Talking to teens about sex

The best approach is to start early as kids are exposed to tough issues about sex at increasingly early ages, oftentimes 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 provide information that may be incorrect or conflicts with your values and beliefs. Provide age appropriate answers to your child’s questions about sex, and give them enough basics to respond to their questions, using terms they can understand, but avoid overwhelming them with too much information. The key point is to begin early and keep dialoguing with your child into young adulthood and beyond. Also, listen to your teen and resist the urge to jump in with advice or interrupt when they are talking.  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.

Sex education programs and curricula vary widely and differ even within school districts. They can range from reproductive anatomy lessons in science class to comprehensive sex education programs with information not only about pregnancy, STDs and contraception, but 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. Teens want to hear from you on sexual issues and for you to show them what good, responsible relationships look like.

Use teachable moments to discuss sex

Weave discussion about sex into life experiences — for example, as you and your children view situations on television about sex or when they share with you something they learned in school. Solicit their opinions. Ask them questions about something they’ve seen on TV, in the movies, in magazines or heard from friends. For instance, if a plot from their favorite television show includes a couple having sex, ask them how they feel about this scene? Do they think the couple is a role model? In real life, what do they think this couple might experience — pregnancy, an STD, hurt feelings?

Talk honestly about love, sex and relationships

Help your children handle powerful feelings, such as love, in a safe way. Give them an example of how you may have felt at their age. Discourage them from having sexual relationships, or from dating someone much older (3+ years). If you believe your child is sexually active, accompany them to visit a healthcare professional to be screened for STDs, consider renewed abstinence, and/or start a method of contraception.

Give young people solid information about adolescent sex and the consequences that may arise from it, for example, STDs.  The most common STDs are human papillomavirus, herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to acute and chronic pelvic pain, tubal pregnancies, and infertility. Human papillomavirus is the cause of more than 90% of abnormal Pap smears and cervical cancer.

Focusing on education and career goals now and children later can better set adolescents up for lifelong success.

Let children know there is no such thing as “safe sex”

Condoms do not cover all areas of the body that can be infected with STDs, and are not always used properly. Condoms offer risk reduction for STDs, making sexual activity “safer” but do not eliminate the risks of pregnancy or STDs completely.

Encourage children to remain connected with family, school, and community

Suggest they get involved in sports, the arts or helping others. Discourage early, frequent and steady dating; instead encourage group activities. Kids involved in school activities are less likely to engage in sex. Spend time with your kids. Kids who are connected to their family are much less likely to have sex.

Emphasize to kids that sexual abuse is wrong and should be reported

Tell your kids that sexual abuse is when sex occurs without their permission, even if it is with someone they know, including a boyfriend or girlfriend. Do not permit your child to date at a young age and discourage them from having a relationship with anyone much older than they are. If your child does date, they should stick to dating someone close to their own age.

Encourage young people to avoid alcohol, drugs, and other risky behaviors

Being sober helps protect them from compromising or dangerous situations that they may later regret. The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] have classified adolescent sexual activity as a “health risk behavior,” along with drugs, alcohol, tobacco use, and violence. Let your children know that if they go to a party and drugs/alcohol are present, they should call you to come and pick them up.

Reinforce that kids do not need to give in to peer pressure

They should be confident in who they are and the choices they make. Let them know that most teenagers are not having sex. (CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2021)

Help your children set goals

These might include graduating from high school, furthering their education after high school, or finding a job. Teenagers who delay having sexual intercourse have been shown to achieve higher levels of education.

Work with your children to create personal boundaries

It’s much easier for teens to say no to sex, even in the heat of the moment, when they’ve set boundaries. And it’s never too late to make boundaries, even if they have been sexually active in the past. Encourage them to set sexual limits and communicate those limits to their friends and partners. Most importantly, do not give them mixed messages. Let them know that you do not want them to have sex and support their decision to delay sexual onset.