talk about these things with your child.
- Tell your child that his body is changing and will continue to change, and that this is completely normal.
- Communicate your values about sex in a caring but firm way. Your teen may or may not share the same values, but he'll know what you expect of him. Make it clear that you believe he is capable of making healthy decisions about his body.
- Explain that sex is a process that begins with attraction and moves to kissing and handholding, then touching and on to intercourse. There are many steps along the way, and your teen can stop at any time. Teach her to say no firmly, looking her partner in the face.
- Tell your child that sexual activity has real consequences, for example, pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD). It also has emotional consequences and can be difficult for many teens to handle.
- Share the facts about birth control. The United States has the highest rate of teen-age pregnancy of any developed country in the world! There are many options available to your child, from condoms to oral contraceptive pills. Take some time to learn about these methods. Remind your child that no birth control is 100 percent effective and that many types of birth control will not protect him against STDs. The only way to be entirely safe is NOT to have sex.
- Correct any misinformation your child may have. For example, many people believe that a woman can't get pregnant during her menstrual period or the first time she has sex. Both these statements are false.
- Explain to your daughter that sexually active females need a pelvic exam every year. A pap smear should be done every 3 years starting at age 21. Offer to take her to a gynecologist or pediatrician if and when she decides to have sex.
- Make sure you tell your child that sex can be a good thing, when it happens within a loving, committed relationship. Try not to make sex sound dirty or frightening — it's a natural part of life!
Most importantly, be there for your teen-ager. Listen to his questions and try to find the answer to every one. Let him know that whatever choices he makes, he will always have your love and support.