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Talking with Your Teen about Sex

How do I prepare for the talk?

It is not always easy for parents to discuss sexual issues with their children. Today, with the serious consequences of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, it is more important than ever to have these talks.

Teens have many questions and need the facts. They also need your advice on family values. You can lay down the law, but you cannot control your teen's every waking moment. The best you can do is give information and let teens know that you are there to listen and support them.

It is a good idea to start talking about sex with children before girls get their first menstrual period or boys have their first wet dream, so they will know that these events are normal. It is also important to tell them that sex should involve commitment, trust, self-esteem, and love. It's OK to feel nervous about this topic. Here are some tips for setting the stage:

  • Know what you want to say about your own feelings and values before you speak. Stay calm.
  • Be clear about your values and let teens know that others may have different values about sexuality.
  • Take advantage of "teachable moments." A friend's pregnancy, neighborhood gossip, and TV shows can all be ways to ask your teen what they know or think.
  • Relax, take a deep breath, and admit your embarrassment. Show your child that it is important to talk about this subject, even if it embarrasses you both.
  • Use correct names for sex organs and sexual behaviors. Give short, simple, and honest answers. Admit when you don't know an answer.
  • Encourage questions and feedback. Accept your teen’s questions at face value. For example, "How old do you have to be to have sex?" doesn't necessarily mean, "I'm thinking about having sex."
  • Be aware that even if your teen is quiet when you try to talk about sex, your message may get through.
  • Talk about topics such as sexual orientation, sexual abuse, prostitution, sexual harassment, and rape. If your teen doesn’t want to talk with you about sex and says “it’s none of your business”, let them know that it is your responsibility as a parent. Explain that this discussion is out of love and concern for their health and safety.
  • Don't try to stop teens from having sex by scaring them. It does not work well. Resist the temptation to lecture. Teens get lectured a lot, and they will tune you out. It is usually better to ask questions, and then listen carefully to the answers.

What should I say?

Many parents find it helpful to give their teen a book on human sexuality and say, “Take a look at this book and then let’s talk about it.”

It often helps to have a specific question to get the conversation started. Here are a few to try:

  • Have you had sex education in school? What did they teach you?
  • Are you embarrassed about being a virgin? Do you think it's okay to say no?
  • What do you think about masturbation?
  • What questions do you have about birth control? Did you know that the Pill does not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases? Do you know how to protect yourself against pregnancy and infection?
  • Will you feel differently about yourself when you have sex?
  • What are your friends saying about sex these days?
  • What pressures are you feeling about sex?
  • At what age do you think a person is ready to have sex? How do you decide?
  • What would you say if someone asked you to have sex?
  • What do you know about oral sex?
  • What do you know about diseases like herpes and HIV?

There are many fine resources to turn to. There are many books at stores and libraries that can help you learn how to talk with your child about sex. Ask your child's healthcare provider to recommend one for you.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-03-14
Last reviewed: 2012-03-12
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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