Are you at a point in your parenting where you need to figure out how to talk to your teen about sex? We have the tips you need to be successful at it!
How to Talk to Your Teen About Sex
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Maybe you grew up in a family that didn’t discuss anything related to sex. Or maybe you are embarrassed about some of the sexual decisions you made in the past and would like to help your child avoid the same mistakes. Maybe you’re a single parent struggling to address the topic with a child of the opposite gender.
Or maybe you’re a fantastic parent who just feels uncomfortable speaking to your teen about an adult topic.
Regardless of your apprehension, we hope to ease them with our knowledge about the subject.
I have 4 children; my youngest is 11 and my oldest is 20. The topic of sex has become a natural part of the discussions in our home and my children have started coming to me with questions or concerns of a sexual nature.
I give myself high-fives in those moments because my own parents didn’t discuss subjects even slightly related to sex with me. When I had my first child, I knew I wanted to be proactive in teaching him about intimacy and help him understand the importance of keeping himself sexually safe.
Keep this in mind as you ponder the best ways to discuss the sensitive subject with your teen: the only wrong way to discuss sex with your teenager is to never discuss it.
WHO should teach my child about sex?
The best option is YOU! When teenagers aren’t taught the facts about sex, they will rely on peers to teach them, which often leads to early sexual exploration.
When we teach our kids, we can do it within the context of our value system and correct any false information they may have already received.
Be aware that as parents we tend to speak to our children about important issues as if they are 1-2 years behind their developmental age, whereas their peers are speaking to them 1-2 years ahead of their developmental age. We need to be more proactive in our approach.
Home is typically the ideal place for sexual education, but sometimes parents aren’t able to provide the best teaching opportunity for various reasons, or the teenagers don’t feel safe discussing sex with their caregivers.
In these cases, it’s necessary for teenagers to get the facts in a different setting, preferably in an educational setting. Their extent of sexual education varies greatly around the country, so know the curriculum before it is taught. Many of these programs are important and helpful, but some may give information that is not congruent with your value system.
WHY is it important to talk to my teenager about healthy sexual intimacy?
We live in an oversexualized world. I can’t glance through Instagram on my phone, look at billboards while driving down the freeway, turn on Netflix, or walk through the local Wal-mart without being reminded that the world thinks I’m not “enough.”
Our teenagers were born during the age of technology and literally don’t know any other world than the one that says they need to be more thin, more muscular, more sexy, more beautiful, more fashionable, more, more, more.
Do we really want our children thinking the Kardashian family is ideal?
RELATED ARTICLE: Tween Body Image Struggles and How You Can Help
10 years ago, I never would have believed that my innocent kids would someday get involved in pornography, sexting, or the obsession with body image.
Unfortunately, our family hasn’t been immune. Rather than making my teenagers feel shame when they told me of their involvement, I’ve chosen to use these moments as teaching opportunities.
When your teenager shares an experience or asks a question, the number one rule is to STAY CALM. If you are overcome with shock, fear, or anger, they are much less likely to share their experiences with you in the future.
If you don’t believe you can stay calm while discussing the issue with your child, you might want to say, “Thank you for being honest with me and telling me about this issue. That must have been very hard for you. I need a little time to think about this so I can react in a way that shows you love and support.”
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Talk to Kids About Pornography
The messages bombarding our teenagers (sometimes for 16+ hours a day on their smartphone) are destructive and false. More than ever, teenagers feel like their value revolves around their popularity and sexual allure.
A mysterious boy can “slide into the DM’s” (slang for Direct Messaging in Instagram) of your teenage daughter and request nude photos. Does your daughter know how you feel about her sending nude photos? Is she prepared to take the appropriate actions? Have you helped her understand why you may believe this behavior is wrong? Do you know what content your son is sending on Snapchat with some of those disappearing “snaps”?
Are you aware that YouTube can suggest pornographic videos while your teenager is doing homework on the laptop? Have you ever looked through all the available content on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime video, some of which is extremely sexual? Do you know the lyrics of some of the popular music that speaks about violence and sexual dominance?
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Limit Screen Time with Tweens and Teens
Let’s talk about pornography for a moment. Some parents may not feel concerned about their teenager viewing pornography, yet these same parents may support the #metoo movement.
Possibly they don’t understand that the vast majority of pornography shows women being degraded verbally, physically, and sexually. This article about how porn leads to violence sheds intense light on the subject.
The rise in the availability of pornography since the creation of the internet is literally affecting the development of our youth’s brains. If you aren’t sure whether or not your teenager is viewing pornography, be aware that at least 85% of teens look at porn “fairly regularly” and 88% of porn shows verbal and physical aggression as well as sexual acts that degrade women. These rates are most likely higher, but teenagers are not always willing to be honest about their pornography use.
WHAT do I say when discussing sex with my teen?
