Why is it important?
It's important to have an ongoing, supportive dialogue with your teen about sex. This is the best way to encourage your teen to come to you when they have questions or need advice. You may not feel like an expert, but you are the best person to teach your teen about your values.
As you think about this topic, know that talking about sex isn't going to encourage your teen to do it. In fact, it does the opposite. Talking about sex early helps teens make safer, responsible choices.
How can you start the conversation?
If you're not sure how to address the complex world of sex, love, and relationships, don't worry. You don't have to put all the answers into one "big talk." In fact, it's best to have smaller, casual conversations over time.
Here are some tips that may help get the conversation started.
- Keep it light and casual.
Often kids will be more open to talking about what friends are doing. And that can give you an idea of how they feel. For example, at dinner, you can ask:
- How's school going? Do you have friends who are going out with someone? Do your friends have boyfriends or girlfriends?
- How do kids show respect to one another at school? Are any things happening that make you feel uncomfortable?
- Look for teachable moments.
Here are some ideas.
- Your teen says, "Jin has a girlfriend." You might say something like, "Going out with someone can be very exciting. It's a time to explore attraction, trust, and respect. It's also a chance to explore physical intimacy." And then you could ask if they have any questions about what boyfriends or girlfriends do together.
- You're both watching a movie where two people who just met are going to have sex. You might say, "They just met and now they're going to have sex. What do you think about that?" Listen to what your teen says. Then you might say something like, "Sex is best when it's between two people who feel comfortable with one another and trust one another."
- Your child quickly turns off their phone or laptop when you come in the room. You might say, "You're at an age when you may have a lot of questions. And you can find a lot of answers online. But sometimes, you might come across something that makes you embarrassed, or that actually makes you have more questions. Can we talk about what you were looking at?"
- Let your teen know that it's normal to have sexual thoughts, feelings, and responses.
Here are some talking points you can work with:
- It's normal for our bodies to sometimes feel tingly when we interact with someone we like or when we think about them. Everyone gets aroused (turned on) in this way.
- It's also normal for a penis to get hard, or a vagina to get wet. These are totally normal responses for the body to have, even if they make you feel funny or embarrassed.
- Let your teen know that there are different expectations around sex.
You might try a variation of some of these talking points:
- Many people have the idea that the first sexual experience should be amazing. But often, it can be clumsy. It takes time to learn what feels good to you and what feels good to your partner.
- Intimacy and healthy relationships are built on reality, not fantasy. The media can make it seem differently.
- Different people may have different feelings about sex and relationships. For example, some may tie emotions more deeply to sex than others.
- Focus on safety.
Much of what you need to talk about is how to stay safe, emotionally and physically. For example, it's important that your teen understands the concept of consent. Explain that consent is when you tell another person exactly what you are comfortable doing—or not doing—with your body. This can change at any time. No one should ever feel pressure to give consent. And everyone has a responsibility to get consent.
- Talk about birth control and disease prevention.
Ask your teen what they've learned about birth control, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and what their friends are saying and doing. Clear up any mistaken ideas they may have. Teach them that:
- Anytime sex happens involving a penis and a vagina, a person can get pregnant. And anytime there's sex involving the genitals, mouth, or anus, a partner can pass an infection to another partner.
- Condoms can help protect against STIs. And condoms and birth control can help prevent a pregnancy.
- Get help.
Ask a trusted friend or relative to help further the conversation. Ask the school counselor or your teen's doctor to recommend books, videos, or classes. Check out the website healthychildren.org for more helpful content.
You may not always have the perfect answers. And that's okay. What's most important is to tell your teen often that "If you ever want to talk to me, or if you have questions or concerns, I'm here for you."
Where can you learn more?
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