Parents, UT Teen Health

Tough Topics: FAQ

How do I talk to my child about sex?

The most important things in talking with children about sex are to relax and be prepared. Kids today know a lot about sex even before we think they do, but you still know more about the subject than they do. Openly communicating your beliefs, values and expectations regarding your child's sexual activity is key to establishing a good long-term dialogue with your child. Your ability to listen without judging and being an approachable parent/adult will allow your child to feel comfortable sharing his/her concerns, observations and questions with you. Listening also helps you to gain a better understanding of what your child really wants to know and what they understand already. Above all, know that kids want to get their information about sex, relationships and intimacy from you more than any other person in their lives and doing so makes them more likely to abstain. Knowing correct information is important. For example, roughly 50% of the estimated 20 million new cases of STIs each year occur in young people aged 15-24. CDC FACT SHEET | 10 Tips for Talking to Your Children About Sex

At what age should I initiate discussions about sex and other risky behaviors with my child?

Starting early is the best approach as kids are exposed to tough issues at increasingly early ages, often times before they are ready to understand or deal with them. Parents should be the first people to address these issues with their children before friends, peers, the media and others instill them with information that may be incorrect or conflicts with your values and beliefs. Provide age appropriate answers that give enough information to satisfy your child in terms he/she can understand, but avoid overwhelming them with too much information. The key point here is to begin early and keep dialoguing with your child into young adulthood and beyond. Also, resist the urge to jump in with advice or interrupt when your teen is talking and avoid giving lectures and "the third degree". The goal is to set up a comfortable and trusting environment that encourages your child to come to you for information, advice and two-way communication. Remember, you must begin at a young age discussing issues of sexual abuse. Young children should know that no one has the right to touch them in their private areas.

If my child asks questions about sex, should I assume he/she is engaging in sexual activity?

Not at all. Often, children are more curious than anything else. They are barraged by sexual images and risky behavior on TV, the Internet, the radio and in the movies, all which make teen sex and unmarried sex seem normal and expected in our culture. Take advantage of them asking you about sex as an opportunity to convey your feelings about sex and what you expect of them. If they have already been sexually active, this is a good time to talk about renewed abstinence and the value of starting over in their commitment to abstaining from sex.

Where can I get good information on teenage sex and other risky behaviors?

The Internet has a variety of quality sites that contain accurate and appropriate information about sex and related risk behaviors that adolescents tend to engage in. Some that we recommend are:

Is contraception the answer for teens?

Sexual abstinence is the healthiest and wisest choice for adolescents. Sex comes with emotional, physical, social, legal, and financial responsibilities. A young person who chooses to wait to have sex can avoid bringing a child into the world that they are not ready to care for and love, and can avoid sexually transmitted diseases which can have lifelong negative effects. While contraception can aid in preventing unwanted pregnancy they are not 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and they cannot protect a person's feelings. Condoms have been proven to be highly effective at reducing the risk of HIV/AIDS if used correctly every time, but they only afford some protection from STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, and even less from HPV and other STDs spread by skin to skin contact such as herpes and syphilis. Any teen who is sexually active needs to visit a healthcare provider.

How widespread is teenage sex, pregnancy, and STDs?

U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined dramatically over the past two decades and are now at historic lows. There has been significant progress in all 50 states and among all racial/ethnic groups. As of 2016, the teen birth rate was 20.3 births per 1,000 teen girls (age 15-19), and there were 209,809 births to teen girls in the U.S. Since its peak in 1991, the teen birth rate has declined by 67%. Since 2015, it has dropped by 9%.1

Even so, U.S. rates of teen childbearing remain far higher than in other comparable countries, and it is estimated that over 456,000 adolescent girls become pregnant before the age of 20 annually.2 A 2017 survey of teen sexual activity indicated that 20.4% of 9th grade students in the U.S. had ever had sexual intercourse, increasing to 57.3% of students who had had sex by their 12th grade year.3 In 2010, public spending on teen childbearing in the U.S. totaled an estimated $9.4 billion.1 This figure does not include the cost of detecting and treating sexually transmitted diseases and their consequences. It is estimated that there are roughly 10 million new cases of STDs to young people aged 15-24 in the U.S. each year.4

1. (accessed 7/19/18)

2. (accessed 8/13/18).


4. (accessed 8/13//16).

What type of sex education is my child getting in school, and is it enough?

Sex education programs and curricula vary widely and differ even within school districts. They can be as minimal as reproductive anatomy lessons in science class to comprehensive sex education programs with information not only about pregnancy, STDs and contraception, but offering information on sexual technique as well. UT Teen Health believes that abstinence is the healthiest choice for teens. Is what your child learns in school enough? Not in our opinion. Parents/significant adults in a child’s life have a key influence on what a child will adopt regarding his/her sexual activity. In fact, a teen’s commitment to abstinence is most influenced by knowing his/her parent’s viewpoints on their sexual behavior. Teens want to hear from you on sexual issues and for you to show them what good, responsible relationships look like.

What should I tell my teenager about dating, relationships, sex and love?

Establish standards of acceptable sexual behavior with your teens by using open communication and by setting an example for healthy relationships. Set the expectation that they postpone dating as long as possible and make sure that girls do not date boys older than they are. Dating older boys often leads to early sexual activity by girls with predictable problematic outcomes. Encourage group dating so that your teens have supportive friends and peers around them. Talk to them about love and sex and let them know they are not the same thing. Discuss the reasons teens find sex so intriguing and on their minds a lot of the time. Don't forget to talk about how great sex is within the context of a lifelong committed relationship. Let them know why they should wait to have sex and how early sexual activity can detract from a strong relationship and a future great sex life.