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Talking With Your Teen About Sex

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Youths are exposed to sexual messages every day—on the TV, on the internet, in movies, in magazines, and in music. Sex in the media is so common that you might think teens today already know all they need to about sex. They may even claim to "know it all," so sex is something you just don't talk about. Unfortunately, only a small amount of what is seen in the media shows healthy sexual behavior or gives correct information.

Your teen needs a reliable, honest source to turn to for answers, and the best source is you. You may feel uneasy when talking with your teen about sex, but your guidance is important. Beyond the basic facts about sex, your teen needs to learn from you about your family values and beliefs. This needs to be an ongoing discussion and not just one "big talk."

Here is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you talk with your teen about this important and sensitive subject.

Why should I talk with my teen about sex?

You are the best person to teach your teen about sex, relationships, love, commitment, and respect, both through discussion and by your own example.

Parents often fear that if they talk about sex, their teen may want to try it. Teens are curious about sex, whether you talk with them about it or not. Studies show that teens whose parents talk openly about sex are actually more responsible in their sexual behavior.

Your guidance is important. It will help your teen make better-informed decisions about sex. Teens who don't have the facts about sex and look to friends and the media for answers are the most likely to get into trouble, such as getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or becoming pregnant.

Talking about sex should begin when your children first ask questions like "Where do babies come from?" If you wait until your children are teens to talk about sex, they will probably learn their first lessons about sex from other sources. Studies show that children who learn about sex from friends or through a program at school, instead of their parents, are more likely to have sex before marriage. Teens who openly discuss sex with their parents are sexually active at a later age than those who don't.

What should I tell my teen about sex?

Communication between parents and teens is very important. Your teen may not share the same values as you, but that possibility shouldn't stop you from talking about sex and sexuality.

Before children reach their early teen years, they should know about

During the teen years, your talks about sex should focus more on the social and emotional aspects of sex and on your values. Be ready to answer questions like

Answer your teen's questions according to your values, even if you think your values are old-fashioned. If you feel strongly that sex before marriage is wrong, share this feeling with your teen and explain why you feel that way. If you explain the reasons for your beliefs, your teen is more likely to understand and adopt your values.

Other topics include

How do I talk with my teen about sex?

Sex is a very personal and private matter. Many parents find it difficult to talk with their children about sex. Teens may be too embarrassed, not trust their parents' advice, or prefer not to talk with their parents about it. But sex is an important topic to talk about.

Here are tips that may help make talking with your teen easier.

Visit HealthyChildren.org for more information.

Any websites, brand names, products, or manufacturers are mentioned for informational and identification purposes only and do not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication. The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.