Sex education: Talking to your teen about sex
Sex education is offered in many schools, but don’t count on classroom instruction alone. Sex education needs to happen at home too. Here’s help talking to your teen about sex.
Sex education basics may be covered in health class. But teens might not hear — or understand — everything they need to know to make tough choices about sex. That’s where you come in.
It can be awkward, but sex education is a parent’s job. By connecting with your teen early and often, you can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy sexuality.
Breaking the ice
Sex might be hard to talk about. But it’s even harder to avoid. Sex seems to be everywhere — news, entertainment, social media, advertising. But you can use that to get the talk going and keep it going.
Here are some ideas:
- Seize the moment. When sex comes up in a show or song, use it as a way to start a talk. Everyday moments — such as riding in the car or putting away groceries — are often the best chances to talk.
- Talk early and often. A one-time “birds and the bees” talk isn’t enough. Start talking to your teen about safe sex during the preteen years. Continue the talk into early adulthood. Change the talk to suit growth and development.
- Be honest. If you’re uncomfortable, say so. But keep talking. If you don’t know how to answer your teen’s questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
- Be direct. Clearly state your feelings about sex. Give facts about risks such as emotional pain, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn’t a risk-free choice instead of intercourse.
- Think about your teen’s point of view. Strict talks and scare tactics can stop connection and encourage rebellious, risky behavior. Instead, listen to your teen carefully. Understand the pressures, challenges and concerns that teens have.
- Move beyond the facts. Your teen needs to know the facts about sex. But it’s just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes and values. Teens are more likely to adopt family values when they understand their parents and feel understood by them.
- Focus on well-being. The teen years are known as a time of risk-taking. But they’re also the time when healthy self-care behaviors start. Besides talking about risks, model and express the value of healthy relationships and choices.
- Invite more talks. Let your teen know that it’s OK to talk with you about sex when questions or concerns arise. Reward questions by saying, “I’m glad you came to me.”
Addressing hard topics
Sex education for teens includes not having sex (abstinence), date rape, gender identity, sexual orientation and other hard topics. Be ready for questions such as:
- How will I know I’m ready for sex? Many issues, such as peer pressure, curiosity, and loneliness, might lead teens into early sexual activity. Reassure your teen that it’s OK to wait. Sex is an adult behavior. But there are other ways to connect with someone. Explain that intimate talks, long walks, holding hands, listening to music, dancing, kissing, touching and hugging are safe ways to share affection.
- What if my partner wants to have sex, but I don’t? Be clear that no always means no. Sex should never be pressured or forced. Any form of forced sex is rape, whether it’s done by a stranger or someone your teen has been dating.
Point out to your teen that alcohol and drugs can weaken peoples’ decisions. And they can make people think less clearly. Date rape and other dangerous situations become more likely when alcohol and drugs are involved.
- What if I’m questioning whether I’m lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ)? Many teens wonder about their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Help your teen understand that teens are just beginning to explore sexual attraction. These feelings may change as time goes on. And if they don’t, that’s fine.A negative answer to your teen’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression can have negative effects. LGBTQ youth have a higher risk of STIs, substance abuse, depression and attempted suicide. Family acceptance can protect against these risks.Above all, let your teen know that your love is unconditional. Praise your teen for sharing their feelings. Listen more than you speak.
Healthy versus unhealthy relationships
Dating violence occurs more often than many teens or adults may think. About 1 in 12 teens has reported facing physical or sexual dating violence. So it’s important to get the facts and share them with your teen.
Watch for warning signs of dating violence, such as:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Staying away from friends and social events
- Excusing a dating partner’s behavior
- Acting scared around a dating partner
- Loss of interest in school or activities that were once fun
- Suspicious bruises, scratches or other injuries
Teens in abusive relationships have a higher risk of long-term effects. These include poor grades, binge drinking and suicide attempts. The emotional impact of early unhealthy relationships may also set the stage for future unhappy, violent relationships.
Talk with your teen now about the importance of healthy relationships. Model healthy relationships through the way you connect with your teen and others. The lessons your teen learns today about respect, boundaries, and understanding what is right and wrong will carry over into future relationships.
