Talking with Your Teen About Sex

Studies show that almost half of U.S. teens have had sex by age 18. Educating kids about sex is something all parents need to do.

Be prepared to help your teens make sense of the changes in their bodies and their emerging sexuality. Otherwise your teen could be risking:

  • Emotional chaos

  • Pregnancy early in life

  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Your talks with your teen should come naturally. So it’s important to build an open, trusting relationship with your kids while they are still young. A good relationship with your child is a great foundation to have effective conversations with your teen. If your child is maturing early, topics related to sex and sexual activity may need to be discussed sooner than the teen years.

Be alert to warning signs that could mean there is a problem related to sexual activity. Some of these signs include:

  • A drastic change in eating or sleeping habits

  • A sudden loss of interest in school

  • Strange statements such as, “I think I might need to see a healthcare provider”

How can you find ways to talk about the tough subject of sex with your teen? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look for openings. Use current events as an icebreaker. Imagine you are watching the news on TV, and a story about teen pregnancy comes up. That can be a natural way for you to use that news story to begin a more personal talk about sexual issues.

  • Make the first move. In most cases, it’s better to bring up the subject of sex yourself, rather than wait for your child to seek you out. Why? If your child has questions, you want the answers to come from a mature, informed, caring adult, and not from the child’s peers who may or may not have the facts straight. One point to emphasize is that no one has the right to pressure your teen to have sex.

  • Sort out your own values first. If, as a parent, you decide that sexual activity is OK, then you should be clear about what behavior and boundaries you expect from your teen. It's a good idea to talk with your family healthcare provider about how you’re going to handle issues, such as pregnancy and disease prevention. Talk with the provider about this before talking with your teen.

  • Ask your child what they think about their healthcare provider. It's vital that your teen sees their provider as a trusted person who can be asked delicate questions about sex and sexuality.

  • Talk with other parents. Parents who have already raised teens can offer advice that may help you communicate better with your children.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
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