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Talking with Your Teen about Sex

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KEY POINTS

  • Teens who have good talks with their parents about sex are more likely to postpone sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use birth control when they have sex.
  • Start talking about sex with children before girls have their first menstrual period or before boys have their first wet dream. It's OK to feel nervous about this topic.
  • Your teen is more likely to talk with you about important issues if your teen feels that you really listen. Make it a conversation, not a lecture.
  • Talking about safe sex does not encourage teens to have sex. However, if your teen is thinking about having sex for the first time or is already having sex, make sure your teen knows how to prevent pregnancy and infection.

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Why is teen sex a problem?

Nearly half of all teens have had sex by the age of 17.

Many new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur among teens ages 15 to 24. Latex condoms are the only birth control method that can prevent STIs.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 get pregnant. Almost all teen pregnancies are unplanned.

The only way to prevent pregnancy that is 100% effective is not to have sex. If your teen has sexual intercourse, there is always some risk of pregnancy.

Many teens report that their decisions about sex were influenced by talking with their parents. Teens who have good talks with their parents about sex are more likely to postpone sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use birth control when they have sex.

How should I set the stage?

Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in your teen’s friends, school work, and activities. No matter what you want to talk about, it helps if you have a loving, trusting relationship with your teen. This makes it easier for your teen to talk honestly with you when facing peer pressure.

Let your teen speak honestly. Show that you want to know what your teen thinks and feels. Your teen is more likely to talk with you about important issues if your teen feels that you really listen. Think about how your teen might react to what you want to say and how best to respond to questions and feelings. Try to talk when both of you have time and are feeling relaxed.

Short, simple talks through childhood and the teen years will get the message across better than trying to cover everything in just one talk. If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and sex is mentioned on a program, you can ask if your child knows where babies come from. If your child has questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Take advantage of these opportunities. A friend's pregnancy, neighborhood gossip, and TV shows can help you start talking with your teen.

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

What should I say?

Make it a conversation, not a lecture. Children, especially teens, hate to be lectured. It’s helpful to know what your teen and friends are talking about and if your teen’s friends are having sex. Trying to scare teens does not keep them from having sex. Try asking about what your teen may already know. For example:

  • 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?
  • 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 such as herpes and HIV?

Give your teen correct information such as:

  • The only way to be risk-free is not to have sex.
  • Use a latex condom for any kind of sexual intercourse. Condoms fail to protect against pregnancy at least 10% of the time. The risk of failure to protect both partners from HIV is even greater.
  • Birth control is not the same as HIV or AIDS control. Other forms of birth control, such as pills, diaphragms, IUDs, and patches, are useless against HIV and other STIs.
  • You cannot tell from looking at someone if they have an STI. The only way to know if someone has an STI is to ask if they have been tested.

Encourage questions and feedback from your child. Stay calm and accept your teen’s questions at face value. Use open-ended questions when you talk with your teen, rather than questions that require just a “yes or no” answer.

Talking about safe sex does not encourage teens to have sex. However, if your teen is thinking about having sex for the first time or is already having sex, make sure your teen knows how to prevent pregnancy and infection.

Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Your teen needs your advice on values. Be clear about your values and let your teen know that others may have different values about sexuality. Teach your teen that healthy relationships are built on love, respect, and concern, and that it’s OK to say no to sex.

It is natural for teens to start thinking about having sex. Help your teen think through the physical and emotional risks. Talk about abstinence. Sexual abstinence is a choice to limit sexual activity. Help your teen think about ways to stay abstinent before getting physically involved with another person, such as:

  • Talk with his or her partner about what is OK and what isn’t.
  • Make sure that words and actions are clear to others and letting you know if your teen feels pressured.
  • Stay in control. Drugs and alcohol can make people lose control. Using these substances may increase the risk that your teen will have sex and be sorry later.
  • Plan ahead. Being alone with a partner, or being at a party, may make it easier to lose control.

Talk with your teen about ways to avoid those situations, and ways to prevent pregnancy and infection.

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 tells you that it’s none of your business, let your teen know that it is your responsibility as a parent. Let your teen know that you love him or her and want your teen to be safe. Make sure your teen knows that you are there to help at any time.

If you need advice about how to talk to your teen about sex, or you think your teen may already be having sex, talk with someone who can help. Examples include your teen’s healthcare provider, school nurse, or religious leader.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-08-27
Last reviewed: 2019-08-26
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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