Responding to behavior
If your teen is sexually active, it may be more important than ever to keep the conversation going. Even if you don’t think your teen is ready, be open yet honest in your approach. Remind your teen that you expect sex and its responsibilities to be taken seriously.
- Stress the importance of safe sex.
- Contraception. Make sure your teen understands how to get and use contraception such as condoms and birth control.
- Promote exclusivity. An exclusive sexual relationship supports trust and respect while lowering the risk of STIs.
- Set reasonable boundaries. Enforce curfews and rules about visits with friends. This is especially important if you notice sexual attraction between your teen and certain friends.
Your teen’s health care provider can help too. A routine checkup can give your teen the chance to talk about sexual health to only the provider in private. The provider can help your teen learn about contraception and safe sex. The provider can also help you build your skills to teach your teen about safe sex.
The provider may also stress the importance of routine human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. This vaccine protects people of all genders against genital warts and cancers of the cervix, anus, mouth and throat, and penis. People can usually get the vaccine between ages 9 and 26. But it is sometimes available for people older than age 26.
Your guidance is key to helping your teen become a sexually responsible adult. Be honest and speak from the heart. If your teen doesn’t seem interested in what you have to say about sex, say it anyway. Your teen is probably listening. source
The Teen Talk Approach to Sexual Health Education: Accurate. Nonjudgmental. Youth Friendly
Comprehensive sex education is not just about sex, it’s about health. We, as adults, as educators, have a responsibility to provide youth with accurate information and non-judgmental health services. It’s important to have these conversations because we know that ignoring these issues doesn’t mean they’re not happening.
Having access to accurate information about sexuality, identity and sexual and reproductive health is an integral part of feeling empowered to be responsible for your own sexual health. It promotes healthy relationships with ourselves, our bodies, as well as in intimate relationships with others. We all need accurate information about bodies, anatomy, sex, sexuality and identity in order to take care of ourselves and to get help when or if we need it.
Lack of comprehensive sexual education and the normalization of toxic norms in our society surrounding sexuality and sex perpetuate things like: body shaming, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, STI /HIV stigma, lack of information on how to be safer if choosing to have sex, the normalization of harmful gender roles, abuse in relationships, and victim blaming around sexual assault, etc.
At Teen Talk, our job is to equip people with the skills and knowledge they will need throughout their lives. It is teaching healthy relationships; skills to navigate the digital world and consent in a way that reflects and respects realities of youth. Our work in sexuality and sexual health education works to normalize a culture of safety and respect within relationships. We also acknowledge that youth are the experts of their own realities and have their own unique knowledge, experiences as well as resiliency and strength.
We educate youth about their rights, responsibilities and the wide spectrum of topics related to sexuality and sexual & reproductive health, including basic anatomy, consent, contraceptives, condoms, testing, pregnancy options, gender identity, sexual orientation, body image, relationships as well as substance use, mental health, decolonizing and anti-oppression. We also teach about communication and get youth to role play what assertive and respectful communication can look like when it comes to talking about things like consent, STI testing, sex, condom use, etc. Teaching, and modelling, healthy communication is key when talking about sexual and reproductive health because we don’t often see examples of healthy conversations about sex and consent in the media or in real life. It can be challenging to put your knowledge of consent and STI testing into action if you don’t know how to actually talk with a sexual partner (or healthcare provider) about these things or have never heard what that kind of conversation could sound like in a healthy way.
We answer any and all questions youth have in a non-judgmental and respectful way. This means taking all questions seriously and treating them as an opportunity for education and awareness. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding bodies, identity, sex and relationships, and shying away from questions or telling half-truths perpetuates these problems. It’s important to give youth accurate, age appropriate and honest answers, so they are able to deconstruct the myths or confusion they may hold and make safer decisions based on accurate information. In every Teen Talk session, we also connect youth to resources in their communities, so that they know where to access help, health services or get more information.
At the end of the day, the more information, resources and compassion we equip young people with, the more empowered they are to build healthy relationships and make the best choices for themselves throughout their whole lives. source