Are you at a loss of what to say to your teenager about sex? First, figure out what your values are regarding sexual relations. You may be tempted to say, “I expect my children to never have sex until they are 40!” but that’s not logical. Sometimes parents have a real struggle setting realistic expectations with their kids.
It’s helpful to separate your emotions from the action by thinking about the boundaries you consider acceptable for other people. This might help you set logical guidelines for your own children.
Stay Away From Sex Being a “Bad” Thing
I can’t emphasize this enough. There is nothing wrong or “dirty” about sex when it is a respectful, shared experience. When parents use fear tactics to try to discourage their kids from having sex until they are older, they often cause damage to their child’s future sexual experiences.
Make sure you discuss the risks and timing of sexual intimacy with your child, but remain positive about the experience. Many therapists also recommend only using anatomically correct terms, rather than nicknames, when discussing puberty, gender differences, and sex with your child.
Ask a Lot of Questions
Example questions to ask your teen include:
- What does a healthy relationship look like?
- What is considered sex?
- What actions can prevent pregnancy from occuring?
- What do you feel are appropriate sexual boundaries for yourself?
- How did you feel when you first saw pornography? How do you feel when you see pornography now?
- Have you ever experienced the feeling of an orgasm?
- What is considered masturbation?
- What will you do if you find yourself in a situation where your sexual boundaries are being crossed?
- Does a strong emotional connection with someone enhance sexual experiences you have with them?
- Can you think of some positive aspects of sex?
- How does self-esteem affect a person’s sexual experience?
- What are some advantages to waiting until you are in a committed relationship (or married) to have sex?
- What would your ideal situation be for your first time?
- What would you do if you were invited to a party where there might be drinking and hook-up sex?
- Is someone able to give consent if they have been using drugs or alcohol?
- How have you seen body image, sexuality, and gender roles portrayed in the media?
- What can you do if you don’t feel comfortable engaging in a sexual act, but your desire to stop is ignored by your partner?
Make it a Discussion – Not a Lecture
One way to accomplish this is to ask a question to answer a question. For example, if your teen asks, “What is oral sex?” you can ask questions such as, “Where did you hear about oral sex?” or “Do you know what oral means?” before you even begin to explain the answer.
Be honest when your teenager asks questions or brings up the topic of sex, but still be age-appropriate. Also, you don’t need to share the details of your past sexual experiences.
RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Connect With Your Child
Don’t Just Tell Them – Show Them!
Studies show that the very best way to help your kids develop healthy relationships in the future is to help them feel secure in your home by showing them a healthy relationship with your partner.
The kids notice if you go directly to your spouse and kiss them after returning home. I remember gagging when my Dad grabbed my Mom and danced with her in the kitchen, but in reality, I loved their little show of affection. It made me feel safe because my parents were laughing and interacting in appropriate ways.
WHEN should I start discussing healthy sexuality with my child?
Hopefully, you’ve been discussing healthy sexuality in age-appropriate ways since your child was young. If not, it isn’t too late! It just might be more uncomfortable to start the conversations at this age.
Discussions about sex should not be one-time events where we discuss “the birds and bees” like we may have experienced in our own childhood. Sex is not a separate part of life that we can ignore until we think our child may be acting inappropriately.
It should be a part of our normal conversations, rather than a once-a-year (or worse: once a childhood) topic. The world has integrated sex into nearly every conversation. Shouldn’t we do the same if we want to combat the unhealthy messages our children receive?
HOW can I relate to my child if I’m uncomfortable discussing sex with them?
First, remember that the benefits of discussing sex with your teenager far outweigh the discomfort. However, it’s completely appropriate to share your discomfort with them. Interestingly, this might help both of you feel more comfortable.
If we are incredibly apprehensive in our approach, our teenager will likely not bring up the subject on their own in the future because they know we will be uncomfortable. Make sure you “do your homework” ahead of time so you know the facts and have decided what you would like to share and what questions you have for your teen.
Still feeling anxious?
If you feel extreme discomfort about the discussions, spend time investigating your own emotions to see if you have any unhealthy sexual views. If an open dialogue with your partner about your intimate relationship is a challenge for you, then you will probably also struggle to speak openly with your teen.
Uncomfortable sexual issues in your past or present may make you feel crippled by shame or anxiety at the thought of having an open discussion.
Feeling intense anxiety about discussing sex with your teen may also be a warning sign that you don’t have an honest relationship with them, so you can work on fostering one.
WHERE can I find books or resources that will help me begin these important discussions with my teenager?
DISCLAIMER: make sure to read the books and materials you purchase ahead of time so you can supplement with your own values.
Check out these amazing resources for parent preparation from SexEd Rescue!
Written by Laura and Richard Eyre
Written by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Written by Lynda Madaras
Written by Lynda Madaras
You can do this! Remember that the only “wrong” way to speak to your teenager about sex is to never do it. The more you bring up the topic, the more comfortable you and your teen will feel about discussing it together.
Do you have a younger child that you are trying to have the talk with? Check out this post about talking to children about sex.
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